For £1,250 the Bkool Smart Bike is undercutting its only other current direct rival, the Wattbike Atom, by quite a margin. It has certain advantages over the Wattbike – it's completely silent in operation, and is quicker to adjust resistance – but there are quite a few foibles too. Some things – Zwift support, for example – will no doubt be available down the line; others – most especially the wide Q Factor – can't really be ironed out. As such it's a decent buy if you're looking for something easy to use for indoor workouts, but it doesn't feel like the complete road cyclist's training tool it wants to be.
- Pros: Silent, good range of resistance
- Cons: Wide Q factor, mobile control of gearing is a bit clunky, not widely supported
The 45kg Smart Bike isn't something you're going to relish lifting into the back of your car, so helpfully Bkool includes a delivery service that not only brings the bike to your door but includes a setup to get the bike assembled and working. So all you have to do is get on and ride.
It's Bluetooth and ANT+ enabled, and can communicate with Bkool's training app on desktop machines and smart devices. I used a desktop PC and connected via ANT+ using the supplied dongle with no issues.
The Smart Bike is mostly a spin bike. It has a fixed wheel – there's no freewheel, so you have to keep your legs moving all the time – and the flywheel is the wheel itself, a thin metal disc that has plenty of weight in it. Once you get used to that, the feel of the bike is quite natural in terms of pushing against the pedals. And it's also completely silent: no noise from the drivetrain or wheel at all, save for the occasional ping from the back which sounds like maybe the magnet resistance system brushing the flywheel.
I've been on quiet trainers before but this one's weird, it's so noise-free. If you live in a place where the noise of a turbo has always put you off, that might be a major selling point.
The position is very configurable. You get a reasonable saddle that's height adjustable via a knob at the back of the seat tube. It's a pin system and the holes are about 12mm apart, so it's not the finest tuning available but it works well.
The seat clamp itself is a cheap pressed steel affair that was fine in testing but isn't one of the bike's strong points. It's easy enough to swap the saddle.
At the front you get a spin-bike-style handlebar with bullhorns and extensions, though there are no elbow pads so the TT position isn't that comfy.
The bars are adjustable for height and reach; given the range, the bike should be able to accommodate most people easily enough. You can't (easily) swap out the supplied bars for drops if you're looking for a more road-orientated experience.
The bike comes with flat pedals, but you'll probably want to swap your own pedals in. When doing so, you might be drawn to thinking, 'these pedals look a bit far apart'. And you'd be right.
The Smart Bike has a huge Q factor; that's the distance between the faces of the cranks where you fit the pedals. There's always lot of chat about Q factor and efficiency; your perfect Q factor for pedalling will depend on your physiology, but if you're riding a standard road bike then the chances are that the Q factor of the cranks will be somewhere between 145mm and 150mm, and that will feel 'normal' to you. I measured the body of the Bkool Smart bike at 120mm, with a 47mm gap each side to the crank face. That's 214mm.
Now, I'm not a person that obsesses over Q factor, and the Wattbike, which I measured at 156mm, feels normal to me even though it's a bit wide. The Bkool, on the other hand, does not feel normal at all. It feels like riding a fat bike, which is unsurprising as that's the sort of Q-factor you need on a fat bike in order to make the pedals miss the huge tyres.
It's a bit of a deal breaker for me, to be honest. If I was going to spend well over a grand of my own money on something to replicate my road riding indoors, I just don't think I'd be able to put up with it. You might not mind so much, and it could be mitigated up to a point: the Bkool uses cheap standard cranks that are curved, and swapping them for straight profile ones (that's what Wattbike does; the shell of that bike is only 10mm narrower than the Bkool) would certainly move the pedals inwards a bit. Even then, though, you're probably looking at a minimum of 170-180mm, as the bottom bracket extends further than the Wattbike. Which I reckon would still feel a bit bandy-legged for me.
Anyway, moving on. A bit like the Wattbike Atom, the Bkool Smart bike has a range of 'gears' that adjust the resistance of the bike. Bkool says that the Smart Bike is 'the only indoor bike with automatic resistance control', but I'm struggling to think of a thing it does that the Wattbike doesn't do, that could justify such a claim.
