TACX Vortex Smart Review Part 3: The Ride!

Hello Everyone,

I had a good time riding the TACX Vortex Smart.  I’ll be honest with you, it does a good job inside the margins.  It is lacking on the edges and I show that in the video below or you can read it in the article.  However, it is a cheaper trainer.  In the article below, we will cover how it sounds when riding, how it climbs, and how it sprints.  If you are just landing on my site here, you can go back to the Part 1 review linked below where I unpack the trainer and look inside.  In part 2, I take a look at the baseline virtual power curve it operates on and how to calibrate it correctly.  Accuracy was a problem with this trainer.

TACX Vortex Smart Review Part 1: The Build

TACX Vortex Smart Review Part 2: Calibration

Support the site if you want to purchase the Tacx Vortex Smart .

confirmed-statsLike I said above, this trainer does a good job inside the margins.  I bought this trainer form Atheleteshop.com for $440 and I feel that was a good price.  In the picture to the right, we see the capabilities of this trainer and stats.  I validated the noise levels in dB myself using a device to measure sound.  The one thing I want you to understand with this trainer is the price point.  You can get smart trainer control for a lower price.  However, with that lower price, we have to sacrifice some performance.  The max wattage was near 900 to 950 watts in my testing which I an easily over power.  The weight of the trainer is a plus for storage, but not so good if you are a heavier rider trying to sprint.  Lastly, it is not a very good low cadence climber.  This trainer struggled at lower wheel speeds and lower rpm’s.

How Does It Ride

The ride of the trainer is decent for a mid range trainer.  The 3.5lb flywheel is a bit heavier than the much more expensive CycleOps Magnus.  However, under 175 watts you can start to feel that gap in your pedal stroke around the 3 to 6’oclock position.  The noise level was very manageable at 20mph.  It has nearly the same sound levels of the Wahoo KICKR Snap at 20 mph.  However, it gets much louder at 35mph.  Recap, I found the CycleOps Magnus to be much louder at that same speed hovering near 80db.  Now, let’s talk about ERG tracking and the image below.

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It tracks ERG mode very well.

As you can see from the image above, this trainer tracks ERG mode very well.  The drops in power is me just messing around with things while I was on the trainer.  I was exceptionally pleased with how it kept me at my power targets during this workout.  It tracked ERG mode just as good as the Wahoo KICKR Snap, which is impressive.  I would think the 8 electromagnets and exceptional programming have something to do with that.

Ripping the Legs Off

Okay, so how does it sprint?  Well, it doesn’t.  It is very fluid up to 900 watts; I can say that.  The resistance on the trainer ramps you up evenly which is important, but when you start driving above 500 watts you have it pinned down begging for mercy.  I did three sprints on this trainer and none of them got above 900 watts.  I feel like you could hit 950 watts as advertised, but I just couldn’t find the right setting to do that.  My max sprint was 888 watts.  Also take a look at the cadence display to the left.  I was probably at 130rpm.  The Vortex Smart calculates cadence from the power variation you are putting down at the wheel.  This means any cadence that goes above 110rpm will start giving you poor readings.  Not a good trainer for sprinting.

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That’s as high as I could get the Vortex Smart on a Sprint.

Climbing At A Low Cadence

For all my climbing tests, I put the trainer in the 39×27 gear and then pedal at 65 rpm.  This my friends, was a severe disappointment.  This trainer does not do a good job of creating resistance at low wheel speeds.  The trainer wouldn’t get above 100 watts on this drill.  For a comparison, the KICKR Snap can do 340 watts and the CycleOps Magnus can do 200 watts at the same wheel speed.  Now, those trainer are also $160 more than the Vortex Smart.  So, you get what you pay for.  Lastly, at 65rpm and 100 watts we get the cadence misreporting again.  Again, this shows it is only good within the margins and struggles on the outer edges.

climbing-power
This felt very, very unnatural at that low wheel speed.  My feet were just dropping out at the 3 o’clock position.

Climbing in ERG Mode

This trainer did very well climbing in ERG mode.  However, this trainer is a big ring climber.  What do I mean by that?  You need to be in your big ring up front to generate enough wheel speed to keep the trainer on target.  That means, you will need to do some shifting up and down when in ERG mode.  This is not necessary with the expensive trainers; they will hold you at the wattage the App is directing no matter what.  The Vortex Smart will still require some shifting.  Another variable is your climbing wattage and FTP.  If you have an FTP below 300 watts and don’t care about sprinting, this trainer will do everything you need it to do.  Above that, I don’t know if I would pull the trigger on a purchase.

Supporting Applications

TACX has a wide variety of Apps from virtual reality software, to a utility App.  They probably have one of the more extensive family of Apps and supporting software.

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Would I Buy It?

I think the strength of this trainer is it’s price point and the ability to hold you well within the margins.  I think the weaknesses are very apparent at, and outside the margins.  Also, accuracy can be a huge issue with this trainer if you go back and look at part 2 of my review.  I would buy this trainer if I weighed under 185lbs, had a power meter, and only needed to work between 120 watts to 350 watts.  It will hold you well there and a power meter can be used in Zwift to make sure it is holding accurate power.  This is important to people who are tracking TSS and managing a Performance Management Chart.  Would I but it?  Yes, but with conditions and fully understanding what I was getting into.

Overall Rating

Style:  I would rate Style as  3.5 Cowbells out of 5.  Color use is great but there is a good amount of plastic and Aluminum.  Like I said in my video, it is more of a fun system than a serious training system.  Not terrible, but there are trainers that cost a little bit more and they do it better.

