Last summer I reviewed the ProForm Le Tour de France training bike, and although it wasn’t perfect, it showed genuine innovation. While most stationary bikes are, to be perfectly frank, incredibly boring to ride, ProForm made its TdF bike a far more engaging device, thanks to clever use of online tech.
But while I was reviewing that bike last year, I was already aware that a new version was on the horizon. In fact I got a sneak peak of it at an event in London. And while the third generation TdF Pro bike has been available in the US for a good while, it only made its way to the UK a few months ago.
So what’s new?
There’s no mistaking the new bike for the old one, since the design overhaul is extensive. The most obvious updates come at the front, with the implementation of a drop handlebar configuration that mimics your road bike.
It’s surprising how much more natural it feels riding this bike purely due to the handlebar setup. Whether it’s getting out of the saddle and leaning on the hoods for that monster climb, or dropping down for a sprint finish, riding the TdF Pro feels far more real than any other stationary bike I’ve used.
Even the gear shifters have been moved to where the brake levers would be on your real bike. The shifters will feel reasonably natural to anyone who rides a Shimano groupset – I ride Campagnolo, so I’m used to having a shifter up on the hood, but I still found the shifting on the TdF Pro simple to get to grips with.
The other big change is the console. While last year’s bike had an LCD screen, it was absolutely tiny and wasn’t touch-enabled. The screen on this new bike isn’t really a screen at all, it’s basically an Android tablet built into the bike.
The 7in colour screen has an array of controls below it, but the display itself is touch-sensitive, making it incredibly easy to navigate the bike’s menus. This is never more apparent than when you’re entering your iFit Live account details, which was a horrendously laborious process on the old bike.
The console also has a bracket to hold your tablet built into its top edge, allowing you to use the in-built screen for monitoring your ride, while watching your favourite TV show or movie on your tablet – it’s a pretty sweet setup, all things considered. And as someone who traditionally has only ever listened to music while training, I’ve found myself watching TV shows while spinning on the TdF bike, and the time really does just fly by.
Back in the saddle
You can adjust the saddle for both height and reach, ensuring that you can find a comfortable riding position. And while the supplied pedals with toe clips do a reasonable job of keeping your feet in place, you can slap on a pair of your favourite clipless pedals and wear your proper cycling shoes when training.
The TdF Pro has all the same cool tricks as its predecessor, with its ability to simulate climbs and descents being one of the coolest. While other stationary bikes stay, well, stationary, the TdF will pitch forward to simulate riding downhill, and backwards to simulate climbing uphill.
The bike also, allegedly, estimates wind resistance, based on your height and weight, although it’s hard to tell if that has an effect. What the new bike does do better than the old one, though, is take momentum into account. The old bike didn’t really factor in the effect that going downhill had on your need to pedal, whereas this new bike does a far better job.
You can adjust the gear ratios on the bike to suit both yourself, and the type of ride you’re attempting. You can choose between a double or triple chainset at the front, and there’s a multitude rear cassette options, allowing you to factor for heavy climbing or flat out time-trialling.
As with the previous bike, if you’re not used to cycling regularly, you may want to take it easy at first – not because of your legs, rather your posterior. And you absolutely want to be wearing proper, padded cycling shorts if you’re planning on riding for any serious length of time.
But assuming you’re properly kitted out, and have adjusted the saddle correctly, you’ll be able to push those cogs for hours, quite comfortably.
The TdF Pro is compatible with both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ heart rate sensors, so if you’ve already got a chest strap handy, the chances are it will be compatible.
Riding in the real world
You’ve probably noticed the Google branding on the TdF Pro, and that’s because it’s compatible with the iFit Live service, and the ability to create your own routes using Google Maps.
I love the Google Maps feature in iFit Live, which essentially allows you to plot a ride anywhere in the world using Google Maps and send it straight to the bike. Not only will the TdF Pro then match the ride in both distance and elevation, but you can see the scenery thanks to Google Street View.
The best thing about the Google Maps functionality is that you can choose to ride the same routes on the TdF Pro that you do on your real bike, thus keeping your training on an even keel, even if you haven’t managed to get out on the road.
The TdF Pro also has a few video workouts built into it from the 2013 Tour. These are quite fun, but they’re not very long and there’s only four of them. Hopefully iFit will start to include more video workouts in its library to augment the ones that come with the bike.
The iFit integration also allows you to enter races with people all over the world. If you’ve ever fancied racing against a friend in Australia around the mountains of Colorado, now you can. It takes a bit of timing and effort to get in on the iFit Live events, but if you find that a bit of competition helps you push that bit harder, it’s worth giving it a try.
Of course you don’t have to use the iFit features, since there are plenty of standard training bike routines built-in. You can set yourself a goal based on distance or time, and also factor in power. So if you just want a really intense spinning session for 30 minutes, that’s easy and you’ll be turning the cranks in a matter of seconds.
The ProForm Tour de France Pro bike is a definite improvement on the previous model. It has a far more natural feel to it when riding, and while some will see the addition of drop handlebars as nothing more than an aesthetic touch, I found it made the bike far more comfortable to ride for long periods.
The mechanics are also much improved, with a real feel of momentum when heading downhill that simply wasn’t there in the previous model. The gear changes are also far slicker, and the annoying delay that plagued the earlier bike’s shifting is completely absent.
But to really get the best out of this bike you need to embrace the iFit Live ecosystem. Once you start downloading rides from all over the world, or even specific training plans to get you ready for an event, it really starts to shine.
And I’ve always loved the ability to create my own routes – both on these bikes and my NordicTrack T14.2 treadmill. When the weather is so bad that you don’t want to step foot outside, it’s great to be able to ride the route you would have taken if you were out in the real world.
The only real downside to the TdF Pro is the price. At around £1,299 it really isn’t cheap, especially when you can buy very good spinning bikes for around half the price.
But ProForm has tried to create something special with its Tour de France training bikes, and while there have been teething problems, each generation keeps getting better. The online features are second to none, and the iFit Live ecosystem is maturing fast – the iFit Active fitness tracker is another great addition (full review coming soon).
If you’re looking for a training bike that can really help you challenge yourself, and push hard through those winter months, the ProForm TdF Pro should definitely be on your short list. It’s certainly not cheap, but it’s the most feature packed training bike on the market.
- Improved design
- Drop handlebars add realism, aesthetics and comfort
- New Android based console
- 7in colour touch-screen
- Video workouts
- Google Maps custom workouts
- Much improved gear shifting
- iFit Live integration is slick and functional
- Easy Wi-Fi setup
- Option to race against other iFit Live users
- Can use your preferred pedals
- Lots for beginners and serious cyclists
- Tablet mount built-in
- Smooth and quiet operation
- Saddle adjustable for height and reach
- It’s not cheap
- No height or reach adjustment for handlebars
Price: £1,299 (from Amazon)
Manufacturer: ProForm Fitness