The Wattbike Atom is a fitness product born out of cycling. It’s not a bike, it’s not a Spin bike, it’s a Wattbike.
Integrating the Atom with Zwift is easy. You connect Wattbike to it, and off you go. Simple.
What is a Wattbike?
For those who haven’t come across the Wattbike Atom, it is a smart bike that measures power output in watts… hence the name. The Atom is the company’s “at home” offering to complement their commercial line, and is priced at £1,999.00.
The first Wattbike model has gone through numerous evolutions and in 2020, the “Next Generation” Wattbike Atom was launched with improved power accurac of +/-1% and increased max wattage.
Competitors in this space include the Wahoo KICKR Bike, Tacx NEO Bike, and StagesBike SB20.
Who are Wattbike?
Wattbike are a British manufacturer of exercise bikes since 2008 and are based in Nottingham. Their first Wattbike Pro/Trainer was launched that year at the Track Cycling World Championships and was endorsed by British Cycling. Four years later it was adopted by the UK’s leading fitness clubs including Virgin Active, David Lloyd, and Nuffield Health.
In 2021, Wattbike became the official performance bike supplier to the All Blacks and Black Ferns Rugby teams.
The bike I tested was previously used and arrived completely assembled. New Wattbikes come boxed and require some self-assembly such as installing pedals and tri-bars. Whether new or used, units still required the adjustment of key components such as the seat, position, and handlebars. This is simple and using the supplied Allen keys/hex wrenches it’s easy to make the required adjustments.
To achieve the correct setup, I took measurements from my road bike and adjusted the seat height, seat position, and handlebar distance in accordance with those measurements. Seat height is adjustable via a handle, making it the easiest aspect to adjust. Just be sure to really tighten it as on my first ride, it slipped down!
To get as a close a fit to your road as possible you can use the Wattbike Bike Fit calculator.
The cranks are 170mm in length in contrast to 172.5mm or 175mm that come as standard on most bikes.
The tri-bars are designed to allows you to insert a tablet, which is then held securely in place.
The bike is heavy (40kg), so you may need help maneuvering it into position. Fortunately it has wheels, so you and tilt the bike onto the wheels and roll it into position as required.
The feet are adjustable, so you can ensure the bike is level if positioned on an uneven surface.
In terms of overall footprint, it is more compact in comparison to having your bike connected to a smart trainer, in part because it doesn’t have a front wheel.
The bike is required to be connected to power at all times during use. There is no battery, and there is a power switch under the frame, where the power connects to the bike.
An instructional setup video can be viewed here >
There is a feel of “plug and play” with the bike in the sense that once the ride position has been established, you simply turn on the Wattbike and connect to Zwift and off you go.
Wattbike have a free app called the “Hub”.
The Hub contains an extensive set of workouts and training plans, and there is even a feature called “Grand Tour Climbs” where you can tackle of number of major IRL climbs, with the app controlling incline feel.
The Hub is easy to use and is required if you want to configure the number of gears that you would like to use… but more on that later.
The Hub app also shows your Pedal Effectiveness Score (PES). This highlights how efficient your pedal stroke is. Do you stamp on the pedals or provide a smooth allocation of power throughout the revolution? You can also see if you are left or ride side dominant and work on becoming a more balanced rider.
The Hub can run alongside Zwift so you can monitor your PES while Zwifting.
The bike works via electromagnetic resistance. The electromagnetic resistance only has one moving part within the system. It is simple in mechanical design, allowing for improved reliability throughout. Unique features are as follows:
- The braking power of the electromagnetic resistance of the Next Generation Wattbike Atom is 2500w, giving it a power range from 0-2500W. This high tolerance (Wahoo KICKR Bike, for example, is 2200w) means that the bike works for all athletes from cyclists to rugby players.
- The electromagnet is a totally programmable resistance mechanism, which allows for changes the feel/behaviour and speed of ‘gear’ changes. This change actuation cycle also allows for future innovation, and is future-proofed for software and potential new features. Some examples of potential new features include programmable gear sets, differing ERG features, physiology testing (6s, 30s ramp tests etc) and changing ride dynamics.
- The electromagnet runs from a core electronics package that controls the system sampling data from the sensors. This gives high accuracy and real time data feedback at 1000x/second, including power, cadence and a few others, meaning the system has the ability to control the ride dynamics to that resolution.
