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.
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Like 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!