One of the main complaints we get when we exercise using an indoor trainer is the problem of overheating. When we overheat, we sweat bucket loads, we feel terrible and the result is significantly poorer performances; I am convinced this is the main reason we dread the prospect of the indoor winter training months.
To give you some context of why we overheat, when riding outdoors at say 15mph on the hoods, the cooling airflow you get is about 9,000 cubic feet per minute (CFM), whereas the average fan that people use in their indoor setups will blast you at a measly few hundred.
For me, I have been using a tower fan, and even at (a generous) 1300 CFM, was not keeping me cool, resulting in pools of sweat on the floor, my clothes and body soaked and the feeling of being totally drained after just a modest workout. Something had to change.
Enter WAHOO’s Kickr Headwind, the cyclists’ first “smart fan”, marketed as having a highly directional airflow and fan speed controlled by either your heart rate, your virtual speed or manually. At first glance, and with a price tag of £199.99 it seems an expensive gadget. I decided to find out if it lived up to its marketing hype.
Unboxing the Headwind was simple enough, and weighing 12lbs was easy to handle. It is designed to sit on the floor, pointing upwards towards you, but has foldable legs at the back that level the fan if you want put it onto a table in front of you.
Connecting the Headwind to my existing setup was the next task. I had read in the blurb that if you want to use your heart rate monitor to control the Headwind, this is done by pairing it via Bluetooth the WAHOO Fitness App (IOS and Android). If you want to control it by virtual speed it uses either ANT+ or Bluetooth to pair it to your smart trainer.
Having downloaded the WAHOO Fitness App and placed the WAHOO Tickr on my chest, it connected without, well, missing a heartbeat. It also connected to my TACX Neo smart trainer in case I wanted to control the fan using virtual speed. As an aside, I am not sure why I would want to do that because I need the fan to be blasting when struggling slowly up hills not when speeding down descents, so this seems like a redundant feature.
A little about the WAHOO Fitness App. It found and paired to my heart rate monitor and the Headwind quickly and intuitively. I was then able to set both the minimum heart rate at which the fan would kick in, and maximum heart rate where the fan would be going at 100%, plus the several heart rate zones in between (the fan speed follows your heart rate using 6 levels). The App also allows you to record your workout should you wish to do so.
I was very pleased when the Headwind paired first time without drama to the heart rate monitor, and thought that box was ticked. However, like most cyclists, I use online training Apps such as Zwift, Sufferfest and TrainerRoad, etc. On my setup, these run on a MacBook Air laptop, and so the next step was to pair the WAHOO’s Tickr heart rate monitor to the laptop via Bluetooth.
I kicked the Zwift App into life, and as usual it started searching for the TACX, the heart rate monitor and other sensors. All good except for the WAHOO Tickr heart rate monitor. As a test, I unpaired the Tickr heart rate monitor from the Headwind and bingo, Zwift paired with the Tickr on the laptop.
Disaster! The Tickr will not pair with both the Headwind and the laptop at the same time. For a moment I thought I had bought a very expensive fan that would not be able to fulfil its purpose in being, smart.
Thankfully I found two solutions.
The first one. I plugged in a Nuuto ANT+ USB Stick (costs about £23 online) to the laptop so that we would switch from Bluetooth to ANT+. Bingo, it connected to the WAHOO Tickr and the Headwind. We were in business.
The second solution was to use an iPad installed with both Zwift and WAHOO Fitness Apps. Because the Apps were on the same device this worked using Bluetooth. I have a large flat screen TV that is normally connected to the laptop. Connecting the iPad to my flat screen TV simply needed a Digital AV Adaptor (approx £50 online). An alternative would be to connect via an Apple TV, but in practise I have found that this introduces a little latency, making the screen a bit “jumpy”.
So what was my experience of using it? When you pair the Headwind to your heart rate monitor the fan makes a low hum, but not enough to be annoying. I started my workout and soon my heart rate increased. The fan speed followed my increasing heart rate with an increase in speed, I pushed on and the Headwind responded giving me a steady stream of cool air. As I moved towards my maximum heart rate the stream became a satisfying blast (rated as 30mph). I felt cool and satisfyingly, no steady drip of sweat onto the bike and the floor. So all good!
In terms of the directional airflow, you need to ensure that you point it straight at you. The airflow is deliberately narrow to give you maximum cooling affect, such that when you step off the bike you would not even know there was a fan in the room (bar the gentle hum coming from the Headwind).
On my next workout, I was soon oblivious the fan. I felt great not sweating and being able to maintain a much higher work rate. It quickly becomes part of the setup and I forget it was there, and it came into its own when sprinting and going up Zwift's steep inclines, I continued to feel great. Even the dreaded FTP test seemed to be more enjoyable (if you can ever call a 20 minute maximum effort test that).
Any niggles? The minimum heart rate that the Headwind can be set to is 115 beats per minute...I would have liked to have been able to set it lower as I want to be cooled even at lower levels of exertion. Secondly, although the build quality is good, if you place the Headwind on a surface that is not level, you can hear the fan starting to knock against the casing (must be due to tight margins to get the high airflow).
Conclusions. It is a great bit of kit once you work out if you need to use Bluetooth or Ant+, with the cooling effect being progressive and more effective than I had expected. The speed control is a “nice to have” if you want to simulate real life riding, but is not much use else if you want to stay cool when pushing yourself on a tough workout. There are plenty of alternatives that will cool you down, such as the Lasko or Air King fans (although many people find they need a couple of these fans to keep cool), but if you want the “smart fan” experience, and you have £199.99 to spare, the Headwind removes the dread of training indoors and will help you significantly improve your performance over the winter months.
I am already looking forward to may next indoor workout , following cycleforfitness.com‘s winter training programme.