Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Long Term Review: Tacx Blue Matic Trainer

This post has now been migrated to my other, "sports", blog.
Updates will apppear there.

Disclosures: nothing to disclose. No freebies, no hidden payment, no fancy marketing tricks.
Price paid: 129 Pounds Sterling (about 170 US Dollars, about 155 euros)
Model: Tacx Blue Matic Smart T2650
I bought the trainer (with my own money) on 19th September 2016, using "click and collect" from my local Halfords, at the "regular" retail price.

What's in the box?
I got the so-called "Smart" variant.
All that means is that the Tacx T2015 Speed and Cadence sensor comes bundled in the box.

The "Smart" bit - a Tacx Speed and Sensor set included in the box.
Of course, it's not really "Smart" in the usual bike trainer sense of the word,
but it is "dual", so it transmits to Blue Tooth (BLE, Blooth Tooth 4) and Ant+ at the same time.
Yep, I checked it by connecting it to my Garmin 310XT (Ant+ only!) and my Hudl 2 tablet (BlueTooth 4 only!) at the same time, with the Tacx app running on Bluetooth.

the "main" part of the Blue Matic trainer. A folding frame (used on many Tacx trainers), and the trainer head, with cable.
The "Twist" model is similar, but there is no cable - you just adjust the "head" before you start.
The "head" has a wide contact area, and easily accomodated my 622x35 tyres.
Some of the fancier Tacx models only have a small tyre gap in the "head", but I reckon the Blue Matic could handle at least 50mm-width tyres (maybe only 40mm with a 700c/29-er, due to the shape of the black plastic below the roller)
You need fairly smooth tyres though, so mud-pluggers are no good.
My 622x35 Marathon Plus worked well.
Many folks get specific "trainer tyres", and if you are using lightweight racing tyres I can see the point.
But if you have long-life, heavy duty, city/touring tyres, then I am not sure a trainer tyres is needed.

The included "bits and bobs"
Quick Release spindle (special wheel nuts are available separatelyat extra cost if you don't have QR wheels)
Allen key and a couple of bolts to attach the "head" to the "frame"
the various parts for the Sensor, with plenty of cable ties AND 3 bands for the speed end and 3 more for the cadence end of the Sensor. Plus the necessary magnets. AND a 2032 battery for the sensor. Remember, unless you buy the "Smart" variant of the model, the sensor unit is an accessory at extra cost (about 40 quid in the UK).

There are a couple of instructions leaflets, and Tacx instruction leaflets are not well-regarded ...

... for good reason!
The min and max wheel diameters are the wrong way round in the booklet.
But more seriously, position 1 and position 2 are shown the wrong way round, too!
For 700c wheels, the "head" needs to sit in the "flatter" position, which is marked 1 in the diagram on the right,
but the table on the left shows it as needing posuition 2!
Having assembeld my trainer, I can suure you that it is the TOP position for 700c wheels!
(so the lower position would be for smaller wheels, like 26-inch with small tyres)

Position 1, and position 2.
The trainer "head" needs to sit lower for 700c wheels.

My fairly lightweight "Halo" locking skewer on the left, with the Tacx skewer on the right.
The Tacx skewer has big, round, ends to fit into the clamps on the Blue Matic trainer.

The Tacx skewer is longer and a good bit heavier than my Halo skewer.
The Tacx skewer has a longer thread so that it should fit both 130mm and 135mm wheel widths.
(My Halo skewer, shown, is a 135mm)
Indeed, the Tacx skewer may fit even wider axles.
For extra cost, special wheel nuts are available to be used instead of the skewer if your rear wheel is "nutted".
Also for extra cost, adaptors are available to make the skewer fit some of the more modern, larger, axle sizes.
OK, so that is the basics of what you get.
How did I get on?

After working out, by trial and error, which pair of holes to mount the "head" on, it went well.
After a quick adjustment to the two locking clamps for the rear wheel, it is quick and easy to take the bike in and out of the trainer. I'm just going to leave the Tacx spindle in the rear, because it is really just a standard rear wheel spindle with fancy ends.

