A failed review of the Saris M2 smart trainer and a re-review of the Wahoo KICKR Snap.
What follows is in many ways a review of the Saris M2 and Wahoo KICKR Snap smart trainers. Unfortunately, as you’ll soon learn, the review of the Saris M2 was short-lived. I did spend more time with the Wahoo KICKR Snap and it proved to be a more positive experience. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.
Ok, stop me if you're heard this one...
Blog writer has an opinion about something, writes about it, and later flip-flops on it. Happens all the time, right? Trust me, I've been wrong more times than I can count. When I'm wrong I'll gladly admit it. After all, being that we're the sum of our own experiences, when the experience with something changes then of course your opinion on it is going to change as well.
Sometime back I wrote a post about why wheel-on smart trainers suck. I attempted to upgrade my Elite Qubo fluid trainer to a Wahoo KICKR Snap for which my experience was less that desirable. I ended up returning it and decided to hold out for either a direct-drive trainer or a dedicated exercise bike that would work with TrainerRoad, Zwift, and the like.
A recent experience with wheel-on smart trainers has changed my opinion. Well...slight change I would say. I still think direct-drive trainers are better but, for what it's worth, wheel-on trainers have their place and are kinda ok. There! I said it! Opinion changed!
Attempted Review of the Saris M2 Smart Trainer
What started this was an experience I had over the Thanksgiving weekend. I had an opportunity to get a Saris M2 Smart Trainer on the cheap. Review are pretty solid for the M2. Most users seem to like it and consider it one of the better on-wheel smart trainers out there.
The main thing that enticed me with the Saris M2 was the clutch knob, which aids in making sure you get the right tension on your back tire. I had a bit of hard time wrapping my brain around how to get consistent tension with the KICKR Snap so this feature seemed rather foolproof by comparison. Apparently, all you have to do is setup your bike on the trainer, make sure your back tire is set with the right tire pressure, and then turn the knob till it clicks. That’s it, right? Granted, a 10-minute warm-up and calibration is still needed but I would expect results to be far more accurate in the long run. This one feature alone made me pull the trigger on getting it.
Unfortunately, my experience with the Saris M2 ended up being pretty much a disaster. My opinion of the clutch knob is that it’s heavily flawed by design. In fact, many things about the Saris M2 seemed quite flawed. Upon assembling the unit, a few things stuck out that immediately made me question the build quality.
First, when adding the bolt action tube was a bit difficult. It didn’t want to slide into the trainer very well and had to be forced in a bit. I got it in and it sort of worked ok but was a bit snug. Granted, you don’t want a part like this to be loose so having tight affordances is expected. Just seemed a bit too tight though.
Second, getting the resistance unit attached to the frame wasn’t easy. In fact, the hole where the bolt goes through the frame and resistance unit didn’t line up well. I had to push down on the resistance unit quite a bit to get the holes to line up. Another area where affordances should be tight but, still, I expected it to be much easier to assemble than this.
Lastly, the clutch knob. Boy...where do I even begin with this. I still don’t even understand how it really works. All I know is that the design is heavily flawed.
The way it works is that there is an L-bolt attached to the frame which goes through the center of the resistance unit. From there, the clutch knob is screwed into it and pulls on the L-bolt to tighten the tension of the resistance unit to the back tire.
There’s a big, big problem with this though. What happens when the clutch knob fails? What if it doesn’t actually click the way it’s supposed to?
After setting up the M2 and attaching my bike, I started to turn the clutch knob and apply tension to the tire. I turned it a few times but didn’t hear a click. I could tell that a decent amount of tension was being put on the tire based on how hard it was to turn the clutch knob. Another turn but still no click.
I backed off and check my tire pressure making sure it was set to the max pressure the tire allowed. All check out so I turned the clutch knob again. No click so I kept turning it. I could tell that there was quite a bit of tension on the tire and, after still not getting a click, I stopped and backed off.
That’s when I saw the problem. Upon close inspection, I found that the L-bolt was bent as well as the part of the frame it’s attached to. The clutch knob failed and bent the damn frame!
