In 2015, Tacx launched the NEO Smart trainer. Since then, this trainer hasn’t been equalled or surpassed by other brands. Therefore, it is still the most accurate, realistic and silent trainer on the market to date. The product developers of Tacx have not been idle since the launch and have added extra features, like Road Feel and isokinetic mode, for example. These features are available for all NEO Smart users for free. Martin Smits, business development manager of the Dutch brand, explains these new features.
First of all, what’s the difference between the NEO and other direct drive trainers?
“The biggest difference is that the NEO is a real direct drive trainer. The cassette is directly mounted to the motor, so there are no internal physical transmissions like a belt or chain causing loss in power or generating noise. Other direct drive trainers use such a transmission to drive the flywheel. This makes the NEO the most silent and accurate direct drive trainer on the market.
As the NEO isn’t equipped with a flywheel (it simulates one), it experiences no hindrance of the physical limits of it. By driving a flywheel, you set it in motion and thus cause a mass inertia effect. When you switch quickly in power, like a sudden sprint or when you start a climb after riding on a flat road, this mass inertia causes some latency in the resistance coming from the motor. The NEO can change the resistance in a split second, just like in real life, which makes it the most realistic trainer to date.
Furthermore, it has some unique features like Road feel and Dynamic inertia. The latter is only possible because of the simulated flywheel and controls the mass inertia (ride feel) as realistic as possible. In contrast to the mass inertia which is generated by a flywheel, Dynamic inertia compensates for speed, the rider’s weight and the incline gradient. This provides a very realistic ride feel.”
‘It was a hell of a job’
What are, in your opinion, the most important features of the NEO?
“When we started the NEO project we wanted to create the ideal trainer. A trainer that is realistic, accurate, reliable, consistent, easy to use, powerful and silent. It was a hell of a job to get all these desires together in just one product. We really pushed the limits in terms of motor control technology and fitting this in between the frame of a bike. The combination of all these specifications and features is what makes the NEO so unique. A feature like dynamic inertia in particular is something that is really special. It allows for dynamic mass inertia effects based on speed, incline and weight, but also allows for a specific setting during power-based workouts. This to maximize the workout effect and efficiency. Dynamic inertia is what the NEO makes so incredible realistic.
Another interesting thing about the NEO is actually a feature that isn’t part of this trainer. I’m referring to the calibration or spin down process. With all other smart trainers, it is required to calibrate it for an accurate power measurement. With the NEO this isn’t the case, it is designed to be always spot on. To parts that wear out, no external influencers that might influence the power measurement. It is always accurate, reliable and consistent straight out of the box.
The last thing I would like to mention is how silent this trainer is. With the NEO we set a new benchmark in terms of trainer quietness. There isn’t anything in the market that comes close to the NEO. Furthermore, the NEO is a REAL Direct Drive trainer and therefore has no moving parts at all. It doesn’t wear at all and therefore it lasts for a very long time. The bearings are the only parts that could wear out, but they are calculated on lots and lots of kilometres.”
Which features did you add later?
“Over time/the years we’ve made the trainer even more accurate. In addition, we’ve added the isotonic and isokinetic mode and, of course, Road Feel. All these features are available for free for all NEO users by upgrading the firmware via the Tacx Utility app.“
‘The guys from Zwift went completely crazy’
How did you come up with the Road Feel feature?
“It started as a joke. By varying the resistance very quickly you get that shaking and vibrating effect. I wanted to apply Road Feel in the Genius years ago, but the housing of the NEO’s predecessor was not built for it. When we tried it with the NEO it worked right away. It was only added later because we had other priorities for the launch: like to put a good and reliable product into the market. The patterns that we’ve come up with at the time are still there.
When the guys from Zwift were visiting Tacx, we gave them a demo of Road Feel. They loved it! We sent them an application so that they could test it. They worked all night and the next day they had it done. They went completely crazy!
It also works like a magnet on bike shows. Everyone wants to try it. With Road Feel you are completely absorbed in your training film. You feel and hear the surface you’re riding on. This makes the NEO unique, because this is not possible with trainers that use a flywheel.”
Can you tell us more about the isotonic and isokinetic features?
“In the isotonic mode you set the power of the trainer at a fixed value (Nm). In this mode you have no flywheel effect at all, so this can only be done with the NEO Smart trainer. The intention of this mode is to have you keeping the same tension in your muscles all the way through the pedal stroke. You’ll notice that when your pedals are in a vertical position, how terribly heavy it is to get over your dead points. It’s a very interesting training because during a climb you have this same feeling. When people get tired, the cadence drops and they start pounding on the pedals. Better is to have a more even pedal stroke when you climb. In this mode you can specifically train for this.
In the isokinetic mode you set the trainer at a fixed speed. You can deliver as much power as you want, but you can’t /will not exceed that speed. When you put little power on the pedals, the trainer will reduce the resistance. When you deliver more power, on the other hand, the resistance will increase. Keeping a high wattage and a low cadence is physically hard work. This is where you’re building power in your muscles. This mode is very good for a high intensity training because you don’t have to change gears every time. Now you can really deliver as much power as you want at a fixed pace. During a power training you can normally do that as well, only then the software/program determines the wattage and now you determine that yourself. With other trainers, you have to create a very high speed to experience such a high resistance. The NEO can simply simulate this. Both features can be found within the Tacx Utility app.”
Do you want to know more about the isotonic and isokinetic features? Check out this article.
How did you get the NEO so silent?
“Most other direct drives that are flywheel driven are equipped with a transmission. This transmission is designed to bring the flywheel up to speed and causes all the connected parts to rotate very fast. These fast moving parts are generating the noise of the trainer. With the NEO, we created a trainer with no internal transmission and therefore no fast moving parts. This significantly dropped the sound levels and made it an almost completely silent trainer.”
Can you make the NEO even better?
“What is great about the NEO is that it really is a combination of hardware and software. With software or firmware updates we are able to improve and add features to existing hardware. We have shown this with new features like Roadfeel and Isotonic/Isokinetic. For the future, we still see many possibilities to make it even more silent, more accurate and even more fun.
Are there more upgrades ahead?
“We are still working on new possibilities and improvements in terms of Road Feel, but we will keep that as a little secret for now.” ?