First test with the trainer - data captured by my Garmin 310XT watch.
My first test went well.


Having read reports that turbo trainers can sound like jet aircraft taking off, all I can say is that:
1) perhaps other riders are much more powerful than me!
2) floor surface can make a difference - I was on a concrete garage floor!
3) tyre choice may make a difference. My Marathon Plus (well used) don't have much of a tread pattern, and in the internal rubber layer may be acting as a shock absorber!
I mean it isn't silent, but it is not louder than an electric drill when drilling wood, for example.
For me the noise isn't an issue.

Having read horror stories about trainer "heads" so hot that tyres are in danger of melting, again all I can say is:
1) perhaps other riders are much more powerful than me!
2) tyre choice may make a difference. My Marathon Plus (well used) don't have much of a tread pattern, and in the internal rubber layer may be acting as a shock absorber!

Yep. Sitting in my garage with the door open, you get warm easily, even when the outside temperature is in the region of 15 C (60F).
I was only wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and I was only out there 15 minutes, but I ended up dripping sweat.
If you are going to be using a trainer indoors, you are going to be getting sweaty VERY quickly!
Even when jogging in the Winter, there is a bit of breeze caused by movement. On a stationary trainer, you are, well, stationary!

The Blue Matic trainer isn't bad. If you have ever used a lower-cost home exercise bike, you will think it is superbly smooth! The trainer slows down quite quickly, too, so no freewheeling! But you probably shouldn't be freewheeling on a trainer anyway!
Smoothness tends to be a trade-off for weight - put a big, heavy flywheel on the end, and its smooth. But darned heavy if you want to move it about! The Blue Matic is light enough to be moved easily by most folks (it weights about 9 kg, 20 lbs) fully assembled)
So, not wonderful for smoothness, but smooth enough for me. And light enough, too!

No front wheel stand with my trainer, so I was a little concerned about stability.
In reality I had no issues.
Mind you, I had made sure I had adjusted the rear clamp to hold the rear wheel properly and firmly.
I weigh about 85kg, and my bike weighs about 15kg (I have the front wheel with a hub dynamo in for the Winter!). The Tacx Blue Matic design seems to be fairly stable, with a reasonable width to the frame.
I only tested the trainer while riding seated, so perhaps if you like swinging the bike from side to side while sprinting, you might have a problem. But I suspect if you like swinging the bike from side to side you are going to have stability problems with ANY trainer!

Yep - staring at the back of my car from my garage is pretty dull. By mounting my Garmin 310XT on the handlebars, at least I have some numbers to look at (!). Because the sensors are "dual", I also set up my Tablet on a box by the side of the trainer, and read the numbers from the Tacx app. I guess it is something I'll have to get used to.
Mind you, folks think my habit of running round and round the same block for an hour is pretty dull, too (it is about 6 laps to the hours), as is my habit of riding up and down Martin Dalby Way (a decent bit of cycle path is next to it, barely used, with no side turning, and just over 2 km each way) for an hour is pretty dull, too.
I think I will need to rig up my tablet so I can watch a film or something.
Mind you, when concentrating on specific exercises, one needs ones full attention on the "numbers".

Other Features:
Using the Tacx app with the included T2015 sensor gives a "Virtual Power" reading, as well as cadence and speed.
My perceived effort for a given Tacx "Virtual Power" reading is the same sort of effort I make when Strava gives me their "guesstimated" power.
The "Virtual Power" is calculated by the Tacx app, so it isn't available on Ant+, although the speed and cadence are on Ant+ as well as Bluetooth ("dual" frequency transmitter on the sensor, remember).
You want "proper" power readings, then get a proper power meter. But you won't get one for at least double the cost of the Blue Matic trainer!
Think of the power readings from the Tacx app as being like the PowerCal HR belt - they use an algorithm that is in the general region of the "real" figures for most of the population, but there is no guarantee that they will be particulrly accurate for an individual (like me, or, for that matter, you).
I train to HR anyway, so it was really the included Speed/Cadence sensor that I wanted. the "Virtual Power" is just a little bonus.
I will, however, experiment a little in the future to see how heart rate and Tacx's "Virtual Power" vary in relation to each other.

