*EDIT: Six weeks in, and the Tacx-iGenius went up in smoke. While the initial review below might still be useful for you, the follow-up post about the Tacx fault is here*
Here it is, my Tacx i-Genius review.
Having worked so hard to get fit this year, I was concerned that the onset of winter would see me hibernating and losing all those benefits from cycling, meaning I’d effectively have to start again when the weather brightened up in early spring. I began to seriously consider investing in a turbo trainer, something that would keep me spinning my legs and pushing the heart rate in the comfort of my own home. And because I’m a sucker for gadgets, with a child-like yearning for expensive, shiny new things, I ended up paying more for the trainer than I did for the bike!
But my Tacx i-Genius is already justifying its weighty £850-ish price tag. In less than two weeks, despite being restricted by working in London and killing my legs trying to climb virtual mountains, I have clocked up around 120 miles, a distance I would never have done out on the road – even if the weather was reasonable. Keep this up, and I’ll be a fighting fit, lean cycling machine by the end of February, and the aim is to tackle my first 100-miler sportive in May (a big jump from my usual 65 or 50-mile pootles).
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I did some lengthy research before settling on the Tacx i-Genius. It is expensive, and there is historically some questionable customer experiences with Tacx: software glitches, firmware issues and hardware that could apparently give up the ghost far too easily. However, I sensed that more recently things had improved – Tacx’s own forum, though still showing some customer issues, was now by and large a happy place.
Once I’d made that purchase decision, it was a question of where to buy the Tacx i-Genius from. Prices could be as high as just over £1,000 from a local bike shop (not that many are official stockists), but of course online is where the money savings can be found, and I ordered mine from Wiggle. I should point out at this stage that I have an affiliate account with Wiggle, but it was actually the best deal.
The Tacx i-Genius is a clever piece of kit, with a brake system that increases resistance on your rear tyre or spins the wheel for you depending on the gradient you are cycling – be that a virtual route from the software, or a real life video of one of the famous cycling routes. Basically, you can ride anywhere you like, including around Italy, France, the hilly parts of Holland and up the Alps. Let me tell you some of the courses are tough, hence the leg burning!
My child-like excitement at getting a new piece of kit reached dizzying heights on the day delivery was scheduled (only two working days after my order). I was repeatedly clicking on the courier link to see where the parcel was.
It seemed young Ramoss was on his way, but he was only on his first delivery… and mine was number 51. I have little patience, however before too long there was a knock on the door, and my new toy had arrived. The dogs were certainly impressed.
And the box was certainly on the large side.
But it was soon clear there was quite a lot to this trainer.
Despite reading some horror stories from some people about putting the Tacx i-Genius together, and getting all the parts to work and ‘talk’ to each other, I found it relatively simple. The software also fired up fine on my desktop, and once I had worked out how to update it to the latest version (tip: turn off your anti-virus software before loading up the Tacx software), everything has been working really well.
So what do you get for your money? The Tacx software comes loaded with several virtual training environments through which you can cycle to your heart’s content. Make your own routes depending on your mood or how you want to train. Hills? Plenty of them. Nice rolling routes? Tick. Flat as a pancake? If you like. You can also whizz round a Velodrome, through cities and, if you buy the Google license you can cycle through Google maps or even use Street View. If that’s not enough, you can purchase the multiplayer license and see how you get on against other Tacx users around the world.
However, it’s the real life video feature that I have been using. Sadly you have to purchase these, either ordering the DVD/BlueRay Disc or downloading from the Tacx site. You can pay 10 Euros for a short route, or anything over 50 Euros for the longer ones or for top climb collections. I have four so far – the last 80kms or so of the Milan to Sanremo route, a stage of the Amstel Gold race, a relaxing, largely flat or downhill spin through the Aube valley in central France, and another one around the French vineyards.
These are a great way to train, and you can break each film into sections of, say 20 miles, which in my case makes it bearable since in the Amstel Gold and Sanremo films, for example, there are some awesome climbs. Those 20 miles might take 80 minutes! But the time flies because using the video system is actually fun. Yes, training can be fun!
While you pedal furiously along the Italian Riviera coast road, or along the Pacific highway in California, or up an Alp or two, you can use the Tacx head unit, which you attach to your handlebar, to review your current session stats – you get real time watts, cadence and, if you have a heart monitor, your heart rate. This screen will also show the current session profile, so you know when the next hill is, and how tough it’s going to be. Meanwhile, you can turn down the ‘power’ setting on the software, which basically makes it easier to ride. So until you get superfit, you may want to go at 80-90 per cent. It’ll certainly help up the steep climbs.
The whole set-up is nice and sturdy, even with a heffalump like me using it. You set it up on the Tacx BlackTrack, which unfolds to give a solid base, and also allows for the steering unit at the front. This steering thing is really unecessary, you don’t use it on the real life films, but the you would use it if you were ‘free cycling’ around the virtual worlds, going whichever way you wished.
The wireless connections also work flawlessly. The Tacx i-Genius brake unit, the head unit and, if you are wearing one, the heart monitor all connect to a ‘dongle’ which you plug into a USB port in your computer.
Here are some screenshots of my real life video routes. These show speed and gradient, but had I been riding, this would also show distance covered, miles to go, power/watts, heartrate and cadence. Pretty cool!
First up, here’s a trip along the beautiful coast road into Sanremo.
This route has a couple of tasty climbs. This screenshot is taken from the smaller of two climbs in this section of the Milan to Sanremo route. In the video replayer, you can see the route profile at the bottom.
There are also some pretty tough climbs in the Amstel Gold 2010 video, which came as a bit of a surprise because I thought Holland was flat! Anyway, the video is cool because it was shot by the lead car just before the leading pack of cyclists in the race, so you get plenty of people by the side of the road cheering you along as you speed by. As you approach the finish of the stage, the crowds are huge!
If all those hills and crowds seem a little too energetic, you can enjoy a much more relaxing time in the Burgundy region of France, pootling down the Aube valley for 20 miles of mostly flat or downhill cycling in beautiful countryside. This is actually useful for me – if I overdo it on the more tricky courses for a few days, this Aube valley route is a perfect recovery ride. Look at that lovely downhill profile.
So all in all, first impressions of my Tacx i-Genius are very good. It looks like it will make cycle training both challenging and interesting through the long winter months. Importantly, I have not experienced any of the issues that have tainted Tacx’s reputation in the past, and it looks as though those days are long gone. Is it worth the money? Well only time will tell. But what price fitness and wellbeing? If the price tag of 850 quid or so is too much, then there are cheaper versions of Tacx trainers available that also use the same software. And, of course, there are loads of other makes, too.
Make sure you visit the Wiggle website for a very decent selection of turbo trainers.
I’ll put together a video of my Tacx set-up when I get time. Until then, I’m off to climb an Alp. Slowly.
Oh, and you can even upload your indoor training ride to Strava. Here’s one of my Sanremo runs…