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Kurt Kinetic Road Machine review after one year of use

kurtkinetic.com

Pro's: Highest quality manufacturing. Resistance; even a pro couldn't overpower the top end resistance of 3000W. Stable. Tires last longer than trainers with smaller rollers. Smooth & quiet. Can accommodate any bike, any wheel size.

Con's: Wide base and weight make it a bit of pain to pack to races/ indoor group rides, attachment to bike is solid, but involves many turns of the adjuster. I counted 23 twists of my wrist to attach/ remove - not as convenient as trainers with a quick release attachment ("pro" model has quick release attachment). A little heavy/ awkward to lug around.

**** Four out of five stars.

What would make it five stars?
Made easier to carry (handle?)
Fold down to smaller dimension
Easy to adjust leg length
Higher torque resistance at beginning of sprints

Price: retails $300.00 to $450.00 CDN Amongst the highest price for a non computer driven trainer. It's also the highest quality you'll find.

Warranty: On the warranty section of the Kurt website the warranty says, "Our UNCONDITIONAL LIFETIME warranty: Covers ALL parts on both the resistance unit and the frame. Is applicable for normal wear and tear OR manufacturers defects. Covers the original owner of a Kinetic trainer for a LIFETIME."

Personal comment: This is my current trainer, and the best trainer I have used. I highly recommend it.

Long before I ever road a Kurt I read the specs on the Kurt website and my inner techno weenie was instantly smitten by the ingenious magnetic coupled driveshaft. The what?

The trainer gets its resistance via an impeller turning inside a sealed chamber of heat resistant silicone fluid. The faster your wheel drives the roller, the faster the impeller turns inside the fluid chamber. More impeller speed = more resistance.

The engineering beauty, and what separates the Kurt from other fluid trainers is the shaft that turns the impeller is not physically connected to the roller that your rear wheel turns. It sits inside a completely sealed unit. The wall of the resistance unit that faces the roller for your wheel is made of Plexiglas. These cutaway pictures are of a Kurt Kinetic display for retail stores (Thanks Woodcock Cycle!).

On either side of the Plexiglas are very powerful magnets (12 in all) - one set inside the sealed part of the unit is connected to the impeller, and one set outside the Plexiglas is connected to the roller that your rear wheel turns. This makes for a very attractive connection, if you will.

The two halves of the drive unit are connected via a magnetic field, and the housing is bolted together forming the resistance unit.

Unlimited Power

My number one reason for wanting the Kurt Kinetic was power. The Tacx Flow trainer I was using was specked at a maximum of 1000 Watts resistance. My best effort on the 30 second Wingate test at the local university lab was 1558 watts in good form and 1331 watts off season. The Tacx wasn't taxing enough for my sprint workouts.

The Kurt is rated for providing up to a whopping 3000 Watts - apparently greater than is humanly possible to generate. Of course you can pedal along at a mere 5 watts if you want (far easier than a walking pace, and easier than the easiest setting on most commercial exercise bikes), so don't feel intimidated by the high resistance potential.

The combination of genius engineering and big fat wattage sold me on this trainer. Lucky for me I received a Kurt Road Machine as a birthday present last year. I guess all my fussing about how I had to buy a Kurt because my TACX didn't have enough resistance prompted my better half to get me one for my birthday. Which has me thinking, if fuss about my Honda Civic enough maybe someone will gift me a Porsche 911…

Out of the box

Assembly was fairly straight forward and the instructions were written reasonably. The complete manual is also on line at the Kurt webiste as a PDF file

While the instructions don't call for lubricating the threads on the bolt that adjusts roller compression or on the threads of the quick release mechanism, I have done this on my Road Machine. After about three months the knobs became difficult to turn. A light dab of grease keeps them turning easy. A friend of mine recommended I use an anti seize compound instead of grease. I haven't tried this yet.

The trainer is a little on the heavy side (26lb/ 11.79 kg) and has a big footprint (83cm/ 32.7in) even when folded (59cm/ 23.2in) - measured at the widest width. The heavy flywheel and wide platform make the Kurt Road Machine the most stable and smooth trainer I've ridden. I found it a mild pain to lug it around when bringing it to weekly indoor group training rides and to races for warm up. Space is usually pretty tight getting all your gear in a hatch back or trunk for a race and an oddly shaped wide footprint trainer doesn't make it any easier. It's awkward to carry as well - the freely pivoting legs and resistance unit can flop around, there is no handle, and no matter where you grab hold the weight is off centre. (You can tighten the legs so they won't flop.)

