Product Review: CycleOps Hammer Smart Trainer
Product tested & reviewed by: Lori Nedescu @CadenceKitchen
I’d say this is more of a personal experience than a product review, but take it how you’d like. I ride. I ride a lot, over 12,000 miles in 2017 and plan to top that in 2018. These miles consist of a mix of fun rides with friends, epic endurance trips, solo sufferfests, focused intervals, and races at the women’s P1/2 level. Riding at this level requires dedication, commitment, and honestly a bit of misery. Misery eh? Yes, a whole lot of misery in the form of pain, soreness, sweat, eating too many gels, laundering too much spandex, early wake ups, and trainer rides. Riding on the trainer is like running on a treadmill; it is at the point that the necessity of the workout takes over and fun, adventure, and any shred of enjoyment is gone. Runners hate the treadmill (dreadmill!) and cyclists hate the trainer (drainer?). Inside workouts require a higher level of dedication to complete; the temp is hotter, air is stagnant, there’s excessive sweating, staring at a wall…
Of course, there are a handful of individuals who tolerate these bland, monotonous workouts quite well. I consider myself part of this group. Maybe it’s because I can easily zone out, finding a good rhythm and enjoying the flow of the workout, even while staring at a wall for hours. One super snowy day in Ohio, I ran 30 miles (yes miles, not minutes) on my treadmill because the ultra-long run needed to be completed, no excuses. Now that I’m a cyclist and no longer a runner, I find the trainer equally as tolerable. Clipping in indoors has always been a welcomed excuse to catch up on Netflix or read trashy magazines. In cold weather, a trainer provides relief from bundling up and spending loads of cash on winter riding gear. It also allows a cyclist to keep training year-round despite the weather conditions outside. Personally, I’ll ride in the cold, even when temps dip into the mid 20s. However, any sign of icy roads and I don’t risk ending my race season with a crash; instead, I set up my bike on the trainer. I’m lucky to have a flexible work schedule that allows me to have most days open to ride, however, on my busy days, daylight isn’t always on my side to hit the roads. Again, to the trainer I go.
I hate messing with my bike and training indoors proved to be a huge annoyance. While I don’t mind riding the trainer, I do mind the hassle that accompanies the task. I may be a strong cyclist but damn am I lazy when it comes to making changes or adjustments to my bike. I dread riding on the trainer solely due to having to swap out my nice racing rear wheel for a ‘trainer wheel’ and my nice lightweight skewer for a clunky ‘trainer skewer’. It’s a pain. I’m also left having to adjust my gears constantly with switching wheels back and forth between the trainer and outdoor wheels. Bigger pain. This is complicated even more by the fact that I ride two different bikes on the trainer; my road bike and TT bike. My TT bike has a PowerTap rear hub so the only way to have power on the trainer would be to leave that wheel on for training which isn’t ideal for the tire, but is a must for data.
Whether you enjoy it or not, there’s still the aspect of the quality of workout the trainer delivers. Efficiency tops the list of benefits of training on a trainer. Some cyclists can leave their door and instantly be on beautiful roads, others aren’t so geographically lucky and spend 30+ minutes navigating busy streets or city traffic and stop lights to hit decent riding roads. This really impacts training. If you have an hour – 90 minutes to ride, where does that get you? On a trainer, it gets you a full 60- 90 minutes of quality moving time. Zwift (& similar programs) provide group interaction and more stimulating riding scenery to help trainer sessions become fun and engaging. Being able to choose routes, load workouts, and race for Q(K)OMs definitely help inspire a harder workout, but in the end, I still end up pedaling away at a largely unchanging, consistent gear & pace. Racing my first year as a CAT1 changed my view of enjoying the trainer. I found the old ‘zone out’ style to be less effective at improving, or even maintaining my fitness on the bike. Aside from recovery rides, it wasn’t useful to just settle in and grind away mindlessly without shifting and without changing pace. My coach had me do workouts and while Zwift helped, and I could follow a workout indoors, I struggled to feel like the trainer was a real replication of how the efforts would feel on the outside road, in a real race or ride.
Enter the HAMMER.