I couldn’t believe that the frame bent. Seems that the design is flawed and where the L-bolt is inserted needed to be reinforced. I half wonder how many times this has happened to others. Is Saris even aware of this? Are they doing anything to correct the flaw? Seems to be a growing trend in the industry where design flaws are overlooked in an effort to get new units out the door. (And there goes another heavy handed opinion!)
I immediately boxed the unit back up and took it back. Suffice to say what I found was a huge design flaw that left a lot to be desired. Right then and there I knew I wouldn’t get another one due to a total lack of trust in the design of the clutch know. What if it happened again later down the road? Would I get stuck with a trainer with a bent frame? Thanks, but no thanks!
The whole experience sucked because, with this design flaw, I didn’t even get to try out the trainer to see how it compared with others I’ve tried. So...what now?
A Re-Review of the Wahoo KICKR Snap
I was very close to just calling it a day, stick with my Elite Qubo fluid trainer, and just wait to upgrade to a direct-drive trainer. However, after my debacle with the Saris M2, I did some more reading on all the available wheel-on smart trainers. I kept going back to the Wahoo KICKR Snap because, frankly, I wondered why I was having problems with it to begin with. Was it just me? Turns out, it kinda was.
After reading all of it, I felt like maybe the problems I was having were more about an unclear process more than anything. It’s quite possible that the KICKR Snap is just fine but requires a little more finesse than what I was giving it before. As such, I figured what the hell...let’s give the KICKR Snap another shot!
After the fiasco with the Saris M2, I knew that the build quality of the KICKR Snap was way better. The frame of the KICKR Snap feels much sturdier than the Saris M2. The legs on the M2 felt stiff and a bit too difficult to extend and collapse. By comparison, the legs on the KICKR Snap were much easier to extend and collapse while still retaining a high degree of stability. Plus, how the flywheel unit attaches to the frame on the KICKR Snap gives me a much higher degree of confidence compared to the M2. The way the resistance knob is attached also inspires a lot of confidence. Basically, the KICKR Snap feels rock solid. It’s a brick shithouse compared to the Saris M2!
The flywheel is definitely bigger so no doubt in my mind which one provides the smoothest ride experience. The 10.5 lb flywheel of the KICKR Snap dwarfs the roughly 2.6 lb flywheel of the Saris M2. Plus, based on all the reviews I’ve read of each, resistance changes are quicker and smoother with the KICKR Snap. So, yeah, lots going for it on that front.
But aside from all the quality differences, will the KICKR Snap still perform well? Is there a consistent way to calibrate it? That’s what I aimed to find out.
One of the first things I researched the hell out of before doing a ride was calibration. Rather than detailing it here, I decided to devote an entire post about Achieving Consistent Calibration on a Wahoo KICKR Snap. In short, I eliminated a lot of the confusion and came away with all the elements and steps required to get it calibrated right virtually every time.
With that...on to the first ride!
FTP Changes on the KICKR Snap
I was already about two weeks into a Base Phase on TrainerRoad. As such, I back tracked a little and chose the first workout from the plan I was on as a test. This particular workout appeared to be a good candidate for ERG mode so I kept the settings set to is and started the ride.
Right at the start, I kind of wondered if perhaps things were a little harder than they should be. The initial warmup intervals were only 50% and 72% of my FTP. Once it hit the third warmup interval and switched to 96% FTP I knew something was wrong.
There was no doubt in my mind that my current FTP was way off. The FTP I was using was based on a FTP Ramp Test on TrainerRoad using an Elite Qubo fluid trainer and a PowerPod power meter in indoor mode. So, what I should have done from the start was redo the FTP Ramp Test to determine my FTP on the KICKR Snap.
The differences between the results of the Ramp Test between the KICKR Snap and the Qubo/PowerPod were night and day! Without telling you my actual FTP, I will say that the result was 30% lower than before. That's insane, right? What that means is that the relative power output of the fluid trainer is off by a huge margin. Definitely makes the KICKR Snap a worthy upgrade for sure!
The good news is that this means I should be able to see better results with outdoor rides. After all, the relative power outputs between the KICKR Snap and my PowerPod (when riding outdoors) should be pretty close. I wondered about this before getting the KICKR Snap. There have been times when the power being reported felt strangely easier than it should be. Turns out its because I was comparing the output of my fluid trainer with my power output outdoors, which was way off for sure.
