No longer a niche, aided by the rise in smart training services...and a global pandemic, the world of indoor training has exploded in popularity in recent years. So with a large swathe of riders spending more time riding indoors, from speed dependant fans to rocker plates like the unit reviewed here, a number of products have popped up in recent times to assist riders in replicating the real thing outdoors.
Initially a DIY project undertaken by dedicated indoor riders, Rocker plates are designed to mimic the side to side motion of a bike outdoors, allowing a smart trainer to pivot from side to side. While forums across the internet are still filled with DIY guides, a handful of companies have taken to designing and selling their own plates, which are typically far more robust and premium than a DIY setup.
The 4-way Matrix BT52B from Paragon Cycle Works is the latest and greatest rocker plate to hit the market with both fore and aft and side to side movement. We’ve spent the better part of the last few months and over 1,000kms aboard the rocker plate, putting it through its paces. Read on to find it indeed lives up to its claim of changing the way you train indoors.
Who’s it for?: Riders wanting to take their indoor training set-up to the next level or simply be more comfortable on longer rides indoors.
What does it cost?: Matrix B52 2-Way: AU$495. Matrix B52B 4-Way (tested) AU$595
What we liked: The added comfort on longer sessions, the 4-way movement felt not too dissimilar from the real thing and the robust build quality.
What we didn’t: Side to side movement is a little tight as standard; the increased standover height may make mounting and dismounting a little more difficult for some riders.
Rocker Plates Explained
The concept of rocker plates, while relatively new, has taken off in the last two years, with more and more riders seeking to replicate riding outdoors when they cannot be that through lockdowns or inclement weather conditions. The basic concept is simple; a rocker plate is designed to pivot from side to side, somewhat mimicking the movement we experience riding outdoors. In turn, the additional movement is intended to give a little more comfort when riding indoors.
There are essentially two types of rocker plates, 2-way and 4-way options. The 2-way option simply pivots from side to side, whereas 4-way rocket plates add fore and aft (front to back) movement to the picture. Having tried out both, the 4-way movement is worth the increased price.
Along with movement and additional comfort, another benefit of using a rocker plate is that riders are required to engage their core to keep the bike centred while riding. While most rocker plates will err on the side of stable, the side-to-side movement can be altered somewhat by adjusting the pressure of the inflatable balls used to dampen and limit the travel of the side to side motion.
Inspired by Formula 1
Inspired by the aesthetic of the 1983 Formula One championship-winning Brabham BT52, the Matrix BT52 features a distinct dart-shaped profile. The unit itself is Australian-made and constructed from a CNC machined moisture-resistant composite board. It features five elastomer pivot points, with inflatable rubber balls controlling & limiting side to side motion.
The fore and aft movement is controlled by two linear bearing slides with compression springs and allows for roughly 5cm of movement both forward and backwards.
Most trainer models are accounted for in the design of the Matrix BT52, with the CNC machined holes for the mounting velcro straps well suited to just about every stationary and smart trainer on the market. Also featured and on the top deck of the trainer are textured grip points for mounting and dismounting your bike.
After purchasing my first smart trainer in 2018 and promptly getting hooked on the flexibility and social outlet it provides, indoor training now accounts for at least half of my yearly kilometres. So with upwards of 5,000kms a year spent riding the trainer. While I’ve tried more rudimentary rocker plates in the past, I’ve never spent any meaningful amount of time on them, and spoiler alert, I don’t see myself training any other way from here on out.
Initial impressions were excellent. Shipping from Paragon Cycle Works headquarters was fast. When the trainer arrived, there was really nothing else I needed to do other than pick a spot to put the thing and strap my trainer to it using the rather excellent velcro straps included with the unit. The BT52 truly is a set and forget unit, and what’s more, you’re operational in under five minutes.
Climbing aboard my trainer set-up affixed to the BT52 for the first time was admittedly a little odd. The first thing riders will instinctively do is rock around stationary to see how it feels, and it surprisingly isn’t as foreign as you’d think. That being said, I will also admit that putting a pivoting board under your trainer isn’t like riding outdoors. It closes the gap, but in my opinion, replicating the feeling of riding outside isn’t the intention of this product. Out on the road, your bike moves along like a snake, with steering and momentum propelling you forward, particularly when you’re out of the saddle rocking the bike from side to side. Affixed to a trainer, a slightly different approach is needed particularly when sprinting or climbing hard out of the saddle. Rather than your body acting as a counterweight, whereby the bike throws left, the body goes right, the bike and body move in tandem with each other with a set-up such as this. While this might feel strange to some, the likelihood is that this will only really affect those frequently unleashing big watt sprints indoors.
Where the rocker plate excels is in its everyday usability. Group rides, workouts, tempo efforts and particularly longer rides are much easier on both your body and your bike when there’s the ability to shift around. There is a noticeable alleviation of stress from your joints and your bike strapped to the trainer. No longer was I cringing at the thought of my bike creaking as I tried to muscle my way up virtual bergs or sprint for the virtual glory of 17th place at the end of a Zwift race.
The movement of the trainer is to be commended with both fore and aft and side-to-side movement feeling somewhat natural if not a little limited. The rubber balls used to dampen and limit side to side motion is great for most riders. However, I felt that removing one of the rubber balls from each side allowed for a more realistic bike swat, and thus, core engagement is required as it is a little more involved to stay balanced and centred. As for the fore and aft movement, this arguably had the most significant impact. Putting the power down through the pedals, having a visual representation of your momentum propelling the bike forwards was telling.
Additionally, the 5cm of travel in each direction was ample. I did not find the travel limit once while riding, although I do wish the compression springs responsible for dampening were a little quieter. On the subject of minor negatives, the vinyl graphics used on the deck of the unit, while aesthetically pleasing, did start to peel off after a month of riding the unit due to sweat. While this is by no means a deal-breaker, painted graphics would go a long way to alleviating this, albeit with an added cost.
With the BT52B, if I’m honest, there’s very little to fault. It’s a well-built, Australian-made unit that excels in its intended purpose and priced at AU$595; it undercuts most other 4-way rocker plates on the market. Is this product for everyone? Not at all, but if you, like me, spend any meaningful amount of time on an indoor trainer, this is one product I highly recommend at least trialling if not pulling the trigger on.
Thanks to Paragon Cycle Works for providing the product for this review
Looking to get more out of your indoor training or to get started riding indoors? Our Guide to Indoor Training is filled with all you need to know.