Heart Rate Sensor:
Nope. You don't get one of those. I was wearing my Garmin HR chest strap during the test. I do have a Bluetooth belt somewhere. I suppose I could try wearing both of them at the same time, so the BLE one works on my yablet, and the Ant+ one works on my Garmin 310XT.

I'm pleased with the Tacx Blue Matic Smart trainer. It's not really "Smart", but because I don't have a cadence or speed sensor (having relied on 15 seconds of counting x 4 on my watch for cadence, and my GPS for speed), the bundled sensor kit taht makes up the "Smart" id a useful addition to me. The "Virtual Power" is a toy, but I still like it.

Obviously, there will be more updates later.
But I only bought it yesterday!

Update: 21st September 2016
Riding the trainer with one of Tacx's two free demo films playing.
(pic is a screenshot from my tablet, and yes, I am actually pedalling away while I am making the screenshot.
Getting to grips with the Tacx Apps.
The Screenshot is from the Tacx Cycling App.
There are two short films available free on the Tacx site (look under "Store" in the menu in the Tacx Cycling App).
Time passes faster looking at a screen!

With a "proper" smart trainer, the trainer will automatically adjust the resistance of the braking unit, so it gets harder to pedal when you go uphill.

With a more "basic" trainer, like the Tacx Blue Matic, it works in a slightly different way.
See the overlay with the up and down arrows?
Set that the same as the resistance on the manual lever.
So the screenshot is set up for a resistance setting of 3 on the manual handlebar control.
Because a "basic" trainer can't increase the brake resistance, when you are going up hill, your displayed speed drops - just like if you had changed down a gear or two.

Because I have 24 speeds (3x8) on my bike, I just tend to set a resistance of two or three, and then use the gears on the bike to increase my work rate.

In the screen shot, the cadence data is real, the speed data is from the sensor on the bike, but modulated by the "slope" in that part of the film, the heart rate is constant (I was wearing an ANT+ HR, so it doesn't show up, as my tablet is bluetooth).

Trainer ride in two sections  - first a "stepped" workout, then a Tacx film.
You can see where I dropped the chain during a gear change (the dip on the right!)
This screenshot is from Strava (on my PC), from my Garmin 310XT, via Garmin Connect, to Strava.
Of course, the cadence and speed snesors still work, because the are "dual" ANT+ and Bluetooth.
First I did a "stepped" exercise, where you do two minutes at each level of work (measured by virtual power), and keep going until your HR exceeds 130 bpm, then you just finish the 2 minute section you are doing, and stop. then I did part of one of the free Tacx films.
Because I am on "rehab", I limited my session to 15 minutes, so I didn't actually finish the film part of the training session.

There are only 2 free, short, films on the Tacx store, but there are more than 40 workouts, some of them over an hour long!

I guess I'll need to find that old Bluetooth heart rate belt I have, or get an ANT+ dongle for my smartphone.

Lessons learnt:
1) don't forget to set the Tacx app to the same resistance as the Blue Matic trainer
2) time passes a lot quicker with a screen with a workout or a film showing
3) the Tacx store has two free (short) films, and more than 40 free workouts

Update: 25th September 2016

The "remote" adjuster for the resistance. It is too big to fit my bars
("traditional" 22mm size), even if I use the biggest of the rubber shims included.
I am sure it would be fine on a set of drop handlebars (23 point something mils),
especially by the time you factor in the thickness of the handlebar tape
(which I don't use!).
So I just clamped the remote to the end of my (rather long) cork grip.
Works fine.
The remote doesn't want to stay in position "1", and tends to slip into 2 all by itself.
Prabably needs the screw tightened a tad.
Since I am happy with just 2 to 10, I just left it.
I mainly use positions 2 and 4, and as I have a VERY wide gear ratio (a triple up front with 11-32 out back)
I just tend to set the effective resistance by changing the gear ratio.