- The core mechanism of the electromagnetic is shared with Wattbike’s commercially-focussed bike, the AtomX. As this resistance system is certified for commercial use, it is incredibly robust and sturdy. Home users of the Wattbike Atom are riding a gym-grade resistance system, which means an increased lifespan.
How Does It Feel?
The Atom is very sturdy. And when I say sturdy, I mean it is absolutely stiff and there is no flex when riding. This is in part due to its heavy weight, but also its construction. When I talk about “flex” I mean that when you cycle naturally, there is a slight “give” in the frame. The Atom is very rigid in construction and does not have any flex, making it feel quiet different from riding your bike connected to a smart trainer, or your bike outside.
Due to the lack of flex, it is a hard ride and can be uncomfortable in comparison to riding your bike outside or using other smart trainers. For example, the Tacx NEO 2T has a more natural feel because when you pedal because there is slight left to right movement replicating outside road feel. Similarly, Elite’s RIZER, also has this feature of left to right movement, which makes for a comfortable ride.
As a consequence of Wattbike’s rigidity, when testing the bike during an all-out effort up the Alpe, by the time I had reached the top of the climb in 42:51 my lower back was hurting. At that point, I had accumulated 1.5 hours in the saddle and I was ready to get off. The next day riding, I lasted only 1.25 hours, as my thighs and knees started to hurt. I wasn’t sure if this was my position on the bike or due to lack of flex in the bike. I would recommend spending time making sure you get a good fit on the bike as this might help with the comfort levels.
How Does it Work?
It’s very simple to use: you simply get on and pedal. However, the gearing is an entire topic in itself.
On each handlebar there are 3 buttons – one on top of the hood and two on the drops. The two on the right-hand drop control the gears. One button increases the gears and the other decreases. They in no way mimic traditional gears found on road bikes, and this is why I struggled initially.
I actually found using the buttons difficult for many reasons. Firstly, particularly when climbing, when you turn a corner and you quickly want to select a gear to give you more resistance, on a regular bike it’s easy to flick the paddles and change gears without losing momentum. However, when using the Wattbike’s buttons this is difficult because you have to rapidly press them, by which time, you select the incorrect gear and have to press again to get the right one, at which time you have navigated the corner and need to select another gear, which involves more “pressing and guessing.” For me, it just felt too slow, too cumbersome.
My second issue with the buttons and the gearing was that when wrestling the bike up the climb, due to the lack of flex I was twisting the grips on the hoods. This meant that when I went to press the button to change gear, I had a problem locating them because the grips had moved! I couldn’t feel the button and was desperately pressing anywhere to change gears; not ideal in intense race scenarios.
Regarding the gears, I would recommend getting used to the shifting before entering a race as I am confident that like with anything, you would adapt to it and over time would intuitively know which buttons to press and how to find them… even in stressful race situations.
To overcome this issue, I started holding the tri-bars and found myself riding in the most bizarre position.
My third issue with the gearing is the way it operates. For me, the bike arrived set up with 11 gears. On Zwift, the gear you are in is displayed in the top left of the screen:
On my first test up the Alpe, I could only manage getting to turn 1 because the gearing was too difficult. After researching the topic, it was clear that I needed to configure the gearing using the Wattbike Hub app and had to change the configuration to 22 gears using the “Settings” function. There is no function for changing the gear ratios. It’s either 1 to 11 or 1 to 22.
When I highlighted this to Wattbike, they commented that the 1 to 11 gearing ratio is used predominantly for racing. This I would have to disagree with, as you need a larger range of gearing to cater for the steepest inclines in Zwift. My advice would be that you would benefit from configuring the gearing to suit the course profile of your race, enabling you be as competitive as possible.
This leads me to my fourth and final issue with the gears which is their sequential nature.
Imagine this scenario: you just have crested the Radio Tower climb on the Epic KOM, and as it is a really steep climb, you will probably be in gear 1, the easiest. The Radio Tower climb goes flat and into a steep descent, some people, particularly lighter riders, like to pedal on the descent, to reduce the chances of being dropped. To get to the correct gear for the descent, you will need to be in a higher gear, you will then have to click the button over 10 times to get to something that provides some resistance. This rapid pressing of the button left me feeling like I was playing a PlayStation, but let’s examine this for what it was. I was testing this in extreme conditions, very rarely are you changing gears like that during a race.
One thing to note, the gear shifters are powered by battery, which once replaced, will need to be re-paired using the “Settings” function in the Wattbike Hub. Batteries typically last 2 years.
