'Matter'

MATTER: Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll Indoor Trainer and inRide meets Zwift

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Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll $684.99 CAN/$439.20 USD
Kinetic Turnable Riser Ring $74.99 CAN/$39.00 USD
Kinetic inRide $219.99 CAN/$130.00 USD
Kinetic Road Machine (not tested) $484.99 CAN/$295.20 USD

As a follow-up to my article earlier in the fall on training indoors, here I review Kurt Kinetic’s Rock and Roll indoor trainer, which I purchased in October, 2014, from Rebec and Kroes in Ottawa. Imad – friend and owner of R&K – and I had been talking about Kinetic trainers recently, as I’d been planning to finally get a Road Machine. However, Imad had such glowing things to say about the Rock and Roll, I decided to go for it. The most beneficial aspect of this model, according to Imad, was the recruitment of the rider’s core to stabilize the bike and body while riding. Since I figure that’s always got to be a positive, I was keen to find out how it felt.

But why Kinetic at all? Two key factors led me to this brand over other options:

  • Reliable resistance, and durability: Kinetic has a long and strong reputation for making very durable and reliable trainers. Their ‘resistance curve’ is said to be the most consistent and life-like of all conventional stationary trainers, which means that you can extrapolate how much power is going into the trainer by measuring the speed of the wheel’s rotation. Kinetics also offer as much or more resistance as any mortal could want; 1200 watts into the trainer won’t mean you’re spun out.
  • Virtual power. As mentioned above, the consistent ‘power curve’ of the Kinetic enables them to derive power values from the speed of the unit’s roller. DC Rainmaker defines a ‘power curve’: “at a given speed, the wattage will always be a specific wattage (regardless of gearing).”Without use of a cadence sensor on the crank, Kinetic’s inRide sensor also derives cadence. So, whereas I certainly would have liked to spring for a Wahoo Kickr last fall, my budget limited my options to systems that would work well with virtual power and the Kinetic was the best option I could find on the market.  Speaking about the inRide transmitter, Rainmaker reported, “the majority of the guts of the unit are ‘powered by Wahoo Fitness’, and thus the same guys working on the Wahoo KICKR trainer are supporting Kinetic in this effort.  The power meter accuracy is within +/- 2%, but the Wahoo team is aiming to try and improve that (though that’s still pretty impressive).” After thorough testing, Rainmaker concluded that the inRide system’s “power accuracy is pretty much spot on.  In fact, I’d even go as far as saying it seems easier to keep in check than some power meters are.”

DC Rainmaker’s Pros:

– Cheaper than a full power meter if you already have a Kinetic Trainer
– Very accurate power measurements
– Contains rolldown/calibration functionality
– Compatible with 3rd parties (uses standardized power meter profile for BLE)
– Easy to use app (free app), good export options

DCR’s Cons:

– Not ANT+ compatible
– Requires Bluetooth 4.0 device
– Cadence isn’t super-accurate

Rainmaker’s results helped me decide on my purchase. Because I needed a new trainer that’d be reliable and provide enough resistance for hard efforts, I was already looking at Kinetic’s options. The accuracy and relative simplicity of the inRide system addressed my need for power measurement, given I didn’t have a power meter. I also didn’t have a computer that was current enough to run Ant+ programs like Zwift, so Bluetooth was fine, as I had an iPhone 4S that was compatible.

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If you’d like to go through very detailed set-up information, click over to DC Rainmaker’s post. My experience with set-up was a little more complicated than Rainmaker’s as the Rock and Roll unit allows for side to side rocking, unlike the Road Machine. Once I’d set up my bike, using the turnable rider ring to match the elevation of my front and back wheels, I hopped on. I proceeded to fight a consistent lean to the right. I fiddled, tested, fiddled, tested. I couldn’t figure out how to get the trainer to stop leaning to the side. So, I sent Kinetic an email about it, and was impressed to find their customer service prompt and helpful. Ultimately, I wound up loosening the bolts that sandwich the elastomers together, which left very little tension in the system (very floppy). Then, when I was on the bike I was actually balancing. Ever since the initial tweaking period, I’ve not had to mess around with the trainer set up at all, despite the bike coming off many times.

The inRide sensor and HR strap have worked out well. The battery on the HR strap burned out by spring, but the unit was very consistent in it’s function until then, as DC Rainmaker reports. The app itself went through at least one update over the winter of 2014/15, going from somewhat unstable on my iPhone 4s to more stable but not perfect, and now almost totally stable on my iPhone 5s. I do experience the odd glitch, but nothing like losing ride data or anything like that.