Wait, let me back up just a second. I started on a CycleOps Magneto many years ago. The trainer was affordable and allowed me to turn my bike into an indoor spin machine. Perfect. Except that it was loud, my roommate hated me and after years of training I felt that I needed something with more resistance to get the workout I needed. I upgraded to a CycleOps Fluid 2. It was quieter and provided the extra resistance power I needed. However, like I said above, I got to the point where riding it was not contributing the needed training effect. I wasn’t shifting. I wasn’t getting out of the saddle, and I wasn’t engaged in my indoor trainer rides. I was in “zone out” mode, pedaling at a steady cadence and power for hours. I joined Zwift. I thought that was my only option and it helped, mildly. But I still wasn’t shifting, was only out of the saddle for short burst intervals, was mainly just chugging along, this time in a fantasy virtual realm and with others around me. Many racers use rollers to simulate real riding, however, I’ve crashed my bike inside on a normal trainer (yes, it is possible, don’t ask), so opting for rollers was just completely out of my comfort zone.
Now, enter the HAMMER!
My boyfriend had been eyeing these smart trainers for a while now, but I just didn’t get the appeal. I mean, it’s another trainer right? Maybe slightly quieter? Shrug, why spend so much… would it really make a difference for my riding, what’s the big deal? I wasn’t totally sold on the concept of direct drive smart trainers, but I thought it might be the change of pace I was looking for, so, I went for it. A few clicks later I was eagerly awaiting the CycleOps Hammer. Why the Hammer? My previous two trainers were CycleOps and I had positive experiences with those, so I didn’t look away from the tried and trusted brand. Another reason this version was selected was the heavy flywheel that supposedly mimics real road feel better than the rest. Once it arrived, I tore into the large box, eager to ride my bike. Except that I couldn’t ride my bike! The trainer itself doesn’t come with cassette which is a necessary component. Minor setback. I should note that it DOES tell you this on the product description on the CycleOps website, I just didn’t pay attention to that detail. After picking up a cassette from a local shop I was ready to ride! Set up was simple: put on cassette, add bike, plug in, and sync with Zwift (via Bluetooth or ANT+). I was already loving this! The simpler a setup, the better in my case. I didn’t really know what to expect having never used a direct drive trainer before. I clipped in, selected a route on Zwift and got to pedaling. It felt smooth and secure, but mostly I was spinning along as usual. Normally, regardless of what route I chose, I might go hard trying to get a good interval when they appear or I might just pedal as usual without changing a thing. This time, my avatar pedaled around a virtual corner, hit Box Hill and I instantly discovered my trainer rides would never be the same.
The Hammer automatically increased resistance to meet the incline’s increasing grade. I shifted, my power increased, my cadence decreased, my heart rate increased, I got out of the saddle… all the normal things that would happen if I were outside riding up a climb. WOW I thought. This is pretty cool. I crested the hill and the resistance released, allowing me to shift back into a harder gear, increase my cadence and descend the climb. It was like I was really riding. On one ride, I even had to shift into my small chainring. I’ve never done that on the trainer before!! Using the Hammer with Zwift makes it near impossible to zone out, read a magazine, and just chug through my trainer time. For recovery or long endurance rides, when I really just want to keep things steady and consistent, I can select a flat Zwift route or just unpair the smart trainer altogether. Besides being able to select any route and actually ride along with the course as the gradients change and you draft other riders, there is a feature called ‘erg mode’. I selected a workout and started pedaling. I got to an interval and felt like I was pedaling through mud. I could barely move! The trainer had so much resistance I was forced to stop. I tried again. I was a bit discouraged and annoyed. It took me several tries to get this right. The key is to keep pedaling smoothly, keeping your cadence high as the erg mode automatically ramps the resistance up and down as your workout changes. It forces you to get through the whole workout without stopping or taking a few intervals easy, which was tough to get used to at first but has become a feature I appreciate more and more. For those new to workouts and training plans, this function can really help you learn to hit designated zones & efforts. Overall the smart features make riding the trainer efficient, fun, and engaging.
With Erg Mode, watts are kept steady at the target number throughout my workout's interval.
Without Erg Mode my interval power jumps around; starting too strong or playing catch up towards the end.