Unlike the Wattbike – with its shifter hoods – there's no hardware for accessing the gears: you can change gear on your phone using the mobile app if you're using a desktop PC, and Bkool includes a clip for your phone that works okay, although it tends to press the volume buttons on the side of my phone which is a bit annoying.
Getting the app set up was fiddly – I had to find my computer's IP and enter that manually, as it couldn't find the simulator on the network – but once it's running it's solid, if a bit basic. Given that the gearing screen is used only for moving the resistance up and down, the buttons could have been made bigger, like maybe a third of the screen for each. As they are they're a bit small, especially when you're working hard.
The responsiveness of the Bkool virtual gearing is better than it was on the Wattbike when we originally tested it, although we've got the updated Wattbike back at the moment and they claim it's been improved. Anyway, when riding a virtual course on the Bkool simulator the resistance changes are decently quick. You'll need the full range of gears, too: cruising along on the flat I was generally in the 13-15 range with 15 being the hardest gear.
Once the gradient starts to creep up you'll quickly work your way down the gears. There's still a bit of lag, so if things get too hard and you ease off a couple of gears there's a bit of a delay while the bike catches up. That's mitigated by the fact that the Bkool simulator shows you what's coming up in terms of gradient, so you can do your shifting a bit in advance.
Once you're past about 8% you'll be down at the low gears. It's a well-considered range and it works pretty well, most of the time. Sometimes the gearing doesn't seem ideal: on the Alpe d'Huez climb in the Bkool Simulator (more on that below), for example, I was pushing 250W in first gear at about 60rpm about five minutes in, making it feel like doing it on a bike that was a bit overgeared for the climb.
In terms of power accuracy, the Bkool bike was more or less on the money. Benchmarked against my trusty Garmin Vector power pedals it tracked very well, and delivered sensible numbers. Most of the time it was within 2-3% of the pedals, and there didn't seem to be any drifting of power up or down as the bike warmed up. The bottom line is that it's repeatable data, with 300W on one day feeling like 300W on another day. There are no mechanical interfaces – bike to tyre, chain to cassette – that can be set up differently, you just hop on and ride. If you're using the Bkool as your indoor training benchmark, you'll easily be able to discern trends.
The Smart Bike comes with a three-month subscription to Bkool's indoor training app. That's a good thing because at time of writing it's not really widely supported elsewhere, though I'd expect that to change. It's a bad thing in that it feels a little bit stingy considering this is a £1,250 unit and you get the same free trial with the £349 Smart Go trainer.
There are significant issues with the rollout across other apps: because there's no physical gear changing mechanism Bkool would need other providers to include some kind of gear-changing functionality, which they may well be reluctant to spend a huge amount of development time on. I'm mostly thinking of Zwift here, as that's the environment where the gear changing would be a prerequisite; presumably it would need to be added to the Companion app, which is not likely to be trivial. In more structured environments like TrainerRoad the app could be made to control the resistance directly in ERG mode, so it's less of an issue.
Bkool's online environment has come a long way in the past few years. There's more on it, and it's a bit easier to use than it used to be. You can ride virtual courses including classics like the Alpe d'Huez and the Stelvio, as well as a host of others. One of the good things about the selection of routes is that they're not all big climbs, there are flat routes and lumpy ones – even some that are just descents.
Bkool is in the process of moving the routes over to a rendered virtual display; before, they were either video, or just a map view. Alpe d'Huez, for example, you can have as a virtual climb, or a video, or a map. The Simulator defaults to the rendered view, and most of the time I find that's the best one: it's nicer to look at, and higher quality than the video which is often fairly low resolution and obviously taken from a motorbike that leans into the corners, which feels a bit weird when you're crawling round a hairpin.
The virtual display doesn't feel quite as slick as Zwift but it's come a long way in quite a short time, and now there's lots of detail, especially on the more popular climbs.
The virtual display also means that you can see (and race) other riders in a session. You can join someone else's session or schedule one with your friends if you're all on Bkool. Then you can race it. As well as outdoor rides there are velodromes, and you can hop in and blast a few laps with other riders.