Initial Workouts on the KICKR Snap
After completing the FTP Ramp Test on TrainerRoad, the only thing left to evaluate was how it does with a full workout. The next workout on my list for the Sweet Spot Base phase was Monitor, which consists of 6 x 6-minute intervals of rolling sweet spot at 88-94% of FTP. Because there aren’t any highly controlled intervals like sprints I left the KICKR Snap in ERG mode.
Boy oh boy was this a workout! I’m so glad I updated my FTP cause, man, this workout would have absolutely killed me if I didn’t. I would have set myself up for failure for sure. And the experience was night and day compared to the fluid trainer I was using.
Have to say, I really like ERG mode. It kept me honest with every interval during the workout for sure. Adjustments in resistance were super smooth and it kept up with me with any changes in my cadence. At no point did I experience any major instances where over-pedaling led to any knocking.
Plus, ERG mode keeps me honest. There’s a reason why The Sufferfest calls it AARGH Mode...because there’s no escape from it! After a number of sweet spot intervals, you can definitely feel the intensity of each effort. I immediately could tell the difference in the quality of the workouts with ERG mode enabled.
Major changes in power requirements between intervals were pretty smooth too. The lag time required for the resistance level to change was pretty darn quick. When I went from a rest interval back to one of the main sweet spot intervals I don’t think the lag in resistance change was but maybe a few seconds or so.
A few workouts later, I did another one called Ericsson, which included four 8-minute spin-up intervals. For this one, I figured control over the spin-ups was important. As such, I opted to try out Standard mode defaulting to level 3 (out of 10). At first, everything seemed ok but my ability to maintain consistent power was all over the place. When I hit the first spin-up interval, it was somewhat consistent with the first part but, once I hit the first spin-up, it seemed a little difficult to spin-up smoothly and maintain steady power.
Before hitting the second spin-up interval, I decided to switch to Resistance mode, thinking that it might help with maintaining more consistent power. Instead of a ramped amount of resistance based on speed, the resistance level remains at a set level of resistance. For this, I set the resistance level to 50 (out of 100) and also changed the power smoothing from 3 to 7. This resulted in allowing me to be in roughly the third gear on my bike when at 50% FTP. Resistance mode proved to be a bit more predictable. Plus, with a bit higher power smoothing, I didn’t feel like I was struggling to maintain consistency.
I will say that I probably prefer ERG mode over the others though. It’s kind of nice to just be able to set my bike into a set gear, just pedal, and not have to worry about shifting or whether I’m hitting my power targets. Cadence becomes the thing that is most important with ERG mode. However, I do understand the need for switching things into Resistance or Standard mode for certain workouts. For those workouts, I’ll likely choose Resistance mode over the Standard one, which feels a bit more predictable than Standard.
Consistent Power Output Across the Board
I’ve written about training with a budget trainer and what I wrote is still valid. Power output is only as relative as you want it to be. If you’re getting consistent power on just that trainer and you’re not comparing it to anything else then you’re fine. It’s only when you start comparing it to something else is when you run into problems. If you don’t have a power meter on your bike and don’t intend on measuring your power for outdoor rides then it doesn’t really matter. It basically boils down to how you approach your training.
In my case, I actually plan on doing some outdoor workouts with TrainerRoad here and there. However, I can’t do that if the power output on my trainer doesn’t match up well with what is being reported outdoors. No way in hell was I going to get that using a fluid trainer. Definitely was time to take it up a notch and upgrade to a better trainer that’s more accurate in power. When comparing outdoor power, I should be much, much closer in accuracy between the KICKR Snap and the power meter on my bike.
I’m not going to lie. My budget simply didn’t allow me to get a direct-drive trainer. A direct-drive trainer is still a better choice for sure. I probably could have held out for one but decided not to. In many ways, I’m glad I did. It was time. Especially after learning how off my power output was on the fluid trainer.
The journey was rough though. I had an initial false start with the KICKR Snap. Followed by an absolute failure of the Saris M2. But a comeback to the KICKR Snap did bear fruit and showed me that a wheel-on trainer can work. Granted, a bit of labor is required but I can live with that. So long as I get consistent results I’m a happy camper.