After a couple of hours of use, the metal roller has picked up a tell-tale black streak.
I'm pretty sure the roller is actually some sord of hard nylon with a metal sleeve.
You can see that my 35mm tyre doesn't look very wide on the Blue Matic,
and I reckon you could get at least a 40mm for a 700c/29-er, or a 70mm+ for a 26" (559) tyre in there!
Plenty of adjustment both ways with the knob under the roller, too,
so that ought to adjust OK down to a skinny little race tyre or up to a fairly fat tyre.
Beware that some of the more fancy Tacx trainers only take thinner tyres,
unlike the Blue Matic in the picture!

Derailleur-side adjuster.
Just unscrew the blue ring, screw the silver "end" to the width you want, then screw the blue ring up again
to "lock" the position.
Once it is set-up, there is little need to adjust it unless you want to put in a bike with a different OLD.
My bike (shown) has an MTB/hybrid 135mm OLD.

The "movable" clamp.
Quite well though out, you just lift the handle, and the spindle grip will retract.
You make the adjustments with the other side  -this side is the "quick release clamp", so as to speak.

As the fat Tacx spimdle is fairly close to the derailleur mount,
be a little bit careful not to belt your derailleur when pitting the bike in the clamps.

The Tacx T2015 Speed and Cadence sensor. the sensor tramsmits both BlueTooth (4+ required!) and ANT+ at the same time.
So I can use the Bluetooth on my tablet for the Tacx apps and the ANT+ on my Garmin simultaneously.
A selection of bands and cable ties are provided for the sensor, so you can leave it on the bike, or just pop it off each time after training. You could even use the same sensors for several bikes, moving them between the bikes as required,
just buying extra magnets as required.
The magnet that attaches to the crank arm (for cadence) is held on with a couple of cable ties (must cut off the ends!).
Because the sensor and the magnet are not that fussy about position, you can find a good fit somewhere.
I have 175mm cranks - but i might want to move the magnet forwards a bit if I had shorter cranks.
So I could just mount the sensor further forwards, too.

The "speed" end of the Tacx T2015 sensor.
Again, both rubber bands and cable ties are provided for flexibility of mounting options.
There is a little spoke magnet supplied that you attach, obviously, to a spoke.
The speed end of the sensor has a little mark on the top to show that you gave to align the
spoke magnet with the rear top of the sensor.
For both the cadence sensor and the spoke sensor the recommended gap from the magnet to the sensor is 5mm.
It does work with the gap a bit wider, but I suspect that as the gap gets rider, the number of "dropouts" where the reading drops to zero for a moment is likely to increase.
For my bike, I had to tilt the speed sensor in at quite an angle.
Note that back wheel, though.
I have a wheel with both a braking rim and a disk mount.
So the spokes on that side are further in than usual.
If I replaced it with a "normal" wheel without the disk mount, the magnet would be further out and the sensor would be a bit more upright.
If, on the other hand, you have a bike with a disk brake at the back, you'll probably have to put the sensor on at a tilt, too.
Since the trainer is a LOT less boring with smething to watch, and since I don't want to buy the (pricey) Tacx tablet mount,
I thought I would see if I could make something.
Since I have those ridiculous bar ends sticking out halfway along my bars ... i wonder ...
An Amazon book box looks promising ...

View from the bike.
Fold the front up a bit - maybe bend the sides a bit to fit the tabley fairly closely.
Bit of tape to hold it all together.
And that is what I did.
Not robust enough for riding on the roads, and the cardboard wouldn't like the rain,
but for indoor sessions, it'll do the job nicely.
And it does!
So now I can ride with tablet in front of me rather than on a stack of boxes by the side.
Update: 26th September 2016
Looking at the trainer data.

My data capture techniques are a bit ad-hoc at the moment.
I am still using my Garmin 310XT as my primary data capture device.
But I am also capturing data with the Tacx Cycling app on my tablet.
Because I have the Tacx T2015 Speed and Cadence sensor, my trainer data is transmitted simultaneously over Ant+ and Bluetooth.