The buttons on the left-hand drop control functionality in the Hub.
I discussed my conclusions with Wattbike about the gearing and they explained that “the Wattbike gearing has been designed so that it can be accessible by all.” They noted that the paddle shifting gearing that I am accustomed to is very cycling-specific and their product has been designed to appeal to the masses. As a consequence, they decided to simplify the gearing to ensure that anyone could use the product, regardless of their understanding of cycling and the nuances of gearing. Hence the use of buttons which must be pressed once for each gear change.
They went on to explain that in time, I would get accustomed to the use of buttons.
In my review of Elite’s Direto XR-T, I commented that, “Due to the size of the flywheel, the trainer can feel a little hard to get moving.” What I observed with the Atom was that it was easy to start cycling but there is a noticeable delay before the watts are registered (at least 3 pedal revolutions) and your avatar starts moving. When I say “delay”, it literally is several seconds. When I first started using it, I wasn’t used to this and actually thought the system wasn’t connected correctly!
Due to this lag, it is vitally important to have your legs spinning before the start of any event, otherwise you will find yourself quite literally left behind. This would make using the Wattbike a challenge in the WTRL Team Time Trial events because it would mean you would be last off the line and would need to chase your teammates from the start.
An engineer from Wattbike investigated this and noted that the delay is most likely the processing of data sent from the Wattbike by the Zwift app and it’s something they are going to investigate.
On the positive side, Bluetooth connectivity to my iPad was stable and instant. I did not experience any dropped connections during my time testing.
The Wattbike is not particularly noisy, nor is it particularly loud. It measured in at approximately 70 decibels at 70 rpm which is basically “noise levels in an office environment.”
The key takeaway is that you are not going to disturb anyone as the noise level is acceptable and is on a par with other smart trainers/smart bikes. Using a floor mat will reduce the noise further.
My attempt at using ERG mode with Zwift did not go as expected. One of my strengths is that I am able to hold a set power and if I am fully concentrating, can normally hit the power target for each rep. I was only able to successfully hit the power target 4 times out of 28, when undertaking a workout in ERG mode that lasted an hour.
The challenge I had was that the resistance would engage, then disengage, with the resistance being very inconsistent. It fluctuated a lot, which meant it was nearly impossible to hold any set power.
The engineer investigated this and highlighted that when ERG mode was engaged using the Wattbike Hub, it functioned as required. However, on Zwift, it could not deliver the same results. The ERG mode session that I was using was one from Training Peaks designed by Matt Rowe, and one that I have used successfully in the past with other trainers. A more in-depth investigation is required to understand why this is proving not to operate as intended.
Editor’s note: DC Rainmaker noted similar issues in his review of the Wattbike Atom. “In any case, as far as power accuracy goes for the Wattbike ATOM 2020 – overall the actual accuracy of both power and cadence is great. What’s not great is its ability to correctly maintain a given wattage in ERG mode for structured workouts. In other words, if you’re using it for Zwift and not in a structured workout – life will be perfectly fine. But if you plan to use it for TrainerRoad (or Zwift Structured workouts), I’d wait until they get it to settle down.”
Wattbike have a focused approach to customer support. The bikes are delivered to your requested location and advice is on hand should you have any technical challenges. Furthermore, in the event of a fault, an engineer will be dispatched to resolve the issue, as was the case with my colleague who uses Wattbike extensively. The Wattbike Atom comes with a 2-year warranty and 30 day free returns.
Just to clarify the returns policy: you can ride the bike as much as you want for the first 30 days and return it for free if not satisfied. So for example, if you find it too stiff or don’t get on with the gearing, you can return it. Wattbike would collect it free of charge too. You would get a full refund on everything except the initial delivery cost. Which I think is excellent, as there is no risk. All this is outlined here.