On the current version of the app, I’m able to start it rolling as soon as I get onto the bike, which takes perhaps 30 seconds, then I switch over to Netflix or Youtube to choose my entertainment if I’m riding easy, which I Chromecast to my tv. Once that’s up and running, I switch back to the inRide app to keep an eye on my elapsed time, power, and calories burned. Sometimes I’ll aim for a certain amount of calories to hit in the 30 or 60 minutes, other times I’ll just aim for a certain average power target. I find the phone somewhat difficult to see well when I do interval sessions (a number of which are programmed into the app) and need to keep an eye on the time and watts, but there is an immediate option – plugging the phone into a TV – and a forthcoming option – Chromecasting the app to a TV. The former option would preclude watching a race or whatever while doing intervals, but most find that distracting anyhow. It remains to be seen now Kinetic’s forthcoming app update works in terms of Chromecasting. Split screen could be interesting, but simply being able to cast the app for big numbers on the TV alone would help.

Kinetic meets Zwift

After recently purchasing a new computer that can run Zwift and other Ant+ programs with the use of an ANT+ USB dongle, I put my Garmin speed+cadence sensor back onto my trainer bike to open up another suite of training interface options. After having tried Trainer Road and FulGaz apps last winter – and finding neither particularly useful to me – I’d spent the whole winter using the inRide app, sometimes paired with a SufferFest video. Bringing a new computer into the mix opened the opportunity to try Zwift by transmitting power and cadence data to the program. Using the speed+cadence sensor also let me compare readings between the inRide app and my Garmin 500 computer. I’ve found, like DC Rainmaker, that cadence is not as accurate on the inRide app as direct measurement from the Garmin sensor on the bike.

[UPDATE: I’ve now tried using my Kinetic inRide pod to transmit to Zwift. In order to do so, one has to use an iOS device with Bluetooth as the medium of communication with the program, rather than BT on the computer. After a 5 minute test it looks like the power reading is smoother than via Garmin speed/cadence sensor to ANT+ dongle in the computer. I don’t know whether the inRide holds its last calibration, and is thus still accurate if no changes have been made to the roller tension and air pressure. I think its more likely the app/program needs to do the calculation with the roll-down figure, so I’m hoping Zwift follows up with a calibration protocol for those using the inRide system. If so, I feel confident that the system will be as accurate and reliable as the power meters being used. For instructions on pairing inRide with Zwift, go here: https://support.zwift.com/…/206576683-Bluetooth-LE-BLE…]

But back to Zwift. After using the program 5 times now, I am a believer. Whereas last winter I didn’t understand the appeal, now that I’ve ridden in the Zwift ‘world’ I get it. The program’s rich environment and realistic (enough) riders and bikes provide enough entertainment to preclude needing another media stream. One’s data is prominently displayed on the computer screen or TV (I’m connecting my computer to my TV with an HDMI cable), covering all the metrics one would typically want. Since each rider inputs their body weight into the system, the actual or virtual power coming from their bike is translated into fairly realistic performance in the Zwift environment.

So how does the Kinetic work with Zwift? Well, it works great, but it’s necessarily a different ride than one would have on a Kickr or a Tacx powered ‘smart’ trainer, for example. When riding a ‘smart trainer,’ the resistance is automatically adjusted according to the virtual terrain being covered. In the case of the powered Tacx trainers, the roller actually speeds up the rotation of the back wheel on descents, so you have to shift to your hardest gear and spin to keep on top of it. I don’t think the Kickr does that (correct me if I’m wrong), but simply controls resistance. This means the rider has to adjust their gears to maintain a consistent cadence and power output, when desired.

Since the Kinetic only provides more or less resistance as you spin the wheel faster or slower, a descent, say, on Zwift won’t feel any different than a climb unless you shift to an easier gear and put out less power. In contrast, on a smart trainer for the same descent, you’d have to shift to a harder gear to maintain the same power output at a given cadence. Really, as far as I can tell, the end result is essentially the same: you ride the cadence you want with the power output you want by either shifting on a smart trainer or not shifting on a virtual power trainer like the Kinetic. Yes, the smart trainers feel more realistic, but do they provide a harder or better quality workout? I don’t think so. Here’s why.

Power is power. As soon as I got onto Zwift the first time I rode much harder right off the bat than I expected. I hadn’t planned on riding really hard, but as soon as I got a sense of what was going on within the game, I started drilling every segment that came up. I trashed myself! It was wild. For the Richmond World Championships course, I’d hit the sprint at about 40kph, and shift once or twice as I wound up my gear. On this sprint segment, my best average speed so far is 47.8kph, which for a 200m sprint seems a little low if anything, certainly not high for my max effort. On a smart trainer,  this flat sprint would demand an increase in resistance from the trainer as the speed increased, since aerodynamic drag has this effect on the rider. The Kinetic increases resistance automatically as the wheel speed increases in line with aerodynamic drag. So both would be ridden the same way, with one or two gear changes over 15-20 seconds of sprinting. The resistance of the Kinetic unit will always be indexed to wheel speed, but that wheel speed won’t necessarily match the virtual bike’s wheel speed. So, if I’m in my 53×18 rolling at 30kph on a flat section of virtual road, then transition onto a hill, even though my actual bike’s wheel will continue to rotate at an actual speed of 30kph, at say, 200 watts, that 200 watts will only put me at perhaps 15kph on the hill, so my virtual wheel will be rolling slower. So whatever power you’re putting into a Kinetic will be translated into your virtual speed on the undulating terrain. If you want to crush the Libby Hill climb in Richmond, you’ll have to put out over 800 watts for about 26 seconds. Well, assuming you think that KOM is legit. Interestingly, looking at this segment the results of riders I follow and know stack up realistically against mine. For example, Matteo Dal Cin rode the segment 1s faster, but at 550w versus my 485w. Since he’s heavier than me, this makes sense, even if Matteo’s power seems a little high for the difference.