My favorite feature of the direct drive trainer is the lack of bike adjustments and fiddling. It is very easy to take my bike on and off the Hammer. No more swapping wheels, endlessly adjusting gears, tightening resistance, finding the right skewer, or wearing through multiple tires (especially on my nice TT wheelset). I could even go from one bike to the next pretty seamlessly. I could use any bike (that fits the same cassette) and be training with power and without hassle. Because of how much this extra bike fiddling used to slow down my ‘get up and ride’ routine, I’m very thankful not to deal with it anymore. Another great feature (maybe my neighbor’s favorite feature) would be the noise level. I mentioned earlier that the CycleOps Fluid 2 was quieter than my first magnetic trainer but the Hammer is on a different playing field; it almost purrs. 35 minutes into my first ride I received a text message from my boyfriend who was hanging out in our living room, the room right below where I was riding the Hammer; “That trainer is SO much quieter!”. I laughed, it was true! On days he was trying out the Hammer, I could barely tell if he was still riding or had finished due to the hushed performance. No more upset neighbors and roommates when you have early morning and late night trainer sessions is a big win.
Two snafus I encountered were the plug and the ANT+ connection. Plugging in a trainer isn’t a big deal by itself, I’m not that lazy that plugging something in is an issue. However, if you’re completely exhausted post workout and get off your trainer with wobbly legs and a fuzzy mind, it is possible to trip over the cord. Okay, I tripped over the cord, ripped it out of the trainer connection and the cord broke. I ended up purchasing a new power cord and learned to be extra careful around the cord pre- and post-ride. I also had occasional issues with the ANT+ connection while riding a workout in Zwift, where the trainer would go in and out of connection about halfway through the ride, which left me unable to complete the workout and Zwift wouldn’t let me re-start it from halfway through. I have since used the Bluetooth connection which I think seems more stable. I mention Zwift a lot because that is the cycling ‘gaming’ subscription I use. To get the full smart feature benefits of this trainer, it’s best to pair it with a service such as TrainerRoad or Zwift, but you can still access all the trainer controls/analytics through a free software such as Rouvy.
All things considered, I’m a huge fan. The Hammer allows me to train in an engaging way that simulates a real ride. While I’ve always been an indoor trainer fan, the Hammer provides all the benefits of a standard trainer (convenience, not worrying about weather, gear, daylight, etc…) and allows me to train at the high level needed to gain fitness from trainer rides.
The Hammer is roughly double the price of all other trainers CycleOps sells. Is it worth the cost? In my opinion, yes! At $1200 it rivals the cost of a couple of good cold-weather cycling kits, and eliminates the havoc that salty, sandy winter roads play on my bearings and drivetrain, not to mention the time spent cleaning the grit from my bike after a winter ride. If you live in a cold climate, have a schedule that reduces how often you can get out in daylight, just enjoy riding inside (some of us do!), swap multiple bikes between the same trainer, or want to use your trainer sessions to actually improve fitness (power, strength, speed) then hard yes, I believe you will benefit from the Hammer and the cost is worth it. While I’ve always had a fondness for my trainer, this version enhanced my riding experience to new levels. For my boyfriend, who would rather just go months without training than sit inside on a trainer (detests it that much), he got on the Hammer and I had to beg to have it back. He actually loved the experience and ordered his own direct drive trainer almost immediately after his first ride.
• It is sooooo quiet.
• Set up is a breeze.
• Swapping bikes on and off is super simple.
• You get real, outside style riding resistance, cadence and power output.
• Connects to Zwift (or other program) to improve the virtual riding experience.
• Creates an engaging indoor ride.
• No wearing out multiple tires.
• Responds rapidly to set workouts or changes in virtual terrain.
• Erg mode forces performance power.
• The price tag is steep; $1200. However, if you break that down… say 4 months of solid winter training; it’s only $10/day which is worth every penny for the potential fitness gains.
• It is too heavy (and pricey) to bring along to trainer night or races so keep your old trainer for that.
• The cord creates a potential hazard for us clumsy individuals.
• Like any technology, occasionally it fails to connect or read properly. Recalibrate. Try again.