There are no additional features like “road feel” which Tacx offers on the Neo 2T or any glowing lights to indicate the level you are cycling at.
|Model:||Atom (Next Generation)|
|Height:||Max. 150cm (fully extended tablet holder)|
|Footprint:||124 x 50cm|
|Feet:||Rubber height adjustable|
|Integrated gear shifters:||Yes|
|Seat:||Racing seat fitted as standard|
|Pedals (UK):||Flat pedals with toe cage fitted as standard|
|Covers:||Heavy-duty ABS plastic construction|
|Chain:||Industrial 1⁄2″ x 1⁄8″ steel|
|Belt:||T15 Timing belt|
|Seat and handlebar stems:||Aluminium|
|Handlebar height adjustability:||Range 52cm – 76cm|
|Handlebar fore/aft adjustability:||Range 0 – 7.5cm|
|Seat height adjustability:||Range 49cm – 75cm|
|Seat fore/aft adjustability:||Range 0 – 8.8cm|
|Power range:||0 – 2500w|
|Third-party connectivity:||ANT+, Bluetooth, FTMS|
|Third-party app smart functionality control:||Any ANT+FEC Bluetooth FTMS enabled app inc Zwift, Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, FulGaz, RGT|
|Gradient:||0 – 25%|
|Max. rider weight:||135kg|
|Rider height:||5′–6′ 5″|
|External power required:||Yes|
Experienced cyclists may find the gearing difficult to adapt to. And because of the hard ride, this product may not appeal to those cyclists who like a more natural cycling feel.
On the whole, I can appreciate that the Wattbike Atom is a good product. It is well built and the design ensures it is accessible to the mass market. The “plug and play” nature means anyone can purchase it and be up and Zwifting within minutes. The Wattbike is designed to have that “real ride feel” without adding complexity to the setup. It’s a bike you can set up once and ride as much as you want, with little worry about maintenance.
Questions or Comments?
I’m quite happy with a V5 Wahoo Kickr. it moves a little when sprinting. if it’s good enough for the E-Sports world circuit, it’s good enough for me.
i don’t see any point upgrading in the near future!
just my opinion.
That is excellent to know as I am going to be testing the Wahoo KICKR V5 next so can’t wait to give it a try. Wahoo and Zwift did an amazing job, shipping over 200 units around the word to facilitate the World Championships.
I’m an experienced cyclist in receipt of a new atom. I love it. The gearing is easy to be honest, hadn’t occurred to me that the sequential nature was a thing tbh. As for the stiffness, after riding a dumb trailer for years this is so reassuringly planted. I can jump around all over the place. I have noticed the hoods moving and gear button alignment however. And the whole family can use it (my main selling point during negotiations;-))
I’m a cyclist of over 20 years and last year decided to buy the Atom specifically for Zwift. It’s been absolutely brilliant. Planted, robust, simple to connect, plug n play, great customer service, superb road feel and in my opinion brilliant gearing. I’m surprised at the comments on gearing. I don’t recognise any of the points made and if there are underlying limitations, then I must have overcome them/got used to them very quickly as I didn’t even notice them. if I could change one thing, it would be use paddles rather than buttons to change gear, but I bet… Read more »
About the paddles, I asked Wattbike that and paddles would increase the manufacturing costs and they also think “buttons” are more accessible.
Did you find it over-reads or get to compare vs some pedals? A fair amount of comments buzzing around the web that the atom seems to struggle to give correct power in sprints/harder efforts and will overshoot – I spoke with wattbike about trainers and they themselves pointed towards their trainer/pro models vs the atom for sprint work but its hard to give up the breadth of use a smart trainer gives you.
Yeah, the comparison with pedals. I bought a new pair of Garmin power pedals. They didn’t work, so sent them back to the store and still trying to get that sorted. It’s turned into a saga worthy of an article. The latest is that I gave up with the store and contacted Garmin as they have a 2 year warranty. Garmin have sent me new battery covers, so I am chasing to get the pedals back from the store to try these parts. It’s been a farce. Ultimately, I am dealing directly with Garmin now. So, sorry for the lack… Read more »
I’m actually of the opinion that the original Wattbike (Pro/Trainer) is way better for Zwift. The air and magnetic resistance levers are easy to reach/operate and you can go from high to low gear immediately. On top of that, it comes with its own monitor so no need for the Wattbike Hub app and an additional device. Key drawback would be, of course, that it’s not ‘smart’ – i.e. the resistance doesn’t change depending on gradient.
