By Rob Kortus

HOT!

  • Quite ride: silent magnetic resistance flywheel
  • Ride 24 pre-mapped courses or generate your own course
  • Free one-year membership to iFit Live
  • Built-in power meter
  • iPod-compatible, with external speaker

NOT!

  • Loud tilt motor
  • iFit Live website connectivity extremely slow/disconnects
  • Bike computer wi-fi connectivity difficult/disconnects
  • Speed inaccurate (too high)
  • Power meter inaccurate (too high)
  • Small computer screen
  • Google Maps Live view not so "live" (disconnects)

Pro-Form

Price: $1,499.00

Source: Pro-Form and other websites

Weight:  150 pounds (68 kg)

Warranty: One year

How obtained:  Purchased

RBR Advertiser: Google Ads Only

Tested: 45+ hours

I decided this winter to take the plunge on a Pro-Form Tour de France trainer. If you've watched any cycling on TV in the past year, you've surely seen the ubiquitous commercials for this Internet-connected marvel that features both 20% incline and decline, the ability to ride various famous routes around the world, map out your own routes, and other bells and whistles.

Ordering online via the company website was easy, but when it arrived, the shipping crate was large and very heavy. It required 2 people to lift and move it, as the bike itself weighs in at 150 pounds (68 kg). Make sure you choose your setup location wisely. The required assembly was relatively easy, with care taken not to pinch wires when assembling the handlebars and handlebar stem.

Fitting and Setup

Just as you would with an actual bike, you need to fit the Pro-Form to your specific measurements and riding needs. The handlebars adjust vertically only, while the seat is adjustable fore and aft, as well as vertically. The distance between left and right pedals is just under 2 inches wider than my actual bike. Therefore, my feet/legs are further out from the center. The bike came with toe-clippable pedals on one side and plain pedals on the opposite side.

I replaced the hard rubber saddle with my personal saddle. The seat post bolt was cheap and stripped out. After several rides, the saddle continued to move, requiring that I tighten the seat post bolt more and more. Eventually, the bolt stripped out completely. I purchased a stronger bolt and nut from Home Depot and replaced it.

How it Works

The Pro-Form TDF bike works with Google Maps and the iFit Live website. While riding the bike, its computer interfaces with Google Maps, which in turn interfaces with iFit Live. During a ride, using any computer or tablet, you are able to follow your ride visually with Google Maps, using whichever Google Maps view you prefer.

My first couple of attempts on the system involved trying to map my own route using the iFit Live website and loading my generated ride as my next scheduled training event. After logging on and connecting to the Internet via the bike computer, the system will ask you to load today's scheduled ride. When you start pedaling, the bike computer displays an overhead view of the entire route, and the iFit Live website begins tracking your route. I selected "street view"on Google Maps each time (see the photo of the display from my laptop, above). You can manually develop your own route, as well as choosing pre-set routes, but Google Maps may not show it on your computer -- especially the street view.

pro form tdf handlebar shifters.web

The bike's computer allows you to choose between a virtual triple or double crankset, as well as from a range of cassette sizes/options. Shift buttons are located on the sides of the handlebar (see photo, left). Regardless of the crankset/cassette setup I chose, in many instances I had to change gears/incline for more pressure to replicate the desired riding experience.

Connectivity, Functionality are Hit and (Mostly) Miss

The bike's built-in computer screen is small (3.5-inch x 5-inch, 9cm x 13 cm), and its user interface is poor. The keypad is laid out in an alphabetical order chart and numerical order. One press of the "enter" key selects only one character at a time. Therefore, for longer user names and passwords, it can take a while to input your required information.

Connecting to Wi-Fi was very difficult, as well, when choosing the "Connect to Wi-Fi" option. In most cases, I was not successful in connecting this way. Choosing the "connect to iFit Live" option (sign in with user name and password) seemed the better option to connect to Wi-Fi, though it could still take up to 3-5 minutes to connect (on some occasions it would connect in under a minute).

iFit Live disconnected about 75% of the time while training. That almost "normal" outcome is very disappointing, since one of the primary reasons in purchasing this package was the Google Maps views and mapping.

Furthermore, the iFit Live website has been extremely slow on most rides. I spoke with a customer service representative, and he advised me that at the moment there are lots of customers and the servers cannot handle the usage volume. He assured me that they are adding more servers.

pro form tdf bike rider perspective.web Ride totals, speed and power readings appeared to be inaccurate at times as well. In one instance, the history showed 202 minutes of riding, but totals for iFit Live showed 61 minutes.

I've been riding long enough to know what 22-25 mph feels like. When I have been on level ground (tilt at zero), the speed reading sometimes showed 22-25 mph when I know I was pedaling at about 15-18 mph. The same false readings have been commonplace with the bike's power meter. I don't own a power meter, but when I was rolling along easily at times, the Pro-Form's would read over 500 watts. That simply can't be right, as that amount of power would take a Herculean effort.

