Comes in any color you like, as long as it's grasshoper green. Matches my frame quite nicely! © Josh Liberles

Comes in any color you like, as long as it's grasshoper green. Matches my frame quite nicely! © Josh Liberles

by Josh Liberles

It’s hard for me to get excited about an indoor trainer. If I’m riding a trainer, it usually means I’ve either done a poor job of time management and have no other alternative, or I’m being too much of a wuss to put up with the weather du jour. Fact of the matter is, trainers fill a necessary role in most cyclists’ lives, and in the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine, I’ve found one that makes me feel like I’m actually pedaling a bike. For cyclocross racers, a good pre-race warm-up on a trainer is often the best, most focused way to prepare for an event, stay warm and keep your race rig mud-free a little longer.

I have a very tough time generating power on par with my outdoor rides during trainer workouts. Not only does the typical trainer ride feel inherently different and less smooth than riding outdoors, but I also just can’t put out and hold even close to the same number of watts. That changed when I first tried Kurt Kinetic’s lineup of trainers. To ride on the Road Machine feels realistic because Kurt Kinetic made sure that their resistance unit mirrors real-world responsiveness. They used a power meter to calibrate the resistance unit such that increasing speed feels just like it does outdoors on the road. The faster you go, the more difficult an increase in speed will be–just like the exponential relationship between speed and power due to wind resistance in the real world.

The result? I can cue a video of a cyclocross World Cup, crank up a fan and spin out a respectable-for-me tempo pace, throwing in the occasional steady-state efforts to spice things up. Even with the distractions, I still find than an hour is just about my mental limit when riding indoors, but I’m able to get a better quality workout on the Road Machine than I’m accustomed to with other, lesser fluid or mag-resistance trainers.

The Road Machine's sturdy base is a great, stable workout platform © Josh Liberles

The Road Machine's sturdy base is a great, stable workout platform © Josh Liberles

The Road Machine is the company’s most versatile trainer platform. Sturdy construction will keep you in place during your all-out, out-of-saddle efforts, but it folds right up so that you can bring it with you to warm-up for your ‘cross races. It’s heavier than most portable trainers, but this speaks to the unit’s sturdy, overbuilt construction, industrial cooling fins, larger roller and sealed fluid resistance unit.

It comes in Kurt Kinetic’s bright grasshopper green color. Since most of my trainer workouts are in the basement, either at night or on horrible weather days, I welcome the splash of bright colors–but it may be too vibrant for some. The larger 2 1/8″ roller results in a bigger contact area patch with your tire and less tire wear. I definitely did have the tell-tale shiny stripe down the center of my road tire after several trainer sessions, but the wear was less pronounced and the tread less boxed than I’ve experienced with other trainers. Also, although I don’t recommend putting your fancy tubulars on any trainer, I did warm-up with knobby cyclocross clinchers before a race and found that the trainer handled the dirt tires well and caused no noticeable wear after a single pre-race session.

The fluid resistance unit is guaranteed leakproof and the trainer comes with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and a crash replacement policy (man, I’d hate to have to explain how I managed to crash my trainer…) The Kinetic’s resistance fluid is unaffected by heat and is so consistent that you can accurately measure riders’ power outputs through a simple formula just by knowing how fast they’re going. Spinning at 20mph? Then you know you’re churning out 258 watts. Pretty cool!

The Kinetic Power Computer was step-for-step with my Powertap during longer intervals © Josh Liberles

The Kinetic Power Computer was step-for-step with my Powertap during longer intervals © Josh Liberles

Kurt Kinetic makes two Power Computers designed to go with their trainers–a $79.99 wired model or a $184.99 wireless model that adds heart rate, altimeter and %grade–that display your watts based on this conversion formula. Of course, the meters aren’t directly measuring torque and power: they’re converting based on your speed. Therefore, they’ll only work while you’re using the Kinetic trainer and not out on the road. But, as I tested with my PowerTap, as long as you have your wheel-with-tire circumference accurately programmed into the Kinetic Power Computer, the readings are spot on, easily within 2%. It’s worth spending the 30 seconds on a roll-out measurement of your wheels’ circumference rather than estimating; the settings pre-loaded on the computer for a 700×23 tire weren’t close enough for an accurate reading.

The computers double as full-feature cyclo-computers, minus the wattage readings, off of the trainer too. So far the Kinetic Power Computers don’t provide a method to download and analyze your trainer power data, but the company plans to introduce a model with this capability in spring 2010.

While these aren’t full-fledged power meters, if you don’t already have a power meter rigged up to your bike–which is the case for many people’s ‘cross rig–this is a good way to nail a prescribed pre-event warm-up or hit specific targets in the basement. And if you’re also in the market for a general cyclo-computer, this could be your answer. Mind you, it doesn’t have the full functionality of a power meter, but it’s also $80 vs. over $1,000. Because the Kinetic computers are not directly measuring power, there’s a slight lag before an effort to accelerate will register. Therefore, the computers are better-suited for gauging longer efforts (i.e. one minute plus) than for sprints.

Although the Power Computers can make a nice add-on, they really speak to the quality of the trainers. I find the fact that the trainers perform so consistently that such an easy, accurate conversion from speed to watts is even possible says a lot. In fact, if you already have a cyclo-computer on board, you can get a rough approximation of power and save yourself some money by printing out Kurt Kinetic’s own mph vs. Power graphs. If you’re looking for a do-everything, last forever indoor trainer that well simulates the feel of an outdoor ride, you should definitely consider the Road Machine.

Kurt Kinetic Road Machine MSRP $369.99

Wired Power Computer (tested) MSRP $79.99
(power while on trainer, current/min/max temperature, cadence, calories, speed, distance, backlight, etc.)

Wireless Power Computer MSRP $184.99
(adds altimeter and heart rate)

More information at

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