Don't get me wrong, these are minor inconveniences compared to the overall quality and performance of this unit. I don't like lugging the Kurt around, but the ride is so good it's worth it. Making the unit lighter might make it less stable and smooth, so this may be how much a quality unit has to weigh. I'd be happier if the few very correctable bugs in the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine didn't exist though.

Adjusting the legs on the trainer for different wheel sizes requires wrenches and removing/ reinstalling bolts - not difficult, but not convenient if you use two bikes with different wheel sizes on the same trainer. Also an inconvenience at a race if you are stuck with having to put your trainer on the grass where the tire can bottom out on uneven ground. We solved this by putting blocks of wood under the trainer, but still, easily adjustable legs would be a bonus.

Interestingly Kurt claims the PVC feet absorb irregularities on a floor surface, but I don't see how this can be. The PVC ends are not adjustable and are quite rigid, having no appreciable ability to conform to an irregular floor surface. The legs on the Kurt are free pivoting - they don't click into a locked position when open. It's this free pivoting that allows the legs to have a small degree self leveling on an irregular floor surface, which has nothing to do with the PVC ends. Once loaded with a bike and rider, the trainer stays put except for little 2 to 4 cm skids when sprinting all out.

PVC feet are more hard than they are soft. They don't seem to mark floors, but only a tiny surface area is in contact with the floor, and the material is too stiff to conform to irregularities on a floor surface, as the Kurt website claims.

The Kurt is supplied with a few different cones that will accept virtually any quick release skewer ever made, in addition to supplying their own QR skewer. The Kurt skewer matches the cones better than other skewers. My old Dura Ace 7304 skewers worked, but the Kurt spec is better. In fact I leave the Kurt skewer in all year round for all wheels for ease of use with the trainer. Using the skewer supplied by Kurt makes for a more secure fit.

First ride

Smooooth. Spooling up is easier than it feels on the road in terms of resistance if you're in a big gear (less torque is required accelerating the Kurt than accelerating your mass on the road), but you can still mash a lower RPM strength workout if you want to.

"Road feel"

Replicating road feel with a long cost down time is a central theme throughout the Kurt Kinetic website, but I don't see the point. I guess the the coast down is somewhat functional. From a training perspective coast down time doesn't really matter because a training stimulus doesn't occur while coasting, but it is more convenient not to have your trainer bog down if you take little breaks in your spin to stretch or reach for the remote. Your trainers coast down won't matter much when you are applying steady power. Also, there is no real "road" coast down time to simulate anyway as wind, road surface and gradient make for a constantly changing coast down time out in the real world. Choosing one coast down time to represent "real road" conditions seems arbitrary. My coast down time on my mountain bike is shorter than on my road bike under the same road conditions, although both coast down times are "real".

The difference between the road and indoor trainers is balance and recruitment of core muscles and the fact that the road is forever changing in variables of surface smoothness, wind, and slope. The only way to make a trainer the same as the road would be to make the resistance from the trainer somewhat randomly variable - which virtual reality trainers do fairly well.

Balance and core muscle recruitment. The Kurt Kinetic Rock & Roll and rollers made by other manufacturer's provide a simulation of this on road challenge, but I've never noticed a problem with riding my bike outdoors after a winter of riding a fixed stationary trainer. Each spring my first ride feels fine even though I haven't been on the road for 5 months or more. I don't wobble all over the road. Since I notice little to no change in riding skill from riding a stationary trainer all winter, it is unlikely an active trainer will have any significant skill or balance training benefit, except maybe for a novice rider who doesn't have 25 seasons under their butt (even then benefit is questionable). My first ride this year after 5 months on the trainer was in Vancouver/ North Vancouver with narrow bridge crossings, 70 km/h + winding descents, hair pin turns, and narrow bike paths. I didn't have any problems.

Emulating "road feel" may not have the notable physiological training advantage that is eluded to by those who promote the idea. Watts are watts, no matter where the resistance comes from, and since the fine tuning of core muscles returns within one ride outdoors, it may be that full outdoor ride core recruitment isn't a big deal for a trainer to simulate or not. To really train your core muscles off-bike resistance training is required - don't depend on or think you need to depend on simply riding your bike to adequately train your core.

