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As indoor cycling and eRacing have evolved so has the need to improve the realism associated with it. After all, there has been a natural spike in indoor-related cycling equipment of late with everything from smart bikes to proprietary plug-in gadgets such as the Wahoo Kickr Climb and Headwind coming to the fore - and now this, the Saris MP1 Nfinity Trainer Platform.
Saris isn't the first company to poke at the rocker plate concept. In fact, there are many cheaper options out there but most are limited in terms of the range of movement they offer and nowhere near as sturdy as what we've got here. Saris, however, appears to have created the most immersive and complete version to date.
I first got wind of the MP1 at Eurobike last year at the Zwift stand. Not only was I intrigued by what I saw, but I was also itching to get on one and try it for myself. While Saris produces its own range of turbo trainers the MP1 is compatible with most brands. Just how realistic is it? Well, after three months of rigorous testing we've got the answer.
Design and aesthetics
Visually, the MP1 takes on a rather peculiar shape and appearance - there's no carbon fibre here or any kind of exotic space-age materials for that matter. Instead, a birch-veneer-clad plywood base rests atop a black, steel-framed undercarriage. Sure, Saris could have pushed the design envelope a little further but, in this application, function trumps form. That's not to say the MP1 isn't attractive - shaped like an Imperial Star Destroyer it's an intriguing thing to behold and contemporary enough to pique the interest of passersby.
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In terms of design, the birch veneer base is covered in sheets of strategically placed grip tape for improved traction and grip when dismounting your bike. It also adds a sense of contrast to the pale surface together with a solitary Saris decal in the bottom right corner. The outer edges of the board are covered in plastic trunking to protect it from scuffs and other damage. You'll also notice eight metal channels - two at the front to fasten the wheel to the riser block, two on each side of the rear flanks and another two at the rear which act as harness points to secure your turbo trainer to the board via the supplied Velcro straps.
How well will these materials hold up over time? Only time will tell but judging by how quickly the board gets dirty it's advisable to wipe off any drivetrain fallout, sweat and general grime after each ride to ensure the surface doesn't become stained. I'd also go as far as to advise draping a small towel over the problem areas or hot spots for added protection against sweat. The grip tape, on the other hand, is another story - you'll most likely need to clean it the same way you would a skateboard with grip gum and a wire brush.
There's no hiding the MP1's size - at 6in tall x 63in long x 35.5in wide it's an appreciably large and bulky unit but that's a given considering both bike and turbo trainer need to comfortably fit aboard it. Combining a steel frame undercarriage with a plywood base the unit is also very sturdy but also a heavy piece of equipment at 29.88kg (actual).
The MP1 comes fully assembled out-of-the-box and requires very little in the way of setup. It's just a matter of finding a space large enough to accommodate it and the added range of fore/aft, side-to-side movements. The next step involves setting up your turbo trainer and bike with the provided straps and front-wheel riser block. As a tip, I'd advise ensuring the metal buckles on the Velcro straps are positioned on the side of the wheel rather than the rim itself as these could potentially damage the rim profiling over time. Other than that it's probably worth treating the roller tracks with a silicon-type lube to prevent any creaking and unnecessary noises.
While Saris recommends using its own in-house turbo trainers such as the H3, the Nfinity Trainer Platform is compatible with a host of direct-drive and wheel-on trainers (you can click here to see whether yours will work). I paired my personal Elite Direto X smart trainer without any hiccups.
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I must admit, the first two rides didn't go as well as I had hoped. For some reason, my senses got confused by the way the board moves and responds to nuances in power delivery - and motion sickness ensued. In retrospect, it was probably worth doing a couple of smaller rides to adjust to everything.
The board will stay predominantly stable granted you ride rhythmically with very little in the way of sudden pedal inputs. Dialling in more power, however, will result in more lateral movement, while pedalling out of the saddle will bring the fore-aft motion into play. Saris has done this to create a more immersive, natural riding experience - the result of which the company claims 'recruits more muscles to stay balanced'.
The secret to its three-dimensional, self-centring range of articulation comes as a result of the two-tier steel frame structure which comprises four rollers tracks and a leaf-spring bracket. This enables the board to slide forward or backwards (up to 24cm in each direction) as well as offers six degrees of lateral sway.
The unit arrived just in time for a sadistic Zwift challenge I signed up just a few weeks before: a virtual 36One challenge taking in 361km and 6800m of climbing on one of Watopia's most brutal routes, the 72.5km/1360m Pretzel route. This marathon of indoor riding torture took me 18 hours to complete - a feat I reckon I wouldn't have been able to finish if it weren't for the MP1. See, the MP1's fore-aft, side-to-side movement arc allows you to ride seated for longer reducing the need to shift your weight around on the saddle as well as minimising the risk of exhausting and injuring certain muscles and tendons. The only real problem I encountered were blisters on my hands due to the lack of padding on the handlebars.
Since the big day out I've also completed a litany of Zwift races including eight WTRL team time trials - the latter of which proved ideal owing to the seated nature and rhythmic power delivery required. Any negatives? Well, I don't feel the Saris MP1 Nfinity Trainer Platform is particularly suited to a sprinting situation. A more rigid platform with less lateral give is better at dealing with higher power outputs but, then again, I'm not a sprinter and have never really excelled performing out-and-out maximal efforts. Then there are the rollers which have a tendency to creak a little at certain angles as they roll across the undercarriage - Saris suggests coating the tracks with silicon lube which does the trick.
Yes, the Saris MP1 Nfinity Trainer Platform is a large, cumbersome unit that requires a decently sized room to function at its fullest but it's a welcomed addition to the static world of indoor riding. While it aims to simulate the natural movement of riding a bike, I found that it exaggerated things more than anything but not to the detriment of its function - if anything it reduced fatigue and saved me from tiring prematurely on longer training sessions and races. Having recently completed a few sessions without it, the experience is a lot less immersive and boring.
The big decision-maker here is the price. At $1,199 / £999 it's a frighteningly expensive proposition that many will find difficult to justify - especially considering it's priced in the same ballpark as many premium direct-drive turbo trainers. The question, however, hinges around whether or not it's a necessity? In truth, probably not but it'll definitely add a heightened sense of realism to the static, often mind-numbing experience of riding indoors.
Tech spec: Saris MP1 Nfinity Trainer Platform
Price: £999 / $1,199
Weight: 29.88kg (actual)
Dimensions: 6in x 63in x 35.5in
Fore-aft travel: 24cm
Side-to-side travel: 6-degrees
Compatibility: All major brands and model
Material: Steel, aluminum and birch