Updated on December 11, 2011
Review – ProForm Tour de France Stationary Bike
If you watched the Tour this year, you couldn’t help but notice the ads for the ProForm TDF bike. It inclines and declines up to 20%. You can plot your own routes on Google Maps and download them to the bike or ride preset routes like each Tour stage from 2011. It adjusts resistance to simulate wind speed based on your size. It slices, dices, and overall looks pretty damn sexy.
The initial geek in my wanted to reach for the phone and order one straight away. The little pragmatist in me (yes, there is one… just not very loud) said I should hold off until all the bugs were shaken out and I could see some reviews. Even now, the reviews on this bike are few and far between. There’s reviews on ProForm’s site, which arguably may be a bit biased. There are some write-ups from ppl with early version problems. and only one or two comprehensive reviews… So I’m writing this one.
Fast forward to the fall. I’m doing a lot more cold weather riding that I did last year, but even with that, the days are getting shorter and my home and work life have been very busy. Plus my wife has been riding our existing stationary bike almost daily in an attempt to fend off the extra pounds from the upcoming holiday and ShmooCon season. Our current stationary is a recumbent that Lifecycle we bought from Costco about 10 years ago. It was a little shaky and creaky when we bought it. Now, with about 5,000 miles on it, I keep expecting Mr. Scott to call me and say “I’m not sure how much more she can take, kiptin”
Dropping a couple hundred dollars on an bike stand or another extra hundred on a set of rollers is one thing. I’ve got a stand, and I found it to be about the most boring way to ride a bike ever been invented. I’ve got a set of rollers, which I really enjoy. The rollers have been great for improving my balancing, practicing drills, and generally making a fool of myself when I forget to pay attention. Utimately, I want something I can ride for long periods of time (up to 2 hours) and work on increasing my base all winter long. And I want something Heidi can enjoy riding and get a better workout from than our current Costco special. The ProForm TDF seemed to fit the bill… plus it made the geek in me _really_ excited.
I should note that I did look at the CompuTrainer. It’s in the same price range as the ProForm TDF ($1300 for the TDF vs $1600ish for the CompuTrainer depending on configuration). While the CompuTrainer is clearly a serious training machine, using it for 2 ppl and 2 different bikes was really what nix’d it. I didn’t want to have to spend time swapping out bikes all winter long depending on who wanted to ride.
So a few weeks ago, I caved and ordered the ProForm TDF. They had been running a free shipping promo that I had just missed, but I found a coupon online to save $100, so it all worked out in the end. I ordered it on Saturday 10/29 and received it 11/14. Two week turn around. Not bad for something that ships UPS ground from the other side of the country.
I should note there was ZERO feedback on the order beyond the initial “Thanks for ordering with us” email. Actually, I did get an email asking if I wanted an extended warrantee (I didn’t). But other than that, the only reason I knew the bike had shipped is because I decided to check the ProForm website to see if they had any status info. For a 150lbs box, a little heads up that it was inbound would have been nice.
Delivery and Setup
Some of the worst horror stories online have been about the state of the bike when it’s delivered, missing parts, difficult assembly, etc. Lots of info on banged up bikes and bikes that got banged through an assembly process that apparently involved differential calculus. So I watched the videos ProForm has online about assembly and honestly it didn’t look too difficult. But I was still nervous.
The box showed up and looked fine. A few minor dings and dents, but nothing out of the ordinary for a box as heavy and big as the TDF showed up in. I opened the top which has a small graphic that explains how to unpack the bike. Opening up the box all the way, and it’s clear the graphic and the contents bear no resemblance to each other. I think ProForm has found a new way to pack the bike (which involves enough styrofoam to fill up 2 garbage cans) that keeps the bike more secure and protected during transit. Rather than follow the directions on the box, I pulled all the staples from the cardboard and removed the box completely before attempting to remove parts.
Assembly was straight forward. There were some supplemental instructions included that clarified some points, specifically how NOT to pinch the cables and short out the internal connections. WIth the help of my 9 year old son, and trying to be as quiet as we could because my youngest was taking a nap in the next room, we got the whole thing unboxed and put together in just over an hour. I installed our own Shimano 105 pedals rather than use the clips they sent with it.
Once the bike is put together, you have a few extra steps. First, you have to go to iFit.com and set up an account. You can create multiple users for one account, so I set up one for me and my wife. You enter in your basic info such as weight, size, riding preferences, and you’re ready. Also, on iFit you can queue up rides you want to do on the bike. So I put in a pre-mapped ride up a road in Mt. Rainier National Park and then mapped a local ride I do on a regular basis and put that in the queue.
