Wahoo Fitness KICKR Headwind fan review: Crow, eaten
This is a fan. A FAN. And one that costs US$250 / AU$400, or more than twenty times the cost of one of those big box fans you can get at your local hardware store. It seems to make no sense whatsoever. But then I rode it. Damn you for making a ludicrously expensive fan somehow make sense, Wahoo Fitness. Damn you.
I approached the review of the Wahoo Fitness KICKR Headwind “smart” fan with roughly the same level of skepticism I did with the Wahoo KICKR Climb — a device whose sole purpose is to raise and lower the front of your bike in concert with whatever is happening on screen, and something that I affectionately refer to as the “uppy downy thing.”
I initially wrote off the “uppy`downy thing” as a ludicrously overpriced gimmick, the product of a designer with far more imagination than reason, and certainly no sense of a typical family budget. And yet it wasn’t long after I started using it that the thing won me over.
Let’s face it; historically, riding indoors has sucked big-time. At best, all most of us could hope for is for the hours riding nowhere to pass as numbly as possible. However, the rise of Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, and other virtual reality apps has dramatically improved that experience to the point where it’s almost entertaining (almost).
That said, riding indoors still can never truly match the euphoria of riding outdoors, which is perhaps why I was so smitten with the KICKR Climb. That extra level of realism made a very real and tangible contribution to filling that gap, and after using the KICKR Climb for most of my Zwift sessions last winter, I have to say that I’ve grown oddly attached to it.
And so now we have the KICKR Headwind fan. Just like the KICKR Climb, its function is exceedingly simple. In this case, it blows air at you to help keep you cool while riding indoors, but also like the KICKR Climb, it’s the intelligent way at which it goes about this simple purpose that makes it interesting. Want it to adjust fan speed based on heart rate instead? Or maybe your virtual speed? Done.
The form factor is similar to those fans you find in home improvement stores that are meant to dry out wet carpeting, and it’s roughly the same size and weight, occupying about the same amount of space as a small microwave oven and tipping the scales at just over 5kg. There’s a small touch-sensitive control panel on the front of the KICKR Headwind, with a basic on/off switch, four levels of manual control, and a few LED indicator lights.
Up top is a convenient handle for moving the KICKR Headwind around, along with a pair of wheels at the lower edge to help the fan integrate a little better with Wahoo’s KICKR bike desk. Unlike other KICKR products, the power cord is hardwired into the back of the KICKR Headwind. This obviously makes it a little more challenging for Wahoo to adapt the KICKR Headwind to different international regions, but it’s a big plus from a usability standpoint since there isn’t a separate power brick to lug around.
Getting the KICKR Headwind set up took all of about ten minutes, thanks to clear and straightforward instructions. Even if you ignore the instructions entirely, though, the operation is sufficiently intuitive that you can still likely get things up and running. Upon turning on the power and selecting either the heart rate or speed-dependent mode, the Headwind will automatically begin searching for compatible ANT+ sensors, locking on to whichever one produces the strongest signal (i.e. whichever one is closest). Those sensors are stored in onboard memory, too, so as long as you’re consistently using the same sensors, this is a one-time procedure.
It’s also worth noting that while the Wahoo Fitness folks would obviously prefer that you match the KICKR Headwind to other Wahoo products, the Headwind will work with any ANT+ heart rate or speed sensor, and most modern ANT+-equipped smart trainers. Controlling the Headwind from your phone does require a Wahoo app, but that at least doesn’t cost anything at all.
Either way, once that initial setup is done, all you have to do is hop on your trainer, start your workout, and the KICKR Headwind does the rest.
As promised, the KICKR Headwind puts out a light breeze that matches with my low heart rate during warm-ups, but it dramatically ramps up in tandem with my effort level, moving a truly refreshing volume of cooling air when tackling virtual climbs in earnest. In fact, Wahoo claims a maximum fan speed of 48km/h (30mph), and in practice, that feels about right. It responds pretty quickly, too, and those changes also occur smoothly, with far finer gradations than the four manual settings might otherwise suggest. It’s also remarkably quiet, even at full blast, to the point where my wife didn’t even realize that I was in the basement.
Pairing the fan speed to my virtual speed would obviously make for a more lifelike setup, but the reality is that having the KICKR Headwind adjust to your effort makes a lot more sense. After all, mimicking reality is nice and all, but I’d rather not roast myself on both real and virtual climbs, or freeze on both real and virtual descents, if I don’t have to.
As I discovered with the KICKR Climb last winter, I found myself growing oddly attached to the KICKR Headwind; it’s funny how even small improvements can have such a big impact on the quality of riding indoors. But just as with the KICKR Climb, I found room for improvement on the KICKR Headwind.
Specifically, I found the column of air coming out of the KICKR Headwind to be very narrow. That’s by design, but I take issue with it nonetheless.
“The stream of air was designed to be focused for two reasons,” says Wahoo PR representative Andrew Bernstein. “It makes sure that the rider gets the maximum cooling effect and that none of the air the fan moves is wasted by blowing out into any empty room, and if cyclists are riding in the same space, they can each have the amount of airflow they want without affecting the other person.”
That strategy sounds nice in theory, but I still wished the column wasn’t quite as narrow as it is. Even slight variances in left-right aiming sometimes left one half of my body comfortable, but the other half hot and sweaty.
Wahoo doesn’t provide enough fine adjustability in how the KICKR Headwind can be pointed, either. As is, the KICKR Headwind is designed to either sit on the floor directly in front of you — thus directing airflow slightly upward — or you can flip down the two rear legs if you’d rather have the unit propped on a table at roughly chest level. But unless you take the time to place the unit just so, it’s easy to end up with only part of your body being cooled off. Riders with cramped indoor training spaces are likely to have to resort to other measures to get the air pointed exactly where they want it to go.
I’ve seen fans with similar configurations that have infinite angle adjustment — there’s one in my garage, in fact — and it’d be awfully nice to have that feature here, especially given the KICKR Headwind’s price tag.
And if I really want to nitpick, I’m still a little surprised that Wahoo hasn’t released some sort of platform where the full suite of KICKR products can all be mounted stably and consistently for serious indoor riders. CycleOps previewed just such a thing at the Eurobike show last year; surely Wahoo has something in the works?
Those relatively minor complaints aside, I have to once again curse the folks at Wahoo Fitness for making something that seems so grossly overpriced at first, but almost a necessary luxury after using it. Does the KICKR Headwind make sense for more casual indoor riders? Probably not. But for those of you residing in parts of the world where winter arrives early, stays late, never says “please” or “thank you”, and leaves a mess once it finally goes away, there’s certainly a much stronger argument to be made here.