Stages SB20 Smart Bike
• MSRP $2,899.99 USD
• Max Rider weight: 300lbs
• Weight: 138 lbs // 63 kg
The Stages SB20 Bike was delivered to my doorstep basically as a complete package (their PNW HQ is only an hour away), making set up fairly easy for Casey and I. When you buy the bike new, you don't have that luxury of unboxed and pre-built delivery, so you will want to check out the in-depth review of the SB20 Smart bike by DC Rainmaker for beta on complete set-up. After I rolled the 138 lb smart bike into my office and swapped the stock road style drop bars for a set of low rise flat bars, I was ready to jump aboard and get my sweat on.
But not so fast! First came the pedals, which was waaay easier said than done. None of my pedals use a pedal wrench for installation—all of them use an allen key threaded through from the bike side of the spindle. And since the cranks are fairly close to the flywheel, there is minimal space for mounting these types of pedals. It can be done; however, be prepared to utilize about a three inches of rotation over and over and over to get the dang things on. Pedals that require a 15mm pedal wrench to install will help your sanity a LOT!
With my pedals finally in place, I was quickly able to adjust the bike for my height and reach while I downloaded the Stages app "Link" to configure the bike. Since I had the SB20 set up with an MTB specific bar, the app let me configure the gearing as if it were a MTB as well; for those looking to train in the gearing they race in, this is a great feature. The last step in set-up was getting the SB20 to sync to the training programs I was using. After some searching around the Stages site for support, I finally figured out that I simply had to turn the Bluetooth on my laptop off and then back on, and then whabaam!—I was finally ready to go. I would recommend that one take the time to watch the well executed and detailed Stages YouTube videos like I did to simplify setting up and configuring the SB20.
I started my testing using Zwift and Sufferfest; and excepting first world problems, like choosing a route or training plan, it was mostly smooth sailing. I quickly started to get a feel for the shifting (which is only available in non-ERG mode modules), and the Smart part of the training, i.e. using ERG mode. While you can just jump on the SB20 and pedal in their app, knowing your FTP or taking an FTP test is a good starting place for anyone new to the indoor trainer world in order to utilize ERG and get the most out of a trainer. I have an FTP from pre-covid gym classes, so I spent most my time on the SB20 in ERG mode in Zwift. As you will read below, Casey struggled with the 3-4 second-ish gap the bike had between power zones or in his case shifting. I wasn't doing any racing, so it wasn't something that really bothered me, but I did notice the delay. By comparison, the Kickr and the Neo 2T have almost no delay.
When it’s all said and done, this was one of my favorite of the Smart Trainers for a number of reasons: First, I was up and running on the SB20 within 40 minutes of seeing it for the first time. Secondly, while it’s a 138 lb. beast, I liked that it was heavy and stable because I could stand up and sprint without feeling like I was going to break something. I also like that it comes stock with a removable tablet holder, phone holder, and dual, easy to reach water bottle holders; on the other trainers I needed a platform for my phone or iPad. From a pure convenience perspective, I liked that I didn't have to use my own bike so I could jump on the trainer without removing a wheel, worrying about shredding an expensive tire, or taking a cassette off. If you are someone who is more likely to ride a trainer because it's ready to go all the time, that is definitely something to take into consideration. While we didn't review the Peloton bike in this piece, their popularity has exploded, and the Stages SB20 is similarly priced to the higher end Peloton, but it offers compatibility with a wider range of Apps and training programs. Casey
Setup on this bike was relatively simple. There were a bunch of hex wrenches that came in the box for easy swaps from the mountain bike bars to the road bars and back. Probably one of the best aspects of the SB20 was how customizable this bike is: we were able to get pretty good fits for my 8yo daughter, my 5’10" wife, and for myself. And while my wife and I have similar saddle heights, everything else between our preferred bike fits is different. If more than one person is using this bike, sticky notes or discrete sharpie marks make “bike” swaps fast and easy. Pedal swaps was another story though. Like Nikki, most of my pedals use an allen key on the inside of the spindle to thread on/off the cranks. With the Stages SB20, there’s just not much room between the crank-arm and the bike frame to insert your hex, so changing between pedals took way too long, and it was hard to get decent torque with the maybe 30 degrees I was able to turn my hex keys. If your pedals allow the use of a 15mm pedal wrench, then no worries.
