Excellent stability, best-in-class frame clearance and easy adjustment, dual-sided power measurement, multiple remote shift options, integrated tablet holder, tray and USB chargers
Shift feel is vague compared to Wahoo and Tacx, no gear indicator
The crew behind Stages was building indoor bikes for national chains long before they launched Stages as a power-meter company, and that experience shows in this bike. It’s rock solid, easy to use, easy to adjust, and fits a wide range of riders without the clearance issues that the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo have. The shifting feel is vague compared to those other two bikes, but the ride feel is excellent, thanks to the 50lb flywheel.
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Smart bikes combine the interactivity of a smart trainer with the convenience and durability of an indoor bike. With the StagesBike SB20, Stages Cycling joins a small list of companies making such a machine, and it’s best in class in stability and ease of use, with ride feel and interactivity close behind.
Like smart bikes from WattBike, Tacx, and Wahoo, the StagesBike works on ANT+ and Bluetooth to interact with third-party training software like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and Ful Gaz. These training games can control the resistance to both mimic undulations in virtual courses and to match the prescribed wattage of structured workouts.
The StagesBike measures left- and right-leg power independently, and easily adjusts to fit riders from 4’10” to 6’4″. A 50-pound flywheel delivers excellent ride feel in how it mimics the inertia and momentum you get riding outside.
Before Stages launched as a power meter company in 2012, the team behind the technology had been working in the indoor market, both designing indoor bikes for national gym chains but also the power-measuring technology. The initial Stages crank-based power meter sprung from this technology. And the company, today, builds huge quantities of indoor bikes for brands like Life Time Fitness and Equinox. So, the company had a leg up on the competition for building a smart bike in terms of the hardware construction and power measurement.
In terms of stability, the 138-pound StagesBike is rock solid. The four feet are adjustable, should your floor be uneven. But once planted, you can flail on the bike like a track sprinter, and the bike isn’t going to budge. This is most noticeable coming from a standard bike-on a smart trainer. (Consider number one ranked Zwift rider, Holden Comeau, using 100 pounds of weights on his Saris trainer and front wheel to prevent rocking.) But the StagesBike is noticeably more stable than the Wahoo Kickr Bike, which wobbles at the base and bars under a hard sprint, or the Tacx Neo Bike, where you can get the cockpit and thus the table holder to move.
It’s pretty easy to wheel around, thanks to two wheels on the front of the frame. You just tip the whole thing like a heavy appliance on a dolly, and steer it around. Lifting it, of course, is another matter!
Ride feel and shifter experience
With a 50 pound flywheel, the StagesBike does a great job mimicking the inertia and momentum of riding outdoors. Unlike a standard indoor bike, you can coast and freewheel. The Gates carbon belt keeps things smooth and quiet, and – if past indoor bikes are any indication — hopefully maintenance free.
The electronic brake regulates input from games like Zwift. It reacts quickly to changes, whether in virtual reality mode or in workout mode.
One nice thing about the StagesBike workout mode is the little bit of forgiveness the engineers built in. On some smart trainers, if you fall behind the tiniest bit on the prescribed wattage, the trainer can lock up on you. This is because many trainers take the ‘watts = torque x rpm’ formula quite literally, and if your power output and cadence drop, then suddenly the torque resistance that the trainer delivers is all but impossible to overcome. Here, the StagesBike gives you a bit of a buffer for target wattage when used on ERG mode, and should you completely fall off track, then software like Zwift and TrainerRoad automatically switch off the ERG mode and let you reset while still pedaling.
The StagesBike has shift buttons on the inside of each lever, plus sprint shifters on the drops that you can move elsewhere if you like. The buttons are programmable with an app, so you can mimic an outdoor road group’s logic or set to whatever number of intervals you like. You can also plug in two additional sets of satellite shifters for use on the tops or on aero extensions.
Unlike the Wahoo and Tacx shifters, which affect a quick mechanical stutter that makes it feel like an outdoor bike, the StagesBike shifting is vague. Your cadence definitely changes, but the change is akin to tweaking resistance by turning a dial, not a hard jump from cog to cog.
Also, the StagesBike does not have a console to indicate gear selection, nor does Zwift currently offer a gear-change graphic the way it does for the WattBike. (Stages says its work has been completed for this feature, it’s just a matter of Zwift updating things on its end.)
Stages claims the bike can handle up to 2,200 watts of resistance. Surprise, surprise, this was not something I was able to verify. But I did test the power measurement against a set of Garmin Vector 3 pedals, which I have in turn been using in conjunction with power meters from Shimano and Quarq to test smart trainers.
I found the data from the StagesBike and the Vector 3s to track along nicely, with single-digit variances. In my experience, all four smart bikes deliver reliable power measurement, much closer to the Vector 3s as a group than a group test of smart trainers.
Granted, using a single meter to test against a bike isn’t foolproof, but I’ve tested the Vector 3s against enough other meters to feel confident in using them as a basic gauge.
If you want to track true left/right power measurement, you can do that with the StagesBike.
Adjustable frame plus cockpit
In my experience, the StagesBike has the best frame design in terms of ease of adjustability and clearance.
There are quick-release dials to adjust the height and fore/aft of the saddle and the cockpit. They lock down securely and quickly, and measurement marks make it easy to accurately change fits between riders.
The open-frame design is important. It allows the bike to be used for short riders, but it also eliminates the possibility of your legs rubbing on the seat tube or top tube, which is not the case with the Wahoo and Tacx bikes. With those smart bikes, not all riders experience inner-leg rub, but many do, and there’s no way to eliminate that.
I found the saddle and road bar to be comfortable, but you can swap them out to your preferred equipment if you like.
The cranks are drilled for four effective crank lengths: 165, 170, 172.5, and 175 mm. (Wahoo has five; Tacx has three; WattBike has only 170mm.)
The bike’s Q-Factor is 157mm, which is slightly wider than a standard road bike, but inline with a mountain bike.
Beyond the industrial-grade frame design, Stages built in some smart, user-friendly details like a sturdy but removable tablet holder, a non-slip perch for your smartphone, and two USB chargers. The big bottle holders are handy for indoor riding, and something not included on all smart bikes.
Bottom line: A sturdy, user-friendly solution
The StagesBike isn’t as flashy as the Wahoo Kickr Bike, which pivots up and down to mimic course undulations, or the Tacx Neo, which offers surface treatments and distinct shift feel. But what the StagesBike does do is deliver a reliable, rock-solid, easy-to-use platform for indoor riding and racing. I recommend it.