Review: Elite Rizer grade simulator makes indoor racing more engaging
Steering isn't yet a big benefit in Zwift, but being able to mimic gradients is next-level interaction for virtual cycling software.
Smooth elevation changes; stable base; allows for some natural movement
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The Elite Rizer is a novel, high-end piece of indoor cycling equipment that mimics the gradients of virtual roads when riding in Zwift or other similar software. It makes riding and racing in Zwift more fun and engaging, being able to ‘feel’ the hills, and adjust your position and power accordingly. You can also ‘steer’ with the Rizer, but in my experience in Zwift, the benefits for this are still quite limited.
The Rizer is not the first elevation simulator to work with smart trainers — Wahoo’s Kickr Climb came out in 2018 and offers a similar +20/-10 degree amount of movement, raising up your bike as it pivots on the rear axle on the smart trainer. And the Rizer is not the first unit to allow steering — Elite’s Sterzo Smart plate that sits under a bike’s front wheel offers that, as does Wahoo’s Kickr Bike via buttons. But the Rizer is the first to put these two technologies together in a single device that you use in conjunction with a smart trainer and in place of your front wheel.
The Rizer pairs to your smart trainer, so when Zwift or another software tells the trainer there is a hill, the resistance at the trainer and the Rizer’s elevation at the front go up. For a virtual descent, the opposite happens. And the transitions in between are quite smooth and fluid.
Elite Rizer’s two main functions
For those unfamiliar with Zwift, the way the game works by your pedal power driving your avatar forward, and — if you have a so-called smart trainer — the game controls the resistance, making it harder to pedal on uphills and much easier on downhills. The game even attempts to replicate outdoor dynamics with an algorithm that reduces ‘drag’ when you are riding in a group.
Related: The best smart bikes for Zwift — a head-to-head group test
Everyone has their take on Zwift, and here’s mine: It’s friggin’ rad. I love it. I’ve ridden every kilometer of the available roads in the game, I look forward to getting smashed every Tuesday in the ZRL race league, I lead a weekly VeloNews Ride on Wednesdays, I invested in a training club with Jeff Winkler Cycling for the camaraderie of regular group rides, and I join other events all the time. I’m all in.
With the Rizer — or the Kickr Bike or Kickr Climb — getting tilted back and forward in conjunction with terrain changes makes Zwift more engaging, and mimics some of the physiological demands of climbing in addition to offering fun, tactile feedback to the course. In Zwift races, I appreciated being able to feel even little 1-2 percent inclines, knowing that I had to push a little harder to stay in position on those parts.
This short video below is from a Zwift race. The changes at first are subtle, then larger. In both cases the movement is smooth.
You can also do the ‘elevation’ changes manually with +/- buttons on the top of the unit, should you want to do some dedicated climbing work, for instance. I never thought to use it manually beyond just checking to see how it worked. For me, the whole point of the thing is the virtual replication function.
With your fork clamped onto the Rizer, you can turn the handlebars a bit. Zwift works with steering input in “free-ride” situations and in a very, very limited number of races. The thing about Zwift steering is that it’s not really a fluid experience, but more a matter of changing lanes. Images there are four to six lanes on any given road; steering lets you move from one to another. This is how you’re able to steer with the Kickr Bike’s buttons, for instance.
Steering in Zwift I don’t find to be either interesting or useful. The game auto-steers you, for starters, both around corners and to latch onto the draft. So just steering yourself out of a draft and then having to steer back in doesn’t do much. Also, the changing-lanes protocol doesn’t feel natural to me. But perhaps most critically, hardly anyone in Zwift is using steering, so there is no shared experience. If everyone was steering, then racing would be quite different. As is, there isn’t much point.
Elite Rizer compatibility
The Rizer works with other software like RGT or Rouvy; I only tested in Zwift because that’s all I use.
Although Elite doesn’t tout compatibility with other brands’ smart trainers, it works with any trainer that has a pivoting rear hub. So, the Wahoo Kickr is compatible but the Tacx Neo 2T is not. I tested it mostly with the Elite Direto XR. (I love the smooth feel of the Direto XR — and the ‘extra’ ~5w it seems to deliver, but don’t like the relative noisiness or how it takes a few seconds to register coasting, which negates the ability to supertuck in Zwift for short stretches.)
The Rizer is built for 12mm thru-axle bikes, but can be fixed for other bikes with adapters.
Elite Rizer’s benefits and drawbacks
Compared to the Wahoo Kickr Climb, really the only competitor in the space, the Rizer is definitely more stable. Further, while I don’t care about the steering, I really like the natural feel of the Rizer in that it lets the front end of the bike move a bit side to side as well as letting the bars turn. The big metal base with rubber feet does not budge, but the front of the bike is gently suspended. The Kickr Climb fixes your fork solidly, but the plastic base is bit wobbly when you’re sprinting. However, the Rizer is about $300 more.
The main draw, for me, is that the thing makes Zwift racing and riding more fun and engaging. It’s a highly specific and expensive piece of gear, but man was I bummed to have to return it after testing!