Tacx Flow Turbo Trainer Review
I got around to buying a turbo trainer and my new Tacx T1680 Flow Turbo Trainer arrived the other day. A nice quick delivery as usual but I was out riding in the real world so didn’t get to play with it until about 10pm. Just enough time to set it up which only took about ten minutes. Just a couple of screws and a bolt to attach the motor to the frame. It comes with a ‘Skyliner’ support for the front wheel which helps put the bike in a better position and all the fixings you need to attach the computer display, cadence sensor etc.Yesterday I got my old road bike out of the shed and put it on the turbo trainer. I didn’t have time for a proper workout on it as it was windy so I was off for a windsurf session in the sunshine, but I did have time to calibrate it and give it a quick test.
Setting up the computer is easy, first you enter your weight and your preferred units for the readout. For me that was miles rather than kilometres, Watts for power output and Kcal. It then goes into calibration mode where you simply pedal until you reach a certain speed and then stop pedaling. It then measures the braking effect on the rear wheel as it comes to a halt and calibrates the machine for you.
The computer readout is clear and the buttons easy to use. There is also plenty of information on the screen so I will be able to train using a variety of parameters. The computer does display your heart rate as well, but the machine doesn;t come with a heart rate monitor chest strap, you have to have your own already or buy one separately. I think it is compatible with the Polar chest straps. I have a Garmin chest strap and it isn’t compatible with that so for now it looks as though I shall have to wear my Garm HRM whilst on the turbo trainer in order to record my heart rate. This is actually better for me anyway because the software I use on my Mac for recording training sessions syncs really nicely with my Garmin Forerunner. [Click here for a Review of Mac Training Software].This will obviously only give me my heart rate data over time and not distance, speed, power output etc, but I can enter the distance in manually and that will have to do for now as the Tacx Flow computer doesn’t have the ability to connect to a PC to download a training session, and it certainly doesn’t have an interface with a Mac! I might get a speed and cadence sensor for my Garmin Forerunner at some point so that I can add that data to Ascent.
The other thing I tried to do was to compare it to the figures I had from Jon following my Sports and Exercise Science lab tests over the past few weeks. These figures were my Gas Exchange Threshold (GET) and my Critical Power (CP). I had these in Watts, but I had also had a go on the bikes at the Sports and Exercise Science department to try to convert these in approximate Heart Rates.
GET = 120 Watts (or 100bpm)
CP = 251 Watts (or 140bpm)
So, in order to try to see how accurate the Tacx Flow was I decided to set it first to 120 Watts and pedal for a few minutes and see what my heart rate was and then set it to 251 Watts and see how it went. It wasn’t the best conditions to try this as it was very hot but i thought it would be good to compare. It was easy to do as the Tacx Flow has an ‘ergo’ feature that allows you to set a predetermined power rate in Watts and it will automatically adjust the resistance to keep you at that power output whatever your cadence. This feature seems to work really well. It seems to hold the power pretty well, OK, it isn’t as good as the ones at Sports and Exercise Science, but those are 50 times the price! It doesn’t hold the power output perfectly simply because it can’t adjust the resistance quite as quickly as it needs to but once you’re into a rhythm it holds at the set power well allowing you to work at that rate. Any increase or decrease in cadence in quickly compensated for, the power output may increase or decrease for a second or so but the resistance is soon adjusted and the power output goes back to the correct setting.
As far as testing the outputs with the machines at SES goes, at the lower 120 Watts it was pretty much spot on. After 5-6 minutes at that level my heart rate was steady at 105 bpm. Slightly higher than at SES but it was pretty hot. However once I increased the power output to 250 Watts (it is adjustable in steps of 10 Watts), things were a little different. At this level it was actually pretty hard work and my heart rate was soon up around 160bpm and I didn’t really fancy sticking at that level for too long. I think I need to play around with the calibration settings a little.
However, how well it matches other machines (especially those costing 50 times the price) doesn’t really matter, what is important is that it remains consistent with itself so that workouts and intensities are repeatable.
Overall it’s a great piece of kit for the money. Quiet and stable which are two of the most important things, easy to set up and it has enough functions and information on the computer to keep me happy for a while. It’ll take a while to work out what settings I need to work at and some suitable interval sessions but hopefully it will prove to be a good training device and help me improve my speed an endurance out in the real world.