I don't find the Road Machine feels anything at all like the road. It feels like a stationary indoor trainer. This isn't necessarily a negative attribute, on the contrary it's very positive.

The most efficient interval sessions you'll ever have will be on a trainer. Having said all that, the Kurts PowerTap calibrated power curve is meant to simulate the exponential resistance to increased speed you'll experience riding outside. That is, if you are the "average" rider assumed to be 165 lb., riding a 23 lb bike with 170mm crank arms up a 1% grade, at sea level with no wind on rough asphalt.." as stated on the Kurt Kinetic website. The next time I meet all those criteria maybe I'll remember to check if the road ride feels the same as the Kurt trainer.

Even though I'm not a match for Kurts virtual average rider, increasing speed has some similarity to the average increase experienced on the road. Ultimately power is power and 300 watts on Kurt Road Machine is same as 300 watts on any other trainer, 300 watts on the road (uphill or downhill, headwind or tailwind), and 300 watts at the high performance testing centers $50,000.00 high tech egormetre - Watts are watts.

Quiet. The Kurt is much more quite than the average magnetically resisted trainer. To me it didn't sound as though the Kurt was much different than the Tacx Flow in terms of noise at easy to moderate output, but I have been diagnosed as having an insensitivity to higher pitch noises so perhaps I'm not the best judge. My better half says it's much quieter because she can take a nap in the next room without it bothering her - and that's a good a testimony as you can hope for. I did notice a big difference at the top end though, high wattage intervals on the Tacx Flow and mag trainers like Minoura sound like an electric motor is about to explode, but on the Kurt it's just a moderate whirring noise.

About those 3000 Watts..

Stationary trainers are notorious for slipping tires and ridiculously easy resistance to spooling up when sprinting. I've been told by more than one trainer manufacturer that there are technical limitations to the design of trainers and that I'll never see a trainer that duplicates road resistance for sprints on a trainer. I would guess that building F1 cars, 100 story buildings, and space stations is a little more complicated than making a trainer for a bike, so I'm confident a trainer that handles all aspects of sprinting can be made if the desire is there.

Many who read this review might be thinking critiquing a trainer for sprints is dumb because sprint workouts are done on the road - everyone knows that! It might be only me, but I feel trying to sprint on ice at 20 below zero doesn't work very well, and here in "Winterpeg" Manitoba, there's snow on the ground from November to April.

Needless to say, those who live in places that have snowy winters for half (ugh!) the year have no choice but to sprint on an indoor trainer if they don't have access to an indoor track.

The large diameter roller (5.35 cm/ 2.1in) on the Kurt reduces tire slippage compared to trainers with skinny rollers (3 cm/ 1.2 in), but if you want to hammer hard from a slow speed or dead stop you have to crank the roller down a fair amount to stop tire slippage. Or better yet, get either the Tacx or Continental trainer tires as they have better grip. The instructions say not to over tighten the roller on the tire as it can damage the tire or the unit, but if you don't tighten it down, it will slip on hard acceleration. After one year of use with weekly sprint sessions, the Kurt still works like I just took it out of the box. Tire life is better than on previous trainers I've used.

Spool up is still unrealistically easy from a dead start or slow rolling start in a 53X12, but once it's spooled up you cannot overpower this trainer. My peak wingate watts are 1558 and on the Kurt I peak out at around 1350W. The difference is due to how resistance is applied in the wingate test vrs the Kurt Kinetic. The standard wingate test done at a test lab has a fixed torque resistance that you spin as fast as possible. The wingate test is designed this way to allow a "true" measurement of uninhibited power production. On the Kurt, as on the road, the resistance increases as speed increases resulting in your muscles fatiguing against the increasing resistance before your "true" peak power is achieved. Perhaps there are two "true" peak wattage values - your lab values and your real life on the road values.

I found peak torque values for a road ride are often over 50 Nm, sometimes over 80 Nm, but on the Kurt even the hardest sprint does not go above 35 Nm (Newton metres. 1Nm = 0.7 foot lb = 8.8 inch pounds).

Peak wattage achieved on the Kurt is usually a little higher than on the road. I guess this adds a third "true" peak wattage - the Kurt peak. Under each of these circumstances you are achieving your true best effort under the specific load applied. Your max power achieved on a Kurt is closer to what you will achieve on the road than with a wingate test.

