Trainers are the things we love to hate. If you’re one of those that cringe every time the temp drops because you can hear that dust covered trainer calling from behind eight months worth of basement clutter… well, there’s hope. In recent years we’ve seen the next generation of trainers emerge with a direct drive system that eliminates the tire (shredding) to roller interface with a more refined system that is intended to create a better, more realistic experience.
While placed in the highest price bracket, direct drive trainers have taken off better than many would have suspected for such a torturous device. Though partially because technology at that level allowed for ANT+ and Bluetooth integration so a number of devices and “reactive” simulators could be used to make things more entertaining, they really have put a lot of emphasis on making them feel more realistic. Ironically CycleOps, the largest trainer manufacturer, (who is under the Saris umbrella along with PowerTap), was surprisingly missing in this new category of trainers. From the looks of it, the folks at CycleOps were studying the competition and listening to feedback VERY closely and knocked this one out of the park.
Check out what they came up with and their pretty ingenious axle interface that will fit about every current & future bike. Also a video showing how freaking quiet it is (good luck hearing it over people talking). This might just be the trainer you hate to love…
Full disclaimer: I
hate really hate trainers. Over the years, I’ve bought a few and even sold two without ever taking them out of the box (good intentions and all). I’d just assume buy some foul weather gear and suffer the cold & wet before enduring even 30 irritating minutes on one. Well, times have changed, what with obligations like kids and yard work narrowing down my ride times. Fortunately, so have trainers. And not just the trainers, but interactive simulators like those from Zwift to make suffering kinda fun.
CycleOps’ new Hammer direct drive trainer attaches to your bike similar to other trainers on the market, but with a few very well thought out tricks up its sleeve. One biggie is that it will fit virtually every worthy bike regardless of axle system so you can choose something other than your prized carbon road whip to sweat all over.
They stuffed a 20lb precision balanced flywheel (which is the heaviest to be used in a trainer… ever!) in the unit to best replicate real world inertia. They had Skratch Labs founder and all-around man of science, Dr. Allan Lim, on hand to explain why inertia is important, and how the 20lb provides a best in class real-world feel because of the natural inertia it provides.
“Most trainers with a small (or no) flywheel make you feel like you’re riding through sand because without enough inertia, it slows the bike down too much (especially at the weak point of the pedal stroke) causing that sinking feeling. The 20lb flywheel’s inertia keeps things moving for a longer period of time preventing your speed from bogging down too quickly.”
The Hammer direct drive trainer, despite having a 20lb flywheel weighs in at only 46lbs which is lighter than some of the competition using about half that amount of flywheel, and even those with none at all.
The hammer is super portable and folds into an easy-to-store shape. With a flick of a switch, the legs quickly swing to create a very compact 31 x 18.5 inch footprint.
One really smart piece was the front wheel stabilizer. This was a 3D printed prototype, but it’s designed to simply slide under the unit and when the legs are folded in, the legs “grab” the notches on the side attaching it to the unit during transportation. Even better, for bikes with disc brakes, a pad spacer snaps into the bottom of the wheel stabilizer so you’ll always have it with you, (and not mess up the spacing when you grab the brakes during a simulated group ride).
CycleOps really did a great job designing how the Hammer interfaced with the various axle standards currently adorning the rear of bikes, and left room for future standards. The trainer comes with threaded caps that screw onto the trainer’s “hub” so you simply take your wheel off and attach it to the trainer using the existing thru-axle or QR your bike came with. They currently work with 130 – 148mm QR/thru-axles.
No, their system won’t fit a fat bike… but that wouldn’t make sense as “trainer season” is the time of year fat bikes are supposed to roll! (and how many Fatbikers have enough money left over for a trainer after buying beer)?
Also on hand were Zwift co-founder Scott Barger and their VP of partnerships (and 1992 World Champion in Individual Pursuit Mike McCarthy) to really put in perspective how “fun” riding the new Hammer is along with their interactive & social training programs (Zwift in on the left). I’ve tinkered with a couple of interactive trainers and some times the setup is as frustrating as the “ride”. CycleOps’ Virtual Training (CVT) App (right) and software is simple and easy to get started, and although effective and entertaining on it’s own, the unit has ANT+ FE-C & Bluetooth SMART so it will work with all existing sensors & power meters along with most popular virtual training software apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest’s app, etc.
The Hammer is capable of simulating up to a 20% incline and 2000 watts at 20mph which should challenge even the most hardcore indoor cyclists.
One stand out feature is its silence. It’s really quiet! It only produces 64 decibels at 20mph so you could watch TV without headphones or hear your spouse yelling downstairs that it’s their turn. I attempted to give you an example of how quiet it is, but even at close proximity, it was hard to hear it over people talking 6 feet away.
Like their other trainers, CycleOps’ Hammer ($1,199), will be manufactured at their Madison, Wisconsin, headquarters and should be available around late Summer or early fall just in time for indoor trainer season.
Since the Tour of California kicks off this weekend in San Diego, the CycleOps sponsored Trek Segafredo team, (formerly Trek Factory), were on hand to meet fans and most were eager to put the hammer down on… well, the Hammer!
Saris founder Chris Fortune gets feedback from Trek Segafredo team member Markel Irizar who, like most (myself included), grinned when trying out the unit.
So how does if feel? Well, taking off, is not that different from starting out on the actual road. If you’re in a smaller cog, it is just as hard winding things up to get going (and you can’t lift the rear up to cycle up a few cogs to get it where you need it). Once moving, I had Scott from Zwift take me through a short course that was initially going down a hill. I literally took a few pedal strokes and it coasted like it should going down a hill. Scott hit a button on the app turning me around and then things kicked in. A slight incline was no big deal, but at a bridge crossing, there was a dip that seamlessly reduced the effort for a second before hitting a steeper grade to which the unit increased the resistance. The unit’s electro-magnetic resistance in combination with the 20lb flywheel was impressively smooth. Even when going up the slight incline at a decent rate of speed, if I coasted for a bit and picked it right back up, it did’t give me that heavy bogged down feeling. When you’re doing a long climb and getting close to full fatigue, that “pause” on a typical trainer can be the death of your session. Here, it provided just enough respite, just as it would on a real ride.
Though maybe a little late to the gate, the CycleOps Hammer’s feel, easy setup, compact design, and broad compatibility took most of people’s complaints (except price) and provided a solution. We’re looking forward to getting our hands on one early on to give you a better impression of how it performs during continued use, so stay tuned. Retail availability comes this fall.