As a stand-alone bike, this thing is rock solid. Even trying my best, I wasn’t able to rock it off balance. After hard workouts where your legs are shredded, having no top-tube made dismounting easy without tempting a hamstring cramp. At the same time, by not having that top-tube, it was hard to keep the crank area free from sweat. I found that this bike got more sweaty than trainers where I was able to put one towel on my top-tube and another across my handlebars.
Using the app was pretty simple for this bike. One of the best things is the ability to set the electronic shifters to essentially any possible drivetrain you’d like. You have the option of up to 10 rings up front, and 50 in the back. I’m not sure how well a 500 gear bike would actually serve, but if you want to that kind of range, it appears to be possible. That novelty wore off quickly, though, and I settled on a 12 speed 52/36 front x 10/33 rear, which provided a pretty solid range of gears for riding in Zwift.
In ERG mode, this bike really struggled to maintain consistent power. During workouts on both Trainer Road and Zwift I was constantly over or under the prescribed power level. Then, after a bit of low power, it would seem to try to overcompensate and set the tension higher to have the “average power” be correct. After a few workouts trying to figure out the bike’s trick, I turned off ERG mode in frustration, since I was able to maintain my own power much better than this bike's software could.
While ERG mode seemed to struggle with workouts more than any other trainer, the SB20 would read consistent power between my power meter and the bike. The sprints were picked up, and when I’d stop applying power it would read zero. This bike has essentially two crank-based power meters, and because of that you’re able to track things like power balance, pedal smoothness, etc. After a few years of having these metrics available on my own power meter, while I appreciate their availability, I honestly haven't looked at them since my first week of power meter use. However, I don’t have any injuries or power imbalances that I’d be tracking; but if you've got big imbalances in your legs or really rough pedaling, maybe you'd find more value with these tools.
A nit-pick: while this bike plugs in, the power meters that the bike uses are their own separate unit that require separate batteries. In the middle of one of my wife’s races, I started hearing a string of obscenities coming from the garage. Rushing out there, I found that the bike had started reporting a consistent 126 watts and she was quickly dropped from the group she was racing against. There was no prior warning to this, and even having connected the app earlier in the day, I didn’t know that this was coming. Fortunately we had some CR2032 batteries in the drawer and she was able to get back to racing the next morning. Lesson learned; keep batteries in stock or you might end up sleeping on the couch.
Stages SB20 Power consistency. Garmin Vector 3-Red / Stages-Blue
The other frustrating aspect of this bike was the delay between applying power to the pedals and that power being displayed on apps like Zwift, etc. When trying my hand (and getting smoked regularly) during races, this bike was always a few seconds behind the curve. When you’re trying to hang-on to the virtual group, being several seconds behind the curve makes it really hard. I’d find that I was either off the front (apparently attempting to break-away), or struggling at the back. Consequently, it was really difficult to stay with the group when there were fast changes in power. For consistent efforts like time-trials, this was a non-issue. But in a pack, as soon as you see someone else is putting the pressure on, you’re caught on your heels.
For me, this was a deal-breaker. I never did a Zwift race before doing these trainer reviews, but after getting into them during all this trainer testing, that lag made a fun activity frustrating. At the same time, my wife also got into virtual riding and the Stages bike was her go-to tool. Like Nikki, she liked jumping on this as well as the more up-right position that you can set on this trainer vs. deconstructing her bike for a direct drive trainer or the Saris wheel on trainer.
Details of the Stages SB20 Smart Bike.
Offers a solid feeling and confidence for standing/sprinting+
Unlimited gearing options+
Very very quiet+
No bike needed/easy to adjust to different riders
Slight delay in Power -
Display needed (phone/iPad/laptop)-