If anything the sales pitch for trainers ought to be that they eliminate variability of the open road. The quality of maintaining power on a trainer is far superior compared to the road, so when comparing one workout to the next and monitoring progress, the trainer is far superior.

However, and this is a big "however", because you can sustain "X" wattage on your trainer, the Kurt Road Machine or other, don't expect to sustain this wattage for the same duration on any given section of road and have it "feel" the same. Maintaining constant wattage outside requires constantly changing cadence and gears to compensate for wind/ terrain. These changes can throw your focus when you're hammering on the rivet. The trainer allows you to simply hammer, and not be concerned with random resistance changes.

The Kurt will still slide foward a little on a smooth floor when sprinting like a junk yard dog is on your heals, but for pure power it is the best machine I have sprinted on in my over 20 years of using indoor trainers.

Resistance fade. Although the silicone fluid used for resistance is said to be resistant to heat induced loss of viscosity therefore always supplying the same amount of resistance for a given speed during a ride, something in the bike/ trainer set up does cause a slight loss of resistance during a training ride. I think it might be tire temperature, but I haven't investigated the source. If you're using the Kurt computer or any cycle computer to watch your speed, you'll need to recalibrate the trainer/ computer (coast down test) half way through your ride so that 200 watts or whatever speed at 30 minutes is the same resistance at 90 minutes. This means adding another turn or so the roller adjuster half way through your ride to pinch on the tire a little harder to compensate for the fade. If you're using a powermeter that directly measures power (Powertap, SRM) the slight resistance fade wont matter because you'll simply pedal a little harder/ faster to maintain wattage.

I've noticed the coast down from 30 km/hr can increase by several seconds by 60 - 90 minutes compared to the first 30 - 60 minutes into a ride. If you don't use a powermeter that measures power directly, you might believe your heart rate is dropping in the second hour for the same speed; it isn't - the resistance has decreased. Even if your HR doesn't drop, the resistance for the same speed will have. I've noticed this resistance fade in all trainers I've used, some to a greater degree than others. Our team members without power metres tighten the roller once or twice during each training session on the Kurt due to fade in resistance.

The Kurt is one of the best stand alone trainers (isn't plugged in) you can buy. I've tried most, but not all, so I can't say I think its #1 overall, but it is the best out all I have tried: 1Up USA, Tacx, Computrainer, Cyclops, Various Minoura and similar mag trainers, and various wind trainers.

It has a great warranty (unconditional unlimited lifetime) and is fairly easy to get your bike in and out.

If you're a casual rider and appreciate quality, you'll like the ease of use and quietness. If you're a competitor the high wattage resistance is a must have - don't waste your time with standard mag trainers that only provide 500 to 600W- basically an average start from a stop sign is all these entry level trainers can duplicate. If you're a category 3 road/ elite MTB or higher racer chances are you will blow out an entry level mag trainer within a year. If you don't plan on sprinting on your trainer, or doing 400 - 600W VO2 Max intervals, just about any trainer will do, but none offer the smoothness or build quality of the Kurt Kinetic.

Some side notes:

Exploding Kurt. I suspect this is very rare, but one of our team members had his Kurt Kinetic Road Machine explode during a team indoor training ride. All of the sudden we heard this mechanical shattering noise - all heads turned to see a less than two month old Kurt Kinetic trainer blown apart with a puddle of silicone fluid on the floor. This was this team members second Kurt, the first one leaked.

Another team member had the roller adjusting knob break after about 1 year of use. None of our other team members have had any problems with their Kurt trainers (I think six members have the Kurt Road Machine), and mine has worked properly since day one. But that is 3 out of 6 Kurt Road Machines having breakdowns within the first year of use.

Kurt Kinetic provided excellent customer service and replaced the blown and leaking units at no charge, and the broken adjuster knob was replaced, no charge. Team members commented on outstanding customer service from Kurt.

About this review: Everything here is 100% my personal opinion based on my experience with the trainer over one year of use. I've listed the good and bad as I experienced them. This is my own trainer. I've hauled it to races, group indoor training rides, and ride it in my basement 10 hours per week in the winter (November - April). I have been using trainers since 1984.

2007- 2008 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness

Copyright 2004 - 2008 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca