The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting cooler, the cowbells are ringing: cyclocross season is in full force. Unfortunately, the change to fall also means trainer season is probably already here for many cyclocrossers in the U.S.
Trainers have certainly changed a lot as technology has developed. Noisy fan-resistance trainers gave way to wheel-on fluid trainers, and now wheel-on and direct-drive "smart" trainers offer an array of training options. The development of interactive software such as Zwift, Trainer Road and Rouvy help riders pass the winter months without being strictly condemned to watching re-runs on Netflix.
Cyclocross Magazine had recently looked at some of the trainer options on the market. We have reviewed the direct-drive Elite Drivo and the more portable Feedback Sports Omnium. At Interbike earlier this season, we also looked at the Minoura Kagura, which we will be putting to the test in the coming months.
Madison, Wisconsin-based CycleOps by Saris' entry into the direct-drive smart trainer market is the Hammer. Trainer season came early for me this year thanks to an August back injury, and I am ready to report back from my time hammering away on the Hammer. Stay tuned for reviews of the television shows and movies I have watched while doing so.
About the Hammer
CycleOps by Saris designs and builds its trainers in Madison, Wisconsin. The direct-drive Hammer is powered by a 20-pound flywheel housed in the trainer unit. The massive flywheel makes the Hammer heavy, but CycleOps claims the large size helps better simulate a road feel.
Power output from the Hammer is measured using PowerTap—also part of the Saris company—technology. The claimed accuracy of the power measurements is +/- three percent.
My personal trainer for the past year has been the wheel-on CycleOps Power Beam Pro, which communicates using only one of Ant+ or Bluetooth, depending on the model. The Hammer and other newer CycleOps trainers such as the Magnus communicate using both Ant+ FE-C and Bluetooth.
I prefer Ant+ and have been able to easily connect the Hammer to my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. One drawback is to connect to a PC, you need to purchase a $39 USB dongle. The unit also does not communicate cadence, so unless you are using software such as Zwift that records cadence, you will also need a cadence sensor.
Resistance-wise, Cycleops claims the the Hammer can measure power output up to 2,ooo watts and simulate grades up to 20%. Trainer noise has traditionally been an issue, but it seems newer trainers are designed to be quite quiet. The Hammer has a claimed noise level of 64 decibels at 20mph, which is similar to the noise level produced by a dishwasher or background music.
One plus in the Hammer's column from a cyclocross perspective is it is built to handle a variety of axle types and sizes and cassette ranges. The freehub is 8-11 speed Shimano-compatible. The unit is compatible with 130 and 135mm quick release axles and 12 x 142 or 148mm thru-axles.
Direct-drive trainers such as the Hammer are an investment. The retail price on the Hammer is $1,200, which is similar to the Wahoo KICKR and $100 less than the Elite Drivo we previously reviewed. For comparison, CycleOps' wheel-on Magnus smart trainer is priced at $600.
Setting Up the Trainer
The Hammer comes in a manageable package, but like any trainer unit with a 20-pound flywheel, it is quite heavy. The measured weight of the trainer and cassette was 47.8 pounds. Although there is a handle on the trainer, the heavy weight means moving it between locations can be a challenge. During my testing, I found a spot in the house and left it there.
The unit has two legs that extend outward and feature adjustable feet to help keep it level.
Since the Hammer is a direct drive trainer, the biggest step in getting it ready to ride is installing the cassette on the freehub. The freehub is 11-speed Shimano/SRAM compatible, but a spacer is included for 8-10 speed cassettes. I used the Hammer with my 10-speed quick release road and cyclocross bikes and found their respective Shimano and SRAM cassettes fit with the spacer.
I tested the Hammer with both Rouvy, which is the re-branded CycleOps Virtual Training software, and Zwift. Connecting the trainer to both applications using my Samsung Galaxy and PC was straightforward. Although a dongle is required to connect to a PC, a long USB extension cord was not necessary to place the dongle right next to the trainer unit, as some older smart trainers may require.
Pedaling away on the Hammer produced the advertised smooth ride. Some other trainers I have tried seem to have spots in the pedal stroke where resistance lets up, but the Hammer's heavy flywheel engages throughout the pedal stroke during steady-state, high-power and high-cadence efforts. Since I have been unable to race this fall, I cannot report that it has brought better fitness, but the constant engagement is certainly noticeable.
The Hammer produces a quiet ride with a constant hum that is easily drowned out by music, Netflix or the ambient noises of Zwift.
The Hammer paired well with both Zwift and Rouvy. While riding with Zwift, the Hammer quickly adjusted to the changing slopes and produced a fun riding experience. While riding mapped routes in Rouvy, the adjustment was slower, on the order of a few seconds, but it felt like more of a software issue than an issue with the trainer.
The Hammer also excelled at simulating steep grades in excess of 10%. Riding in and out of the saddle felt close to what it is like to ascend steep, lung and leg-crushing climbs. With the Rouvy software you can tackle many of the famed climbs of the Tour de France, Giro and other famous races and you will feel every vertical foot of the effort with the Hammer.
Trainer warmups are not uncommon for cyclocrossers on race day, so portability is worth considering. At 50-pounds the Hammer is not light and it must be plugged into a power source to provide resistance. These issues are shared by most direct-drive trainers, but users should plan on having a separate race-day option for trainer warmups.
Overall, the quality of the ride and training the Hammer provides are impressive. It provides consistent resistance and a smooth, quiet training experience. The one issue I had with the Hammer is related to how the power data is output from the unit.
Working with the power data produced by the Hammer proved challenging. The Hammer does not appear to have a "smoothing" or averaging function for its data output, and the instantaneous power values can bounce around by 50 watts or more during a constant effort. Rouvy also does not have a built-in smoothing function, so hitting desired power levels during intervals was difficult to do while using the software.
To train using Rouvy, I had to add the three-second power field to my Garmin to obtain reliable power data. Hopefully, future updates of the software will address this issue. Zwift defaults to a three-second moving average, so if you train using Zwift, this will likely not be an issue.
Overall, the ride on the Hammer delivers what CycleOps promises. The large flywheel produces a smooth ride and the magnetic resistance responds quickly to training applications such as Rouvy and Zwift. The resistance is consistent and allows me to focus on suffering through intervals while not worrying about wheel slippage or other issues. From a cyclocross perspective, the thru-axle adapters provide easy compatibility with newer 142mm thru-axle ’cross bikes.
The lack of data averaging from either the Hammer trainer or Saris' Rouvy software initially made training a challenge. I was able to find a workaround using my Garmin, but adding this function to the Rouvy software would help make for a smoother training experience.
I feel compelled to make the obligatory "Hammer Time" joke, but if you are willing to make the investment in this direct-drive trainer, it will do its part to help you maintain fitness during the winter months. You, of course, still have to MC your own performance.
Cost: MSRP: $1,200
Weight: 47.8 lbs with Shimano 11-28 cassette installed
Freehub: Shimano/SRAM 8-11 speed freehub (spacers included for 8/9/10-speed compatibility)
Axles: End caps to fit 130 and 135mm quick release, 12 x 142/148mm thru-axle
Noise: Claimed 64 decibels at 20mph
Power/Grade Range: Claimed as up to 20% grade, 2,000 watts at 20mph
Assembly: No tools required to assemble or store
More Info: cycleops.com