A recently concluded patent dispute between global indoor trainer heavyweights Zwift and Wahoo has left Australian manufacturer JetBlack with a significantly reduced international market for its latest smart trainer.
However, JetBlack founder and managing director, Tony Simmonds, remains optimistic the Australian and export markets that remain open for its JetBlack Volt V2 trainer will be ample to continue to grow the brand – as the company now looks confidently towards creating vastly different technology that won’t be subject to Wahoo patents.
In September 2022, Tony declared JetBlack had achieved a “global coming of age” when the release of the Volt V2 led to JetBlack working with Zwift on the release of their Hub Smart Trainer into the US, UK and Europe.
JetBlack also started selling the Volt V2 in those markets, under its own brand, and both the Zwift and JetBlack products significantly undercut Wahoo on price for its comparative trainer.
Wahoo responded quickly with a threat of legal action on the grounds the Volt V2 contravened patents held by the US company.
By December, JetBlack had reached a settlement with Wahoo that prevented the Volt V2 from being sold in the US, the UK and Europe – which represent the lion’s share of global sales for indoor trainers.
However, the full implications for the Australian company only become clear last month when Zwift and Wahoo settled their dispute.
While the exclusion of the Volt V2 from the three key markets remains a disappointment for JetBlack aspirations, Tony says the future is still looking very bright for its growth.
Expanded Zwift Relationship
JetBlack’s relationships with Zwift has taken another positive step forward in recent weeks, with many of JetBlack’s new indoor training accessories now available for direct sales internationally on the Zwift website, and Tony says the relationship appears set to remain strong for a long time to come.
He said the question of whether there was an infringement of patents “remains a pretty grey area”.
“Our perspective is that we didn’t infringe anything but that was something that would have been decided in court,” he said.
Tony believes the settlement path taken by Zwift – “arguably the biggest juggernaut in the industry, with the deepest pockets” – rather than fighting Wahoo in court, effectively validated Wahoo’s patent, “even if there hasn’t been a judgement in court”.
He says that validation will put the brakes on the emergence of similar hardware in the global market.
“A lot of the smaller players that have very similar electromagnetic resistance systems could start to disappear out of the international markets.”
There would continue to be similar products targetting comparatively small markets, such as Asia, and JetBlack could flourish within these regions.
“At our size, we only need a small percentage of the overall pie to have significant growth,” he elaborated.
However, it was unlikely other brands would seek to challenge Wahoo in the US, UK and Europe, now Wahoo had demonstrated its willingness to flex it patent muscle.
“One of the outcomes in my opinion is a lot of the smaller players that have very similar electromagnetic resistance systems could start to disappear out of the international markets,” he predicted.
“With its patent validated, I expect Wahoo will continue to knock on the doors of others it perceives has breached the patent.
As part of September’s settlement, Wahoo offered Zwift a limited licence to continue selling its smart trainer but it “politely declined” to offer any similar licencing with JetBlack.
“We will continue to innovate in this space and I’m 100% convinced we will have a new model in the market that we can sell globally.”
“If we can’t use that particular type of resistance, that magnetic set-up Wahoo claims to have the rights to, we will look at other technologies,” Tony explained, saying Wahoo’s stance on patents in the UK, US and Europe would encourage an industry-wide acceleration of innovation in the sector.
“JetBlack has always driven innovation in the indoor trainer space. We were one of the first to bring power modelling and theoretical power output to traditional trainers, way back with our JetBlack Dyno model.
“We were one of the first to introduce virtual cadence to our indoor smart trainers. We had virtual cadence before Wahoo did, we’re just not big enough that the world knows that.
“Back in 2018, we were one of the first to adopt FTMS (Fitness Machine Service), which is the standard Bluetooth protocol for indoor trainers.
“We will continue to innovate in this space and I’m 100% convinced we will have a new model in the market that we can sell globally. We’re very passionate about indoor cycling, it’s one of the things we’ve been in for a long time. It’s just a matter of developing different hardware.”
He said JetBlack, more broadly, has a “roadmap of really exciting, game changing hardware products, stretching well into the next five or six years”. That will obviously need to include a direct drive trainer that is based on new technology, can be produced for a competitive price “and that people will love to ride”.
Tony is optimistic the international market for indoor trainers as a whole will continue to grow as technology evolves and the online space becomes more advanced.
“With technology such as artificial intelligence coming into the space, you’re going to see more and more people riding their bikes inside,” he forecast.
In the meantime, JetBlack is hoping to get access to Zwift’s recently released Zwift Cog System, to incorporate into JetBlack’s own trainers.
“It enables a whole bunch more bikes to be placed directly onto a direct drive trainer without the usual barriers of matching cassettes and drivetrains.
“For us, the really exciting thing over the past winter in Australia is we’ve completed the launch of our new accessory line-up. Some of those accessories we’ve been working on for over five years and it’s a big step forward to have the whole indoor training accessory line-up out there and complementing each other.”
He said feedback and sales for the accessories in Australia have been overwhelmingly positive, with sales figures exceeding JetBlack forecasts, and to now have them globally available on the zwift.com website is a major step.
“For our brand profile, to continue to work with Zwift – to be associated with it on a global scale – is amazing for us. They are the premium indoor cycling platform globally.”