I like the wattbike, had problems with my first Atom but wattbike customer services were exceptional – can’t fault them – and they eventually just replaced bike. It’s solid bit of kit, I too suffered from seat post slipping but they sent an engineer round to provide a permanent solution which is bang on. I have no issues with gears, you just press button and it changes immediately. other thing is note is it only displays gears when in BT, not ANT, but depending on trainer realism you might only use 5 gears anyway, so changing is minimal. I actually… Read more »
I absolutely love my Atom, and I’m a really experienced ‘recreational racing’ cyclist as well. I’ve raced up to 70km on Zwift without any comfort issues, although I did change the saddle to the same brand and model as both my road and track bikes which may have helped. I’m also surprised by the comments around gearing as I’ve had no issues at all, in fact, I find the buttons really easy to use. My guess would be that if you’re in gear 1 at the radio tower you had Zwift set to 100% trainer difficulty? This is an important… Read more »
That is a good observation about changing the power setting from “3 second average” to “instant” – I can’t exactly remember what mine was set to, but I did not test that. Will have to put that as a test on my next trainer I review. Thanks for the insightful feedback. It’s really nice to get the Community’s thoughts on the Atom too.
I have an Atom and absolutely love it. 3 of us use it for Zwift and it is loads easier setting up for each person than a direct drive turbo. Yes the gears are different to normal shifters but you get used to them fairly quickly. Just don’t recognise the problem in Ergo mode. It is dead easy to hit the power targets during Zwift training. I really like flywheel as you can power up down hi and stop but not have a almighty effort to get going again, very similar to normal riding. The bike is very rigid and… Read more »
I’m pleased I got a Concept2 BikeErg, less than half the price and twice as good, in my opinion.
Had my Atom next gen since April 2021. Fantastic bit of kit, and best looking of the smart bikes IMO. I got used to the gear buttons very quickly and no issue with gear change. I’m always pedalling at the start of any zwift ride/race/workout. No issues with ERG. Will look at instant or 3sec power though, great shout. I definitely would recommend fitting better pedals. I have the same ‘Look’ pedals as my road bike. I’m ok with the supplied race seat, but that is an easy swap. Also recommend a sweat catcher and a couple of fans. I… Read more »
Hi, great review. I have owned my Atom since Oct 2020 and recognise many of the points you make, but I still love it. It has kept me sane during lockdowns and introduced me to the world of Zwift. I have never figured how to get it out of Erg mode in Zwift which means I don’t use the gears half as much as I perhaps should. I do sprints and find the weight and stability reassuring, although I don’t think I use the same riding technique as I would on the road. I changed the saddle to an Adamo… Read more »
If I’d read this 2 years ago when i ordered my gen 1 Atom I think the gear issues described would have seriously put me off. Like others I have had no problems at all, it’s been a brilliant piece of kit which I have Zwifted over 5500 km on. I believe the gen 2 model has improved gear change over mine. My brother in law and friend have both bought an Atom on my recommendation ( gen 1 and gen 2) and they both love it.
The gearing is something I have tried to give a balanced account of, it’s something I struggled with and did not get used to, but am pleased more people haven’t found it limiting and expressed their opinions. However, as it stands, I still would prefer a bike with paddle gears.
I’ve had my 2nd Gen Atom since October 2020 and have put nearly 12000km on it. Over Christmas, I signed up for the Rapha Festive 500 and ended up riding 400km on it in 3 days. I was no more uncomfortable that I would have been on my ‘real’ bike. I echo your comments about the shifters and hoods moving about which is a pain, and the ‘sequential’ gearing also takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s not insurmountable. My major gripe with it is that there doesn’t seem to be great stability with power readings. In my… Read more »
I had the first atom and the gear lagging made riding in hard group rides or racing on zwift impossible. So I sold it and went to a Tacx neo T2 which is great. However my circumstances changed so having something set up, so that I didn’t have to swap bikes over etc was important. I went back to the atom gen 2 and have to say the gearing is 100% better in hard sessions plus racing too. A good friend of mine is an A+ Zwift rider and thinks it’s great too.
The issues you raised about ERG mode in Zwift would be a dealbreaker for me because I pretty much only do workouts these days. I probably will get a Smart Bike in the next year or so but the Atom doesn’t make the shortlist if that isn’t resolved
I have been riding different Wattbike models for many years and have both a 1st gen Atom and the current “Nextgen” Atom. I am a huge fan of them generally (using them exclusively for Zwift), but there is one important topic that has not been discussed – maintenance… and there is a LOT of it. My riding is probably not atypical for many Zwift users – I am riding typically 6-8 hours per week – distance work at 220-250w – racing 300-375w – peak power 1,000-1200w. Maintenance visits are at least once every 6 months per bike. The bike unit… Read more »
If Zwift and Wattbike who are now in collaboration , sort the problems
so that you can ride on Zwift and see your PES on Wattbike then you would have the complete system