Build: The best you can do at a lower price, 3.0 Cowbells out of 5.  First off, I had to buy a new power cord.  My puppy ate my last power cord and I was much happier to have a 10 foot power cord instead of the 6 foot cord provided.  If that bothers you too, you can purchase the longer cord here 10ft 18 AWG 2-Slot Non-Polarized Power Cord (IEC320 C7 to NEMA 1-15P) Also, like I said above and in my video, the lower weight of this trainer works against me at 190lbs.  It just moves too much.

Performance:  Decent in the margins, poor outside the margins, 3 Cowbells out of 5.  I was very, very happy with this trainer in the margins.  If you are training for Time Trails or just a normal cyclist within a normal range of power, this trainer holds ERG mode very well.  That it’s saving grace; the ability to hold and track ERG mode very well.  Don’t get me wrong, this trainer will wear you out in those margins.

Supporting App:  Highest Rating of 5 Cowbells out of 5.  TACX has been in the App and software business for some time.  They have a very extensive collection.  They not only have what you need, but they give you more options than you may honestly want.  However, it’s nice to have options.

Longevity: It’s okay, 3 Cowbells out of 5.  The trainer will hold up well if you do regular things with it.  However, if you are going to continually push it up to it’s max wattage all the time, then I would be worried.  I got this trainer pretty hot just pushing it to its limits over and over again.  That makes me think it would struggle long term.  For someone who rides below 350 watts and weighs less than 185lbs, then I have no worries.

Overall: This trainer comes in at 3.5 Cowbells out of 5.  That’s not bad for the price really.

Summary

For the price, this is a decent trainer.  It’s even better if you already have a power meter.  I was really concerned with the ability of the trainer to over report power.  I know some people on Zwift look at that stuff also.  I wouldn’t expect a lot out of it, but it gets you in the indoor trainer game.  If you can find this trainer for $450 or less, you have a deal.

Up next I’m going to look at another trainer that competes with the TACX Vortex Smart.  Will the Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ beat the Vortex Smart as the best budget trainer?  We will see in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned and don’t forget to subscribe to the Athletic Tech Review Youtube Channel if you want the videos before I publish the articles.  Also, I don’t have an affiliate link for this trainer.  I wish I did!

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

Aaron served in the military for 20 years. Multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the military after 20 years of service to take care of our three small children in 2013 as a Stay At Home Dad.

athletictechreview has 60 posts and counting.See all posts by athletictechreview

7 thoughts on “TACX Vortex Smart Review Part 3: The Ride!

  • Pingback: TACX Vortex Smart Review Part 1: The Build | kidsandcowbells

  • Pingback: TACX Vortex Smart Review Part 2: Spin Down | kidsandcowbells

  • January 4, 2017 at 11:51 pm
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    Excellent Stuff. I’ve been looking at a mid-range trainer to buy and wanted to be able to simulate climbs for an upcoming mountain ride.

    Your reviews are the first ones I’ve seen that validate incline ratings. They appear to be pulled out of thin air. Your tests shows this is true (with the exception of the Snap)
    340W @7.4mph (assuming 700×25) is ~11% grade (170 lb rider + 20 lb bike) – Snap claims 12%
    200W @7.4mph is ~6% grade. – Magnus claims 15%
    100W is ~2.5% grade. – Vortex Smart claims 7%

    It’s difficult to get any decent data for power specs and max incline for trainers.
    The KICKR Snap website simply gives a max power output of 1500W with no speed reference. DC Rainmaker got some data from them saying the max is 2200W@30mph. https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/06/wahoo-kickr-snap.html#comment-1412182. However, that data says the Snap should absorb ~460W@7.4mph. Quite a large discrepancy.
    The CycleOps Magnus website also gives a 1500W number by itself. DC Rainmaker has that @20mph in his specs, but no reference to where it came from.
    The Tacx Vortex Smart gives 950W@25mph.

    Reply
    • January 5, 2017 at 1:45 am
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      Thanks Jeremy, I’m interested on how you came up with your calculations. I wouldn’t mind learning about that if you have a site I could read. I was looking for some way to verify slope, and the only thing I could think of was low gear climbing. It would test the power of the electromagnet at a lower rotational velocity.

      Reply
      • January 5, 2017 at 11:45 am
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        I don’t have a specific site to link to for general reading, but for your data the calculations are pretty straight forward.
        You’ve given me power and speed (derived from wheel dia, gearing, and cadence, I used Sheldon Brown’s calculator for that: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gear-calc.html). Given a few general assumptions (rider weight, bike weight, rolling resistance, aero drag, powertrain loss), you can calculate what grade would be needed to make you move at 7.4mph while putting out 340W. I used this calculator for that: http://www.bikecalculator.com/

        Plug in 340W, whatever your bicycle and yourself weights(I used 170/20 lbs), and then iterate on plugging in a incline that gets you to 7.4mph. You’ll end up with 10.8% grade. So, if you were putting out 340W on a 10.8% grade, you’d be moving 7.4mph.
        Here’s a second calculator that lets you visualize where your power is going given your inputs: https://www.gribble.org/cycling/power_v_speed.html. It come out to 11.2% grade given 340W and 7.4mph. 4% difference between the two is pretty good agreement. Difference being different assumptions for the various drag forces. At an ~11% grade, >90% of your power goes to overcoming gravity, which is why big differences in aero drag assumptions don’t really matter (aero drag is ~2% on an 11% grade @7.4mph)

        I was lazy and didn’t make a spreadsheet to directly calculate % incline given power and speed, which is why I just came at it via iterating on the slope and solving for speed with those two calculator.

        Reply
        • January 6, 2017 at 8:37 am
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          Awesome dude! I might try to use those calculations to validate manufacturer advertised slope rating then. Thank you!

          Reply
  • March 4, 2017 at 9:19 am
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    At least it has a way of calibrating spin down, the ELiite Rampa doesn’t.
    Agree the Wahoo snap is better, and at this price point, still worth paying the extra for.

    Reply

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