Indoor bicycle trainers hover in a weird space in the consciousness of most cyclists; Falling somewhere on a spectrum between “absolutely not” to “necessary evil” to a “performance-boosting fitness tool.” Whether you’re for, against or agnostic when it comes to indoor bicycle trainers is moot, they’re out there and they’re growing more feature-rich by the day. The Neo 2T Smart Trainer from Tacx, a subsidiary of Garmin, is one such feature-rich trainer.
Let’s start with connectivity. The Tacx Neo 2T uses open wireless communication, meaning it can communicate using ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth protocols. ANT+ FE-C stands for “Adaptive Network Topology + Fitness Equipment Control,” and means regardless of what software you’re running to track your efforts, whether proprietary or third-party, it’ll be able to communicate with the trainer. Until now, that may not have been the case.
Most folks are more familiar with Bluetooth, which in this case does essentially the same thing as the ANT+ FE-C, but controls the trainer with smartphones, sports watches and tablets running apps, both proprietary and third party.
The great thing about multiple streams of communication is that it allows you to control the trainer with one method like the Tacx app on your smartphone, while tracking ride data on your Garmin.
Another way in which the Tacx Neo 2T Smart Trainer is, well, smart, is the ability for the user to update the trainers’ firmware. Just like performance updates to your computer, or smartphone, the user can get up-to-date functionality by way of the Tacx Utility app.
Ok, ok, so you just want to get on and pedal for a while before you have to take your kid to karate class and you don’t want to worry about opening an app on your smartphone. No worries, get on and ride. The trainer will sense that it isn’t interacting with any other app or device and will apply pressure commensurate with the output of the user (i.e., the harder you pedal, the resistance will be matched accordingly).
Also, while the Tacx Neo 2T works best when plugged into a 110-240V connection, the trainer will generate energy with the users’ output, whether plugged into a power source or not. When pedaling, the trainer can communicate with software and apps like normal, but the user must keep pedaling to keep the connection.
Why you may choose to invest and use a trainer is entirely personal. I’ve used one in the past simply as a way to continue to get some “miles” in while maintaining a busy schedule and waiting for the winter to pass, but I know folks who use a trainer to keep their edge sharp through race season and into the off season as well.
For those interested in numbers, the Tacx claims to be accurate with power output data to within 1% and is capable of a max output of 2200W.
A long-held belief, for me, was that trainers are so one-dimensional that engaging with one was simply a matter of “getting through it.” Cranking out the minutes with one of a handful of resistances, each of which had to be mechanically provoked. The cool aspect of engaging with the Tacx Neo 2T is that it is far more immersive.
Full disclosure, I only used the Tacx App on my Apple iPhone and the desktop version for Mac OS. I don’t know how the trainer works with other smart gear, mileage trackers, Zwift, Strava, etc. If you have experience with the Tacx Neo 2T, or other Tacx trainers, and have used a different app with them, let us know in the comments!
After installing the app on your device and pairing with the trainer via Bluetooth or ANT+ FE-C, you can choose from a menu of movies and workouts. You also have the opportunity to take part in multi-day/session training challenges or plans. I stuck mostly with movies, as I was most intrigued by how the trainer would translate moving through a projection of space, and how it might simulate that movement.
It’s not quite cinematic quality VR, but the cause and effect is plain to see; start pedaling and you are propelled through space. Stop moving and there is no movement on the screen. It’s all point of view driven, so there is no detached “first-person shooter” avatar standing in for you, the camera view moves as you pedal. Corners and intersections are a little bizarre, but otherwise, the scenery glides by as it would if you were out there riding.
The list of destinations in the “movies” section is a bucket list all it’s own with everything from a 13-mile tour of Barcelona to a 23-mile romp around England’s Lake District, ride up and over Swiss Col’s or tackle the iconic Alpe d’Huez, all in relatively vivid detail.
But what’s the point in watching the road up Costa Daurada in Catalonia roll by (slowly in my case), if you aren’t actually riding it? There’s the rub; the trainer seamlessly adjusts magnetic resistance to match the grade of climb or descent (more on that in a second) you’re tackling up to 26% gradient. Not only that, it’ll simulate the road surface as well.
Doing a ride that takes you over cobbles, gravel, or dirt? The trainer throws up a barrage of magnetic feedback to simulate the surface. The first time I encountered this, I thought I’d done something wrong. While it’s not perfect (your front wheel remains motionless after all) it does make things interesting and that’s the point at which this trainer won me over.
I don’t really have an interest in being a competitive athlete, but I do like to try and stay active, especially concerning cycling. My problem with trainers, up until my recent encounters with the Tacx Neo 2T, has been that they’re mundane at best. Pedal, pedal, pedal, increase/decrease resistance, pedal, pedal, pedal… Lame. That’s not how riding works. When you start climbing a hill in the real world, you aren’t sure how hard it’ll be, what minor grade variants will make it even harder than anticipated, and when you crest the hill, you get to coast for a minute, right?
That’s where the Neo 2T breaks up the monotony. Seriously, subtle changes in gradient keep you on your toes, and when you crest the hill, the drivetrain will continue to spin as though you were coasting down the backside of some sun-baked Spanish mountain. Incredible.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the operational noise that emits from the Tacx Neo 2T while in use; which is, more or less non-existent. There is, of course, some noise; most of which will be your own drivetrain, not the trainer itself. So, if, unlike me, you keep a tidy drivetrain, you should hear naught but the dulcet tones of your chain gliding over cassette and chainrings with a satisfying, and quiet, purr.
While any bicycle trainer isn’t yet a stand-in for actual riding, the Neo 2T from Tacx makes a pretty compelling argument to rewatch Blade Runner for the umpteenth time while riding stage three of L’Eroica in Tuscany. If you’re in the market for a smart bicycle trainer, check out the Neo 2T.
TACX NEO 2T Smart Trainer