You’ve bought a Wattbike!” a friend on Zoom shouted when they saw my new short-term loan during lockdown. Alas not, but the Echelon EX3 Max was certainly a quieter, healthier and more productive visitor than most entrants to my dining room.
While there are Wattbike comparisons, Echelon’s main rival is the £700 more Peloton (they of £8bn stock market value and dubious Christmas adverts) in the home training market, with both offering reams of live and pre-recorded indoor spin classes and training content on their apps. So, does the Echelon warrant a place in the upper echelons of the indoor training market for triathletes?
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The EX3 arrives in a mightily-heavy box that won’t be welcomed by anyone on upper floors with no access to a lift. Assembly is largely straightforward, however, even for someone who’s at their upper limits with Ikea bookcases, and once built the bike is easy to move due to the front wheels. Unlike Peloton, the Echelon comes without a data screen so you’ll have to use your own phone or, preferably, a tablet. Connectivity is instant between the paid-for app (the free version is too basic) and unit, and what becomes instantly apparent is how fluid and quiet the machine is. Even with the latest gen of turbo trainers, there’s still a freehub or crankset hum. To mention the word noise in relation to the Echelon does it a disservice; this is the sound of silence and is perfect for those of us with paper-thin walls or children (potentially) sleeping upstairs. That family-friendliness continues with the usability. Our partner, Karry, who has one tri to her name but is turbo-agnostic, got a huge amount of use out of the Echelon; it involves no daily set-up, no faffing with cassettes, and the breadth of classes and upbeat presenters kept the motivation high.
But for committed triathletes? This is where the content, a mighty £39.99 per month, falls down, with a lack of tri-specific training plans and third-party compatibility; there’s no link-up with virtual racing apps such as Sufferfest or Zwift (yet Strava and Fitbit do have compatibility). There are also a few minor usability issues and, when you’re used to Zwift et al, the virtual rides around worldwide destinations are anticlimactic, with the bleak road-cycle emptiness of the Athens’ suburbs experience nearly forcing us to amend any 2021 holiday plans.
And yet, despite these flaws and the lack of ability to produce a tri-bar position, there’s currently an Echelon-shaped hole in our house. We loved the instant ease of use, that quietness and breadth of sessions, and multi-person appeal, especially with question marks over just when gyms will be able to fully reopen.
Verdict: broad appeal and affordable, but hardcore athletes will look elsewhere 80%
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