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If you are looking to buy a new trainer, entertainment is your priority, and you’ve got the cash to spend, you’ll likely prefer a smart trainer that actually controls resistance automatically over a virtual unit like the Kinetic for use on Zwift and other virtual programs, such as ErgVideo. It’s clear that that lot of riders who struggle with motivation to ride indoors are finding Zwift exactly what they need, particularly on smart trainers that provide a more immersive experience. In contrast, those who don’t struggle with motivation who are seeking a high quality workout system that is entertaining enough, the Kinetic Rock and Roll or Road Machine will, in my view, work great at a lower price.

In terms of budget, given this is in large part why one would chose a Kinetic over a smart trainer, I would be hard pressed to recommend the Rock and Roll over the Road Machine for the average rider. I can’t quantify the benefit balancing the bike provides, and must admit that if anything, the rocking is counterproductive when undertaking very hard intervals, such as the sprints on Zwift. If I were to see data showing recruitment of core muscle while on the R&R being meaningfully higher than the Road Machine, I’d adjust my view. However, my caveat here is that I’m not sure whether the benefit of the rocking is actually muted to some degree for riders who are already quite smooth on the bike. I.e., perhaps those who tend to throw their weight around more as they pedal might need to stabilize themselves more while riding the R&R, and thus benefit more. As a rider who does not wobble around much, it could be that there is less potential benefit for me.

A distinct advantage of the Road Machine is its portability compared to the R&R. The former can be easily taken to races or on travel, while the R&R is much less suited to travel due to its size. For a rider who will only have one trainer they’d like to use at home and races, this is an important consideration.

Conclusions: where the rubber hits the roller

If you already have a Kinetic trainer, at the moment the inRide system is the only option on the market that allows you to accurately calibrate your power readings. Thus, when it comes to carrying out specific power-based workouts, the inRide will be more accurate than using ANT+ with another program, such as Zwift. I’ve been speaking with Zwift about this, and they are working on introducing Bluetooth compatibility into their program. This could mean that one could transmit from the inRide pod to a laptop, and either do a rolldown calibration after a 10 minute warm-up in the Zwift system, or, do a rolldown in the inRide app and take the roll-down value and input that into Zwift upon logging on. Time will tell how this unfolds.

Here’s a comparison of the inRide’s recording alongside measurement taken from a PowerTap wheel with Garmin 500. You will see the two are extremely close.

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If you don’t already own a Kinetic trainer, but are looking to purchase something new for use with power-based applications, the Kinetic system is a tough sell in comparison to some of the other options on the market such as Bkool, Elite and Tacx, because they are ‘smart’ in the sense that they can control resistance, versus Kinetic’s sense of ‘smart’ – their trainer can calculate power. DC Rainmakers provides more detail on this subject here.

It will be interesting to see how Kinetic moves forward from here, and one has to assume they will release a true ‘smart’ trainer as soon as they can. In the meantime, they appear to be using their inRide system to bridge the gap until such a release. While I would personally like it if my Kinetic functioned like the other smart units, I feel the quality of workout I am able to do on it is very high, and only limited by what I want to do and am physically capable of doing. There is nothing about the system that is inhibiting my undertaking interval sessions or any other type of effort, with the exception of simulating very steep climbing, which certain smart trainers seem to be particularly good at replicating (I’m thinking of the Tacx motor-driven unit ). However, I acknowledge that I am not motivationally challenged, and I’m certain that the simulation quality smart systems provide when combined with interactive applications like Zwift is motivating for a lot of riders who’d otherwise battle to get onto their bike to ride inside. So, just when talking about other bike technologies that are not needed but provide the excitement and inspiration that get people riding, it’s a matter of context.

I look forward to seeing how Kinetic’s update to their inRide app unfolds, and will report back after some time on it this winter. If you’ve got any questions, please feel free to ask, and if you’re interested in looking at the Kinetic products in person, I encourage you to visit Rebec and Kroes in Ottawa South.

For further reading, here’s a handy article from Tim Johnson on riding inside. 

Stay tuned for an interview later this winter with a fellow indoor rider south of the border on Elite’s E-Motion rollers and Zwift.

For watching, a great video from GCN Bikes:

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