The majority of mapped routes that I rode continued to have the same issues with higher speed calculations, higher power meter calculations, inaccurate tilt readings, Internet connectivity loss, etc.

Feedback From Specific Rides

On one ride I mapped my own route up the Alpe d'Huez. The bike's computer dropped the Internet connection after 29 minutes. Therefore, I lost the street view and history of my remaining ride total of 48 minutes.

A second scheduled ride went a little bit better with the iFit Live. While riding the route up the Stelvio Pass in Italy, the street view worked better, although the street view photos refreshed only every 5-7 seconds (which may be standard for Google Maps), but some views didn't change for up to 30-40 seconds.

In addition, on this particular ride, the tilt was off about 8-10 degrees. For example, when my digital readout read +10 degrees, the bike was actually level. Instead of stopping and running the tilt-calibration that must be executed to set up the bike (because I had already done that!), I decided to continue the ride. Now, even with this tilt issue, the resistance still increased with the positive gradient. The other issue was that the iFit Live street view on many occasions did not match the incline and decline. When I was in a climb on the bike, the iFit Live showed me going downhill. So, the notion that I am seeing a "live view" isn't really a live view.

When coming out of the saddle on climbs, each time I grabbed the hoods my fingers would accidentally strike the gear shifters and, depending on the settings, I would hear a beep-beep-beep warning because both hands would hit the shifters. In short, the shift buttons should have been placed further up the bars where they begin to tilt upward.

The Bottom Line

When the system works as advertised, it is fantastic. But working as advertised has only happened a couple of times. To ride where the pros ride around the world and imagine climbing the Pyrenees, Alpe d'Huez or the Stelvio Pass is quite fun and completely eliminates the boredom with most indoor trainers. I also enjoyed seeing the countryside of Italy and France. I was messing around and mapped a short route near the Eiffel Tower to see if I could see it and I did. Really cool!

In summary, this was not a cheap purchase, and I have to admit that I was disappointed with the lack of connectivity with the bike computer and the iFitLive/Google Maps problems. This was one of the primary reasons I purchased the bike — and what truly makes it unique. I quickly began to feel that it was a burden to wait for the unit to connect to the Wi-Fi and get on and off the bike to try and reconnect when the connection was lost with my laptop computer. Training is about training — not dealing with technology that doesn't work.

It seems to be well-built machine overall, but it has numerous bugs that need to be fixed in order to deliver the true experience it promises.

March 2012

Rob Kortus's Update

It would be remiss of me not to update/inform readers of the original product test review of the Pro Form trainer. After one year of attempting to get credible answers and Internet connectivity issues and the iFit Live website updated, it has been a really arduous process.

I experienced continued difficulty logging on to the iFit Live website. The company sent me a new computer console after they told me this was an upgrade (at no charge). Later, I realized that the password we were attempting to use was an invalid password and the computer console was fine.

I spoke with a rep on purchasing an extended warranty for the trainer, and when I attempted to purchase the warranty over the phone, their credit card system was not working. The rep told me he would have someone call me the next day so I could purchase the warranty. I received no phone call at all. 

The lack of knowledge on this specific trainer by some of the customer service reps is obvious during several conversations. I believe their focus is more on their other exercise equipment, i.e. treadmills, etc.

The power meter is still inaccurate. I can be cruising along a flat road and the power meter will be 400-500+. The new console has a separate power meter program where you can ride with a set power meter rate. Again, the calculations shown are way off.

The speeds are still inaccurate, as well. Again, I found out the speeds were based upon treadmill data but the customer service reps stated they were fixed in the upgrade. I didn't see it and I know when I am riding on flat terrain at less than 20 mph and the computer still tells me 28-35 mph.

The company had a specific date on an upgrade to their website. This took weeks and months for them to correct deficiencies. After logging on several times, I could not bring up any visual rides because there was no link available. When I called again, they said they were still working on it. On one call, I held for 45 minutes and then simply gave up.

I recently received an email to resubscribe to iFit Live again for $99.00. I couldn't justify spending another 100 bucks after a year of continuous issues. So now, I have a $1,200.00 trainer and am not able to use the rides associated with the program nor capture accurate data on training.

In summary, after one year, I am extremely disappointed. This was to be a nice investment to train in the home with a nice visual of riding anywhere in the world with the iFit Live Google Maps program — but for me it has turned out to be a far cry from this. My rating has now gone from 3 stars to 1 star.

February 2013


Rob Kortus is founder of JerseyBin, makers of the waterproof cycling pouch. RBR sells its own logoed JerseyBin in the RBR Shop, where you can also find a link to our JerseyBin product review.

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