On the bike, you have to configure the WiFi network before you can do anything. I have an Apple Express/Extreme network throughout the house using WPA2. Earlier versions of the bike required an unecrypted network so I was prepared to have an open network on another segment in my house. Apparently, with the latest version, the bike supports WPA2. Entering keys and things in is tedious, but eventually I got the network setup.
DHCP however, was a different matter. It didn’t want to grab a DHCP lease. So I hard coded an IP address (again, a VERY tedious process). Once I did that, the bike brought the network stack online… including a quick flash on the screen that said “starting telnet server”. 🙂 Oh yes. A telnet server. More on that later.
Once online, the bike looks for the latest firmware and installs it. From there, it’s basically ready to ride.
Jump on, select a mode from a variety of modes including Manual, riding a TDF route, a route you’ve mapped, or pre-mapped iFit maps. There are other options I haven’t explored yet.
Once you select the ride, you just start pedaling. Using the data from Google Maps, the bike then works its magic. Bike tips up and down and changes resistance to mimic what you’d have on the open road. I road a short course I’ve ridden probably 40 times this year, and I have to say it’s pretty darn accurate. As you shift gears, you can work hard on the downhills if you want or you can just coast and take it easy. On the Mt. Rainier ride, I climbed a 15% grade for over 2 miles. The bike was tipped back, I was generating nearly 400 watts, and I was up out of the saddle. The bike was stable and didn’t flex under that much pressure.
Also, the bike relays back to iFit telemetry data about your ride. So you can fire up an iPad or your computer, go to the iFit website, and watch the Google StreetView of your ride… assuming your location has street view. There’s just enough room below the computer screen on the bike to rest an iPad and watch the passing scene… as it were.
You can adjust your gearset through the setting on the console. Double, Triple, and compact cranks are available as well as a full compliment from 11-23 to 12-28 in the back.
Besides the motor that controls the tilt of the bike, it’s almost completely silent when you’re riding in. In manual mode, if you’re not changing the tilt yourself, you could easily go for an early morning ride while the rest of the house is asleep and not wake a soul. It’s pretty impressive.
The geometry of the bike is as configurable as most spin bikes you’ll find. You may not find the perfect setup, but you’ll likely find something that works good enough you don’t notice it’s not exactly like your road bike.
I do have a few issues with the bike. First, the cranks are set pretty far apart. From a quick measure, they look to be about an 1″ wider apart than what I have on my Cannondale. While it’s not necessarily uncomfortable, it is noticeable. You may find you need to adjust your cleats for your new riding position. I haven’t done that yet, but I’m going to give it a shot on the next ride and see if I can get myself centered up a bit better. The TDF appears to take conventional 3 piece cranks (no BB30’s here) but I don’t think you can really get a new crank on there and bring the pedals any farther in than they are.
Shifting is awkward. The “gear shift” is 2 buttons up on the console. Depending on how rapidly your ride varies, you may find that you’re reaching for them all the time. It’s about as annoying as reaching to your down tube to shift on that 1985 Bianchi you used to ride. 😉 It’s amazing how much we take for granted shifting at our finger tips. This setup does put a serious damper on rides that have a lot of rolling hills or quick changes in terrain. For long climbs it’s not that big of a deal. I’m going to crack open the console and try to figure out some sort of warrantee voiding, DYI way to get shifters on the bars. I’ll keep ppl posted.
Oh, and keep pets and kids away from the spinning wheel in the back. That thing really moves. 🙂
For those not so geek inclined, skip this section.
When you telnet to the bike, you get dropped to a root prompt on it with no authentication. It’s running BusyBox Linux on an ARM processor. Nothing too exotic. Poking around on the filesystem, there are a few scripts that indicate all the comms is done via SOAP back to iFit. It seems to be over SSL, but I have my doubts about the cert checking. When I have time, I’ll attempt to MiTM the connection and see what pops up.
There are only a few non-Linux native processes running on the system. One is the display process that handles updating the TFT 3″ LCD display. The other is a large binary that has all the secret sauce for IO, monitoring the bike, etc. I haven’t pulled that down off the bike but I”ll do that shortly.
My ultimate goal is to put a web server on my network that can talk to the bike. I want to be able to configure it so if I’m riding, anyone can hit the webserver and adjust the tilt and resistance. I call this “crowd sourced base building”. We’ll see how well it works. I may have something together by ShmooCon time, in which case I’ll bring it down to demo. mmm… Home SCADA hacking.
Overall, this is the most engaging stationary bike I’ve ridden. It’s a lot of fun to ride, has a great deal of variety, and supports my training goals as well as that of my wife. So far, I’m happy. I’ll post an update on the bike in a few months once I have more runtime with it.