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Elite Direto XR smart trainer review

30 Mar 2021
Verdict:

A powerful, accurate, top-end trainer at a decent price

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Easy setup * Supplied cassette * Internal power meter for accuracy * Good road feel * Good price
Against 
Not as quiet as some * Bit plasticky * Poor app

If you want all the best bits of a smart, interactive turbo trainer but you don’t want to shell out a grand or more for the privilege, the Elite Direto XR could be the perfect choice.

It sits at the top of Elite’s turbo tree, and can stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the Wahoo Kickr (£999) and the Tacx Neo (£1,199), but will save you enough money compared to those models to pay for a year or two of Zwift subscriptions.

Elite Direto XR tech details

It used to be that the Direto was a tier below the Elite Drivo but it has recently been elevated to pole position while the Drivo has been quietly shelved. Chris Brattle, UK brand manager for Elite, explains the thinking:

‘The Drivo was super-accurate but it did come at a high price and also it was quite noisy. It was a beast – in order to isolate the optical torque sensor from the different effects of the drive unit and rider, we had to use a twin belt system, which helped maintain peak accuracy but also added noise.

‘The new Direto XR, by being single belt, is quieter. Feedback from the market suggests people prefer this, even if we sacrifice a bit of accuracy. The Drivo had a power accuracy of +/-0.5%, independently certified as the most accurate power monitoring system available commercially to a cyclist. But it was a lot of money and it was a bit loud.

‘We’ve basically taken the Direto platform and upgraded the drive unit to give a higher wattage range, and we’re certifying +/-1.5% accuracy, which is still market leading. The Direto is quite different from our competitors as we use a physical torque sensor.’

Buy the Elite Direto XR from Tredz now

This mention of the torque sensor is an important part of the Direto’s sales pitch. When smart trainers first started to arrive they generally included foil strain gauges similar to the ones on bike power meters. They were small and light but had a habit of coming out of calibration quickly, and no one wants to be sending their turbo back to the factory every few months to get it recalibrated.

These days, while all smart trainers will measure power, most use something called ‘calculated power’, whereby an algorithm works out the power based on electrical current through a coil, but it has to compensate for fluctuations caused by heat.

These can still be pretty accurate, but Elite claims that its solution is superior in terms of accuracy and the lack of a need to recalibrate. Inside the Direto XR is an optical torque sensor (OTS) that measures power directly using a laser to detect tiny amounts of twist at the axle caused by pedalling against a resistance.

Brattle says, ‘The amount of motion is tiny, so it has to be measured very, very accurately. The Drivo used a twin laser system and a twin belt system, which meant you got an incredible level of accuracy – we were sampling about 1,000 times per pedal revolution, which is why we were able to have a 0.5% accuracy. The Direto uses a single laser system, so it doesn’t sample at quite the same rate, but even so it is still independently certified at 1.5% power accuracy.

‘The OTS is heavy, it’s bulky, so it’s not suitable for use on a bike, but for a turbo trainer it’s perfect, and the great advantage is it never needs to be recalibrated.’

Getting started with the Elite Direto XR

If the science of power measurement has left your head spinning, you’ll be glad to know things get much simpler from here.

Out of the box the Direto XR is particularly easy to set up. It comes fully built, so no need for tools or bolting parts together. Simply slide it out of the box, twist the legs out to the side and lock them into place. 

 

It comes complete with a Shimano cassette (11-28) already fitted, which is a nice touch and isn’t something you’ll find on the significantly more expensive Tacx Neo turbo. If you want to use a Campagnolo cassette then you may need to purchase a freehub to go with it.

Also in the box is a power cable, a riser block for the front wheel, adaptors for all the different QR skewers and thru-axles you might use, the usual instructions and paperwork, plus some voucher codes giving you short-term access to training platforms Zwift (one month), Rouvy (one month), and Elite’s own app My E-Training (one year). 

Simply plug it in, slot your bike into place, and you’re ready to go. A handle on the back makes moving the trainer around pretty easy, and it’s not too heavy to lift at 16kg.

Buy the Elite Direto XR from Tredz now

My advice: ignore the My E-Training app. The instructions encourage you to use the app to get set up, but I found myself trapped in a system that asked for things like tax codes and wheel circumferences, before crashing on me several times.

The app suggests doing a complex initial calibration process, but the word from Elite is: don’t touch it. The trainer is checked before leaving the factory and you’re best not to fiddle with it.

Instead, simply go to Zwift or whatever platform you prefer, and everything should connect automatically. Of course, the Direto is compatible with all the apps, sensors, phones and other gadgets you can think of using Bluetooth, FE-C and ANT+. 

 

Elite Direto XR ride feel

At 5.1kg, the Direto XR’s flywheel is heavier than the previous version but still not as heavy as some, although it’s certainly good enough to offer smooth, consistent resistance when pedalling. Claimed maximum resistance is 2,300 watts, but I’ll have to take Elite’s word for it, as my personal max is quite a long way off that. 

Similarly I can’t vouch for the maximum claimed slope simulation of 24%, but changes in gradient feel natural when riding in a virtual world, and there’s no slipping when the virtual roads get steep.

During interval sessions, I would have liked the change in resistance to happen a touch faster. There’s only a couple of seconds lag when switching from an all-out sprint to a recovery period, but those seconds count when you’re on the rivet.

The Direto can’t simulate cobbles or gravel in the way the Tacx Neo 2T can, but the ride feel is good enough to please most indoor cyclists, whether you’re training, racing or just taking in the sights of Watopia.

Buy the Elite Direto XR from Tredz now

Elite Direto XR drawbacks

In truth there are very few drawbacks to the Elite Direto XR (if you don’t include the My E-Training app, which needs work to make it more user-friendly), but there are a couple of areas where it doesn’t quite match up to its pricier competitors.

The shell of the turbo unit is quite plasticky. It’s not in itself a problem, and I haven’t experienced any issues with it as yet, but it does makes the Direto feel a bit cheaper than the likes of the Kickr and the Tacx Neo, both of which feel like you could use them to hammer in nails. 

 

The Direto XR is also a touch noisier than those rivals. Not by much – it is still within a very reasonable range – but the belt and flywheel within the plastic shell does create a low rumble. The noise level is far from offensive, but neither is it as silent as Elite suggests. 

The Direto XR needs to be plugged into a power socket in order to function. Admittedly, this is the same with most smart trainers, but the Tacx Neo 2T will function without an external power supply, meaning it can be used in the garden shed, out of the balcony, up on the roof, or anywhere else where there isn’t a socket.

It’s just something that is worth considering, depending on where you plan to set up your pain cave.

Elite Direto XR conclusion

Minor quibbles aside, the Elite Direto XR does the job of an interactive smart trainer almost flawlessly. It’s easy to use, smooth, accurate, powerful, reliable, and represents very good value at £859.

Also, if these things matter to you, Elite is not a faceless mega-corp, but is an independent, family-owned company that designs and builds its turbo trainers in Italy.

All in all, it’s a great buy for a serious indoor setup.

Buy the Elite Direto XR from Tredz now

Price: 
£859

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