Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus review TL;DR: Garmin’s rival to the Wahoo Kickr Bike V2 matches its competitor on price but isn’t as realistic when it comes to simulating an outdoor riding experience indoors. Its cost means it’s reserved for those with the deepest pockets, but if I had this much money in my bank balance, I'd opt for the Wahoo instead.
The Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus is an upgrade on the brand’s debut indoor training bike, which was released in 2019. The biggest change is the modification of the handlebar shifters, which now mimic those found on any drop handlebar bike. It’s possible to set them up to function like Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo shifters, allowing you to copy the drivetrain of your chosen bike completely. There has also been an increase in crank length options – you can now attach your pedals in one of five different 2.5mm intervals that range from 165mm to 175mm.
In terms of the specs, the majority are the same as its predecessor. It has a power accuracy of +/- 1% up to 2,200W (that’s track cyclist territory), can simulate ascents as steep as 25%, and doesn’t require calibration. It also keeps the features that are unique to Tacx, including simulating the feel of riding over cobblestones and dirt using haptic feedback, the ability to be used without a power source, and its built-in fans and tablet holder. Is it worth including the Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus in T3's best exercise bike guide, and should you buy one? Read on to find out.
Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus review: Price and availability
The Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus was unveiled in November 2022 and is available to buy now from Garmin UK/Garmin US/Garmin AU for a recommended retail price of £3,500/$4,000/AU$6,500. The bike's predecessor is also available to buy from Garmin UK, Garmin US and Garmin AU for much, much less money (£2,300/$3,200/AU$5,000). At the time of writing, the Tacx Neo Smart Bike is on offer in the US and currently sells for $2,560. Check the widgets at the top and bottom of this Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus review to find the best prices.
Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus review: Setting up
A quick warning – the Neo Smart Bike Plus is ridiculously heavy. Arriving in a large, rectangular box, it took two people to lift it from the delivery van into my house, and once it was put down, it wasn’t moving far without a struggle. When you decide to assemble it, you want to be doing it in the bike’s final location.
Putting it together is like any good self-assembly project. If you’re comfortable following instructions and using the provided tools (a selection of Allen keys), then it shouldn’t pose any problems. The first part will require two people – attaching the front and rear feet are straightforward enough but involves lifting up the very heavy section which houses the flywheel – but after this, it’s a one-person job that takes no longer than an hour.
After attaching all of the different components (saddle, handlebars, bottle cage, fans and tablet mount), it’s time to get the trainer set to your preferred geometry. If you have previously undergone a bike fit, it shouldn’t take you too long to accurately adjust the various heights and fore/aft down to the nearest millimetre. If you haven’t had a bike fit, it’s time to break out the tape measure and match the indoor trainer’s geometry to that of your bike. Unlike the Wahoo system (where you are able to use your phone’s camera and augmented reality to measure your bike and are provided with instructions on how to recreate its geometry), it’s not very user-friendly and requires a bit of trial and error.
Geometry sorted, you’re ready to ride as soon as you’ve attached your pedals. Before you do, though, it’s worth downloading the Tacx Trainer app, where you can install the latest firmware version and adjust settings on the indoor trainer, such as its gearing (including the number of chainrings and even the teeth on a virtual cassette), how much feedback you’ll receive from virtual cobblestones, and whether the fans will increase in intensity inline with your heart rate, speed or power output.
Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus review: Riding experience
As you’re investing in a serious piece of indoor training tech, you want the ride feel to truly simulate that of a real-life bike. The Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus manages to do this successfully in a number of ways.
First up, its gearing and shifting really felt like I was riding my actual bike (without the time lag that comes from my IRL bike needing a service…). It was smooth and had a satisfying clunk when working my way up and down the virtual cassette. Plus, if I was tackling a particularly hilly route on a virtual training platform, I could give myself a bit more range with the tap of a button rather than having to switch out cassettes as with a standard turbo trainer.
The realism is increased even further with its real road feel. Similar to the feature found on the Tacx Neo 2T turbo trainer, the indoor bike was able to simulate the feeling of riding over cobblestones, gravel, mud, and grit. While it felt a bit surreal at first, it added to the immersion when whizzing around on Zwift.
The dual fans are a nice addition and provide a welcome breeze throughout training that helps keep the sweat at bay. However, their small size and coverage mean that you’re still left with hot spots and might be better off investing in a larger, dedicated fan, particularly if using year-round. The tablet holder felt secure throughout – even when putting down some serious power.
The one thing that the Tacx Neo Smart Plus lacks is the rise and fall simulation found on the Wahoo Kickr Bike V2. From experience, this dramatically increases the real feel of an indoor trainer and sees you shifting your on-bike position as you would on the road – engaging different muscles and minimising saddle fatigue in the process. If I were choosing between gradient and vibration simulation, I’d definitely choose the former.
Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus review: Compatibility and connectivity
The Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus is, most importantly, a smart indoor bike – meaning it can be connected and used with a wealth of training apps via ANT+ and Bluetooth. I found that it played nicely with Zwift and TrainerRoad, and I didn’t have any issues setting it up during free rides or ERG-based workouts (where the trainer's resistance is controlled in line with what’s required for the training session).
It also connected quickly to my Wahoo Tickr heart rate monitor, with my real-time heart rate broadcast on the small built-in display alongside my power, cadence (RPM), and current gear (although this is overridden during ERG mode). One thing worth flagging is that it doesn’t feature built-in WiFi. Although I didn’t suffer any dropouts during testing, Bluetooth and ANT+ don’t provide as secure a connection as WiFi, so there is a greater risk of signal dropouts – which can be frustrating if e-racing.
Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus review: Verdict
The Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus is a minor improvement on what went before. The upgraded handlebars and shifters combined with its drivetrain imitator mean it has the ride feel of an actual bike from front to back. But its eye-watering price and the missing of some features found on its closest rival mean it’s likely to remain in the shadows of the Wahoo Kickr Bike V2. For the same reason, it wouldn’t be worth upgrading if you already own the Tacx Neo Smart Bike.
Tacx Neo Smart Bike Plus review: Also consider
I tested the Wahoo Kickr Bike V2 (here's Mike's Wahoo Kickr Bike v1 review) and thought it was the best indoor training experience currently available on the market (although it’s worth caveating that it’s also the joint-most expensive). Other indoor bikes to pick from include the Wattbike Atom and the Stages SB20.
Alternatively, it’s possible to pick up a top-tier turbo trainer and still have plenty of change left to invest in an indoor-and-outdoor conquering road bike or deck out your pain cave with some turbo training accessories.