So when I am training, I see speed an cadence on both my 310XT and my Tablet at the same time.
I use a Garmin HR belt (Ant+) so that only shows up on the 310XT, and not on the tablet.
The Tacx Cycling app also calculates what Tacx calls "Virtual Power", which is their take on the sort of thing that Trainer Road et al. do. Indeed some folks have even written their own tools to add power to their datafiles while using a trainer!

But the Vitual Power numbers only show up in the app!

I can, of course, export the datafile from the app as a tcx file, then manually copy it into Strava or Training Peaks or whatever, but it is missing the heart rate data (remember I have an Ant+ HR belt and a Bluetooth tablet).

So what can I do with the data?
well, here is a section of my data file from a couple of days ago:

Heart Rate drift clearly visible in this trainer file, while working at about my lactate threshold.
As you can see, the line for Speed is pretty flat, and the line for cadence is pretty flat.
So I must be working at pretty much a constant level of exertion (I'm on a stationary trainer, remember - no headwind or slopes or changes in road surface!)/
The Heart Rate line creeps up, though.

The usual causes of such a drift in heart rate are
1) a lack of aerobic fitness
2) varying conditions of testing

For an indoor trainer, the one to watch is overheating - it gets pretty hot pedalling away, even if I am in my garage with door open (you can see my typical view in one of the pics above).
It is very easy to get the same effect that one gets in a gym - you feel you are working harder and harder because you are getting sweatier and sweatier.
But, because I am using a constant cadence, constant gearing, constant wheel speed and constant trainer resistance, I know that I am actually working at a constant rate in terms of power output.
So what is varying?
Body temperature.
And that is known to raise heart rate.

What I am interested in, is of course, if I have a lack of aerobic fitness, rather than if my heart rate drift is simply due to me overheating a bit.
So how do I know which?

If it is aerobic fitness that is the issue, then the effect should reduce with continued training.
I should simply get less tired during the "main" 20 minute segment of the Tacx CP20 test.
You know what - I find the WARM UP pretty tough, never mind the actual test!

Circumstantially, if I have not trained much for a while, my aerobic fitness is likely to have dropped somewhat, too.
And, to be fair, I haven't trained much in the last couple of months, due to a variety of injuries.
So a lack of aerobic fitness is a definite possibility in my case.

Update, 15th February 2017:
With an appropriate BlueTooth heart monitor, I was able to get the data into the same place.
I am using slightly fancy sports analysis software (Training Peaks premium!), but it does give you an idea of what data is captured by the Tacx Cycling App with the trainer!

Clockwise from top - heart rate zone, grid showing underlying data (it scrolls a LOT!)
power in small bands (selectable in TP), and power zones.
Training Peaks also calculates the training effect of the ride (this is a CP20 test, again, although not the same one as last time - same protocol, different date!), ad this is shown in green, using the power figures from the Tacx Cycling App on the tablet.

More TP data, gathered using the Tacx trainer, the Tacx cycling App (on a tablet), and a BlueTooth heart rate monitor.
The app seriously miscalculates the calories burnt ... so in this case I have manually overwritten the data with the firgure from Strava from the same ride. O contacted Training Peaks about it, and they insist it is the data that the Tacx app is proving that is at fault. Given that TP seems to handle data from other devices just fine, they are probably right.

More Training Peaks goodness applied to the data from the Tacx trainer.
Top is a graph showing cadence, heart rate, power, and wheel speed.
Yep, there is still a slight creep on the heart rate over the course of the 20 minutes.
But between my previous post on the subject and this one, my routine was interrupted by a broken shoulder, a week in hosptital, and lots of missed training.
So we are looking at a bit of a shortfall in aerobic training, AGAIN!
the lower chart is plotting pedalling cadence over the entire 45 minute testing protocol.
Trainers are great places to practice pedalling fast.
On the "real" road, it isn't quite as easy to keep it as consistent as this!
(which makes a trainer an EVEN better place to practice these basic skills!)

No comments:

Post a Comment