To be honest, that whole 'riding with others' functionality feels like a work in progress in the Bkool Simulator, not least because generally there aren't enough people on the platform to really make it work. It's the middle of summer in the western hemisphere now so numbers are low anyway, but there are at least ten times as many people on Zwift at any one time as there are on Bkool. Remember when Zwift was full of blue ghost riders to make up the numbers? Maybe not, but anyway, it feels a bit like that at the moment. Also, the app needs a proper calendar that people can sign up to and ride together; it feels odd just jumping on someone else's ride.
As well as routes there's structured training. You can do an FTP test (5-minute and 20-minute versions are available) and there's a broad range of workout sessions which are tailored to your FTP. The Smart Bike uses ERG mode to match your power to the session, and it works very well.
In terms of the app and the bike together, these sessions are the best thing about it for me. There are video instructor-led sessions which are like a cross between a spin class and a TrainerRoad session, and those work really well, keeping you motivated and engaged without having to worry about fiddling with a resistance wheel. The silent running of the bike makes high-intensity intervals a bit odd as you're suffering in silence, but overall the fitness sessions work really well.
Overall, the Bkool Smart Bike is a bit of a mixed bag, really. It does deliver a genuine smart-controlled virtual riding experience, power numbers are repeatable, and it's completely silent in operation. It's cheaper than the only current direct competitor – the Wattbike Atom – too.
On the other hand, the wide bottom bracket makes it feel ungainly, with the huge Q factor a deal breaker for me because it'll never feel like riding a road bike indoors. The current lack of support for platforms other than Bkool's own also marks it down; that will change, but the fact that the virtual gearing doesn't have any hardware on the bike means that the integration won't be simple. The Bkool Simulator has come a long way and it's miles better than it used to be, but it still needs development, especially for the group riding functions.
A price tag of £1,250 isn't expensive for a smart bike: it's the cheapest one you can buy right now, and Bkool has been discounting it to £999 too. For a genuine road riding experience indoors it's quite a long way off the benchmark, though, and £1,250 would buy you one of the best smart trainers and still leave enough money for a secondhand bike to dedicate to it. That would still be my preference, but the small footprint and silent operation of the Bkool might appeal to you, especially if more than one rider wants to train.
An interesting entry into the smart bike market from Bkool, but not without its issues
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bkool Smart Bike
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for
Bkool says: "The only indoor bike with automatic resistance control.
The heart of Bkool Smart Bike is connected to the internet. Although you can disconnect it and connect it whenever you want. That's why you do not need controls or screens: you control your bike with your smartphone, tablet or PC and see the image on your screens (or on your TV).
Can reach up to 1,500 W.
The pedaling resistance adjusts automatically to the power level of your indoor cycling session.
It adapts to you
A quick fitness test (FTP) will create personalized resistance settings to help you reach your goals. As your fitness level improves, the bike will adapt to continue delivering the perfect fitness/cycling experience.
Its electronic system allows for maximum precision, with up to 1500 different resistance levels.
Take control with your phone
With the Bkool Remote app, you can manually control the pedalling resistance of the Bike. Smartphone handlebar mount included.
We've designed the ability to "virtually" shift gears so you can ride routes on the Bkool Simulator as if you were riding a traditional bike. Think of it as electronic shifting, without derailleurs!
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Resistance System of permanent magnets. No friction. 1500 different positions.
Power 850W at 90 rpm / 1500W at 120rpm
Connections Wireless ANT+, Bluetooth Smart © ©
Transmission Poly-V belt. Completely silent
Weight 45 kg. Super stable
Firmeware Updatable online. No cable needed to update.
Generally good, some cheap components.
Silent, power measurement is good, position is configurable.
No reason why it shouldn't last.
More is good here.
Q factor is too wide, bars aren't the best.
Not expensive for a smart bike, but not cheap for an indoor trainer.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It's a mixed bag – some good stuff, some bad.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Silent operation, good power mesaurement.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Q factor too wide, no hardware shifting, limited support out of Bkool's environment.
Did you enjoy using the product? For some sessions, yes.
Would you consider buying the product? No, the Q factor would be a deal breaker for me.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Maybe...
Use this box to explain your overall score
An interesting entry into the smart bike market from Bkool, but not without its issues. Good value if you can look past its foibles; if you can't then your money is better spent elsewhere.
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Merida Scultura
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.