Joining VeloClub not only supports the work we do, there are some fantastic benefits:
by James Huang
February 27, 2018
Photography by James Huang
I recently evaluated the top high-end, Zwift-compatible indoor trainers on the market in a four-way comparison test, where, unfortunately for Elite, its flagship Drivo model finished dead last thanks to an awkward and aging frame design that was neither easy to live with nor adequately stable. Elite’s new Direto may not be able to compete with the Drivo on paper, but its far better design still makes it a more desirable option for most users.
For the data-driven crowd, the Direto’s specifications can’t hold a candle to the Drivo (or any other premium smart trainer for that matter). The 1,400W maximum resistance falls short by a substantial 900W, the maximum simulated slope is a comparatively modest 14% (the Drivo goes up to 24%), and whereas Elite claims a +/- 1% accuracy for its built-in optical power meter for the Drivo, the Direto isn’t even half as good at +/- 2.5%.
The Drivo’s optical power meter is equipped with an unusually high sampling rate — 24 times per crank rotation — and an optional Elite app uses that data to provide a graphical display of your pedaling efficiency. The Direto’s meter offers a similar feature, but with half the measurement points, so the resolution isn’t as good.
The Direto’s flywheel is also lighter at just 4.2kg (9.26lb) as compared to the Drivo’s heftier 6kg (13.23lb) unit).
The comparison between the Drivo and Direto sounds rather cut-and-dried, then, no? As is often the case, however, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The Direto’s 72cm-wide footprint is much more stable than the 56cm one on the Drivo. Were Elite to incorporate the Drivo’s guts into this frame, that would really make that more expensive model much more competitive.
Fitter users will indeed bump up against the Direto’s limits. The climb up to the radio tower on Zwift’s Watopia Island is steeper than 14%, for example, and you can feel things level off a bit despite the screen telling you that you’re pointed more directly skyward. Likewise, strong sprinters will regularly exceed 1,400W of peak output.
That said, the Direto’s capabilities should suffice for most everyday users of more average fitness, the majority of which will be perfectly ok with those restrictions given the unit’s other advantages.
Compared to pricier competition, the “direct-drive” Direto is indeed a touch slower to respond to changes in slope on Zwift and other interactive online training environments, and the lighter flywheel doesn’t maintain momentum quite as well as units that have more inertia. It’s hardly off-putting, though, and in fact, the road feel is sufficiently realistic overall that I doubt most people would even notice. Likewise, the Direto is impressively quiet, generating just 61dB when cranking out 200W at 32km/h (20mph) — barely louder than the Drivo.
The Elite Direto packs all of the latest wireless features for a wide range of app compatibility.
Better power meter accuracy is often a top selling point when it comes to premium Zwift-compatible trainers, but Elite seems to be selling the Direto short here. Despite the modest claims, I found the Direto’s numbers to be dead-on as compared to several power meters I used for reference, and easily on-par with the Drivo.
The latest array of Bluetooth, ANT+, and FE-C wireless protocols let the Direto talk nicely with the majority of popular training apps, too, in the event that Zwift isn’t really your thing.
The frame design on the newer Direto clearly reaps the benefits of time. Its 72cm-wide footprint is a substantial 16cm broader than the Drivo, and combined with the more centered weight distribution, makes for vastly improved stability that feels rock-solid during all-out sprint workouts. That stability applies to thick carpeted surfaces, too, and unlike with the Drivo, the Direto’s outboard feet can be adjusted for uneven flooring.
The Direto’s housing is plastic, just like on the Drivo, but it feels thinner and flimsier. It also amplifies certain frequencies at times, so while it’s very quiet most of the time, it’s occasionally a bit boomy.
That lighter flywheel may be a negative in terms of road-like feel, but there’s an upside to the reduced mass when you’re done with your workout: the Direto is relatively easy to transport with its modest 15kg (33lb) and well-placed handle. And whereas the Drivo stubbornly refuses to stand up when folded, the Direto will happily stay put once its legs are neatly tucked into place so it’s easier to store when you’re not using it.
But alas, the Direto isn’t one of those magical situations where you get everything offered in a more premium model at a fraction of the price. Indeed, the Direto is a relative bargain at US$900 / AU$1,200 / £750 / €850, or roughly a third cheaper than the Drivo. But in addition to the functional limitations already listed above, there are a few other areas where the Direto falls short.
The plastic housing looks nice, for example, but is thinner and flimsier than what Elite uses on the Drivo. It feels as such when you pick the Direto up, and although it’s very quiet overall, higher speeds can cause the shell to reverberate. Oddly enough, the Direto also positions the rear of the bike about 30mm higher off the ground than it would be with an actual wheel (when equipped with a typical road-sized tire), so some sort of front wheel riser is required to keep everything level. Elite doesn’t currently include one, though, nor is the Direto height-adjustable in any way.
Kudos to Elite for including end caps for the most common quick-release and thru-axle frame fitments. As is the case with every trainer with swappable end caps, though, there’s no built-in storage for the unused bits.
As is commonplace for higher-end Zwift-friendly trainers, the Direto comes with a Shimano/SRAM-compatible freehub body, but no cassette, so be sure to factor that into your budget. Multiple end caps to accommodate the most popular quick-release and thru-axle dropout configurations are included, but there’s no obvious way to store the unused bits, nor is there any accommodation to bundle the requisite power brick.
Speaking of which, the power cord on the Direto is inexplicably short, so be sure to have an extension cord handy unless you plan on setting the unit up very close to a wall outlet. It doesn’t help that it plugs into the front of the unit, not the back, which effectively makes the cord that much shorter.
Minor complaints aside, it’s hard to find major fundamental flaws with the Elite Direto, especially given its competitive (and comparatively appealing) price point. It does what it’s supposed to do on paper and delivers more in reality, which is always a good thing. For riders that want the latest features and a direct-drive design, but don’t want or need the higher capabilities of ultra-premium models, it’d be tough to do better.
The Elite Direto very much plays second-fiddle to the top-tier Drivo model on paper, but in reality, the lower-priced model makes much more sense for most riders.
The five-point base works well on both hard surfaces and carpeted flooring.
The webbing on the fiber-reinforced plastic main rotor doesn’t seem to serve any functional purpose aside from stiffening the part. It does look cool, though.
Still skeptical about Zipp’s whale wheels? Saw-like edges have already been used in industrial fans and turbines for years, and there’s one hidden inside the Elite Direto, too.
Three LEDs provide easy visual reference for power, ANT+, and Bluetooth status.
The cord on the power adapter is curiously short already, but its effectively made even shorter by the fact that it plugs in at the front of the housing. Make sure to have an extension cord handy.
The handle is fairly comfortable to hold and reasonably well placed.
The outboard legs easily fold for storage.
The feet on the outriggers are individually adjustable to accommodate uneven flooring or carpet.