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Elite Direto direct-drive smart trainer review

Making a pain cave more immersive with power, cadence and speed.

The Elite Direto is a direct-drive trainer with a 4.2 kg flywheel, built-in power, speed and cadence sensors, and the ability to connect wirelessly to third party apps like Zwift while adjusting resistance using ERG mode on virtual hills or during workouts.

by Philippe Tremblay

It’s compatibility with thru-axle and quick release bikes and solid design make it rugged and versatile. At $1,199 it’s still a major investment, but very competitive in the segment of direct-drive smart trainers.

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Setting up the Direto is straight forward. From the box, a kit to install the three extendable legs with bolts is easy to follow and took me about five minutes. Once that is done, a cassette needs to be installed like on any other wheel. You’ll need a chain whip, cassette lockring tool and a spare cassette to get the trainer ready to ride. It comes with spacers for 10 and 11 speed Shimano and SRAM cassttes. If you are mounting a Campagnolo equipped bike, you will need a specific hub body from Elite. There are inserts that come with the trainer for traditional skewer bikes or  a 142 x 12 mm thru axle so you can easily set up any road bike you own onto the trainer.

To make the most of the trainer you’ll need to set the Direto up close to a power outlet or use a cord extension to get your training station all ready for riding. Without power you’ll get a little bit of resistance, which may be enough to warm up at a race, but the whole purpose of a smart trainer is the variable resistance and data they provide. The unit is also not overly heavy, but does tilt the scale at over 30 lbs, so transporting it isn’t particularly easy. The foldable legs make it stable and an integrated handle makes it easy to hold onto and move around.

I mounted my 12 mm thru-axle road bike onto the Direto. A wheel support elevated the front of my bike and kept it stable. Once plugged in three lights turn on. They indicating ANT+ status, Bluetooth Smart status, and that the unit is powered up. The lights make it easy to see if the trainer was detecting the devices I was pairing with it.

I paired a Garmin Edge 820 and an iPad Mini 2 to the Direto for training and riding virtually. The pairing with both devices was quick and straight forward. From the trainer I got cadence, power and speed data on my iPad and Garmin. Through the iPad I was then able to ride in the world of Zwift in a matter of minutes. You can also use TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest and other e-training software with the Direto.


Riding in the virtual world

A crucial element to getting immersed in a virtual training world, or knocking out a good workout, is the experience. The Direto can stimulate gradients up to 14 per cent replicating the resistance of really grinding up a climb. The trainer says it can take a maximum power of 1,400 watts, which I can’t quite attest to because I don’t have Sagan’s mighty sprint. In the virtual world of Zwift the ERG mode made the riding much more interactive. When doing workouts, it also means the trainer automatically set resistance to make sure you are cranking out the right power.

The experience of riding the Direto is pretty smooth. While a pedal stroke still doesn’t quite feel the same, the 4.2 kg fly wheel and direct-drive construction does a good job of making pedals strokes feel very natural. With the trainer giving you lots of data like cadence, speed and power, I was able to follow structured workouts and crank out a solid FTP test. Elite says the Direto power meter, which uses 12 points of measurement, is accurate to +/-2.5 per cent.

The ERG mode is not quite as smooth as hitting inclines in the real world but if you focus on maintaining a steady pedal stroke the experience isn’t too disruptive to your rhythm. It took me some time to get used to riding with ERG, but the value changing resistance was clear when doing structured workouts where I didn’t have to make multiple shift adjustments to get to the right power instead only making slight changes in my gearing.

The Direto isn’t too loud. It’s a big consideration for many who might want to train early in the morning or in the evening, but don’t want to incur the wrath of neighbours or family members. A noticeable hum meant that I played my music a little louder, but you won’t be waking up the entire house with the Direto. The noise is constant and in adjacent rooms was no more than a light hum that sounded no louder than our modern dryer.

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With the Direto you are getting a smart and direct-drive trainer with a solid construction, good power accuracy, excellent road feel, and very acceptable noise that is easy to set-up and store away. At $1,199, it’s a feature heavy trainer that will allow you to do nearly everything you’d want when training and riding indoors. I’s a worthy upgrade to your pain cave that will help reap additional fitness benefits and get you riding more frequently during the winter months.

This review originally appeared on the Canadian Cycling Magazine website.