Indoor Training - Part 2

By Chris O'Hearn

 

Technology

Like inducing a coma in a sauna, but less interesting... one of the nicer ways to describe indoor training, at least until recently.

An hour on a turbo trainer is probably physically equivalent to 90 minutes outside, but mentally it can be an eternity if all you're doing is staring at the carpet. Many people find it hard to force themselves onto a bike so they can ride nowhere.

However technology has come to our aid and time on the trainer can not only be productive and motivating but even social.

Software

 

In the last few years a whole range of computer programs and apps have been created to take advantage of the indoor cycling market.

 

There are too many to describe individually but I'll focus on a few of the leading examples. Their features can be found in a range of other products so you can make up your own mind once you have an idea what is important to you.

 

And the specific features you want may influence your choice of equipment, so I'll return to that at the end.

 

Basic Visuals

 

An entry point for many people getting into turbo training are cycling-specific videos, probably the best known being from Sufferfest.

 

In their early days they were tapes and DVDs and later digital version for computers or tablets.

 

However they're more than just watching highlight reels. The videos feature cycling action with motivational music around a specific workout. So you can choose your session and the Sufferfest will have appropriate scenery, audio and tell you when to put in your efforts and when to recover.

 

Sufferfest in particular has a cult following and has created a virtual community of Sufferlandria. By completing certain challenges you earn titles and rewards. It's all about motivation.

 

Training Programs

 

The next level up are the more interactive programs, of which Trainer Road is one of the best known, but also PerfPro, Fulgaz or Maximum Trainer.

 

Features among these vary but they tend to be essentially training plans which interact with your workout. You will generally need a power meter to get the best out of these although they may work without them.

 

They feature a plan of workouts over a time period which you choose to achieve a specific goal. The program runs on your computer or tablet as you complete the workout and reads the power (and HR, cadence etc) from your bike or trainer. It's then recorded against the plan so you can see what you've achieved or found difficult.

 

Some of these also feature visuals and music. Bkool for example has links to Spotify so you can play a soundtrack, or Fulgaz which puts you in a pre-shot video on real courses. Some even using rides of your own that you upload and the program recreates using GPS and mapping technology. Other common features are ghost riders and some competitive challenges.

 

Most of these are subscription services, usually around the cost of something like Strava Premium. But you're not only getting some pretty picture, you may be getting access to a library of workouts, plans and tips which can be very useful in your training.

 

One question some people have is whether or not they still need to use paid services like Strava or Training Peaks, and the answer is probably yes. First because when you ride outside you'll want to have all your riding logged in one place, and secondly because the analytical tools of something like TP for example are much better for tracking performance and improvement over time. Many of these programs will exchange files so they work well together.

 

Virtual Riding

 

The newest development in indoor training has the potential to revolutionise it.

 

Zwift launched late in 2014 as a closed test version. With a limited number of users and many thousands of applicants it was the cycling equivalent of getting a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Nearly a year later Zwift is open to all but still in a development phase, with a full launch to come, when it's expected to be a paid subscription service.

 

Zwift originates in the world of Massive Multiplayer Online games. Think of online Call of Duty fused with cycling.

 

It takes the data from your indoor trainer - power works best but isn't essential - and uses it to put you in an online virtual environment alongside other people doing the same thing in real time.

 

You have an avatar which you can change in appearance, plus a selection of bikes and kit. It appears on a course created by the program designers with hills, flats, bridges trees, animals and even a blimp. For the 2015 World Road Race championships they recreated the Richmond, Virginia course. In-game challenges include sprints and climbs with virtual jerseys awarded to the holders at any time. Names, countries, power output and ride data is displayed onscreen plus you can send messages and chat to other riders.

 

Your avatar rides the course at the same time as other people around the world. You can catch them, draft other riders, or ride in groups and even race. When you put out more power your avatar goes faster, just like real life. A big social scene has developed with daily group rides ranging from beginner social laps to all-out races with some very serious riders.

 

Zwift has also cleverly used pro riders to promote the concept, with Jens Voigt acting as an ambassador and doing occasional online group rides. Other pros like Thomas de Gendt and Ted King have used it regularly, especially when recovering from injuries.

 

If you can't tell already, I have to admit I'm a huge Zwift fan. It appeared on the scene just as I'd broken my hip at the beginning of 2015 and was facing a long period of recovery and indoor riding. I begged for an invite to the closed Beta and thought I would just use it until I'd recovered. Nine months later I'm still doing probably half my rides on Zwift by choice and would gladly sign up to a paid service.

 

Does the Trainer matter?

 

The final piece in this part of the puzzle is whether the choice of software affects the choice of trainer, or vice versa, and the answer is yes.

 

In Part 1 I mentioned Smart and Dumb trainers. A Smart trainer can link the indoor bike to the program and change the resistance, cadence and so on to give the most realistic experience. So if Trainer Road says to increase power then the resistance on your trainer goes up, or if Zwift shows you going up an 8% gradient then similarly it gets harder to push the pedals.

 

The leading smart trainer is probably the Wahoo Kickr but it's a rapidly growing segment with new entrants coming thick and fast. CycleOps Pro Beam, Lemond Revolution, Tackx Neo, Kinetic Rock and Roll, Computrainer Road Machine are also capable smart trainers, some direct drive and some using the tyre contact design.

 

Combined with the visuals it really is the closest thing you will get to simulating a real-world experience. You see the hill and you feel the hill.

 

Smart trainers don't have to be used in smart mode of course, you can use them just as you would a dumb trainer. The difference with a dumb trainer is that the power is still controlled by you, not the software.

 

If your main objective is to complete pre-set workouts like riding 30 minutes at 80% power then a dumb trainer is a perfectly fine option. But if you're planning on spending a lot of time indoors and you really want to get the most life-like experience then a smart trainer is a good investment.


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Chris O' Hearn

Chris O'Hearn is a competitive cyclist who races for the Ride Bike Shop team in the UAE and Dulwich Paragon in the UK. Chris does road racing, TTs, sportives and group rides. He is a coached rider and trains 4-5 times a week. He's usually easy to spot by being one of the few people not wearing a helmet, unless he has to. His favourite bike is his Giant TCR. He also has a Giant Trinity TT bike, a Ridley Noah and a steel custom-built Roberts. At the beginning of 2015 Chris had a bad accident while training and fractured his hip. He was back on the bike within three weeks and has been working to recover with both indoor and outdoor training.