How to fall in love with your indoor trainer.
I had never been on the deciding end of a breakup until now. A few weeks ago I tried to go for a fatbike ride. I made it three-quarters of a mile before turning around. I was tired of being cold and knew I wasn’t going to get the style of workout I need for racing. I was moderately discouraged that I may be falling out of love with cycling.* I knew my choice not to fatbike meant stagnant riding on the trainer…or did it?
Two things I quite enjoy are riding bikes and video games, I have been doing both for most of my life. While it might not seem like it, the two activities are complimentary. I ride bikes fast for long periods of time so playing video games won’t make me fat. The only times they crossed were in the winter, when I’d set my road bike on the trainer for its permanent winter stay within reach of my PlayStation 2. Playing video games while spinning on the trainer is pretty fun.
I had always yearned for a more interactive indoor cycling experience that hopefully involved video games. The Computrainer and its corresponding game has existed for a long time. Back when I was a junior, they were (and still are) more expensive than my first road bike. Tacx came out with a smart trainer and game in the late 2000’s. It was also prohibitively expensive for a teenager whose parents didn’t want to shell out $2000 so I could ride my bike in the basement. So I trainer-ed it while watching basketball and playing PlayStation for years. The trainer was never fun, but putting in those January workouts makes you fast come April.
Fast forward to 2016
I have been waiting since the dawn of my gaming days for:
1 – A great World War One first person shooter.
2 – An immersive multiplayer cycling game controlled by the trainer.
2016 delivered both! Battlefield 1 is great and all, but we’re here to talk about ZWIFT! This cycling video game is an enticing, innovative way to spice up your training during the winter.
What is it?
Zwift is a massively multiplayer online game that you can play on your computer, iPhone, or iPad. And the controller? Your bike and legs! On the trainer! Your pedaling controls your rider (avatar) within the game to virtually traverse beautiful roads. While riding you will be joined by hundreds or thousands of other Zwift users.
The experience of virtually riding certainly takes your mind off the difficulty and discomfort of riding the trainer. If you thought Dance Dance Revolution or Wii Fit was a fun way to get a workout, you are in for a cycling-specific treat. It is an extremely fun and relatively cost effective way to make riding the trainer even more enjoyable.
In Zwift you can ride the scenic locales of Watopia (a fictional island), the 2015 Road World Championships course (Richmond, VA), or the Prudential RideLondon course and surrounding areas. Zwift allows you to participate in online group rides and races with other individuals from all over the world. You can ride with WorldTour pros like Jens Voigt, Andrew Talansky, Laurens ten Dam, Matt Hayman, and Tiffany Cromwell, among others. Zwift also offers a mode with a structured workouts that are guaranteed to make you faster. If running is your thing, link your Bluetooth treadmill or a footpod and go for a virtual run!
What do you need?
The simplest setup necessary is: a bike, a trainer or rollers (make sure it’s on Zwift’s list of supported trainers), a Bluetooth wireless speed sensor, and an iPhone 5 or better. Put the speed sensor on the bike, put the bike on the trainer, pair the sensor to your phone, download the Zwift app, and go. I personally use a Wahoo BlueSC speed/cadence sensor, along with a Wahoo Tickr heart rate monitor, and this setup works quite well. Considering I already had a bike, trainer, iPhone and computer, the sensors put me back less than $100.
What does it cost?
A $10 monthly subscription will get you access to Zwift. Pay month by month and just use it when you need it. The equipment cost is dependent on what you already have. For riders who need a trainer, accessories, and sensors plan to spend $300 to $600. If you just need the sensors it will likely cost you less than $200 to get going. If you want a smart trainer setup plan to spend $600+.
The setup I’ve described is the easy way to do it, but you can go absolutely nuts with Zwift setups. The game is optimized for powermeters. Having a Powertap or Garmin Vector pedals will give you a bit of advantage over those of us using speed, cadence, heart rate, age, and weight to estimate power. This estimate is not perfect but it is more than adequate for most users.
For the best experience you will want to use smart trainer. A smart trainer will adjust resistance according to the road gradient, and if you are virtually drafting off the rider in front of you. Most smart trainers also have built in powermeters. I’d recommend the Cycleops Hammer Direct Drive if you want the premium experience. It is extremely sturdy, exceptionally quiet, and very smooth. If you don’t have $1200 laying around, Cycleops also makes the Magnus. It is a standard trainer, but with smart controls. Still smooth, and a more soothing $600 price tag. We can order both, and more. Don’t buy online, because if you do I will not help you set it up.
Screens and Computers
You can have some crazy computer/screen setups for Zwift. Most people use the computer version of Zwift over the iOS version. This is partly because the iOS version has only been out for 4 months, compared to 2 years for the computer version. The main reason to use a computer is that the game play and display on the computer is better. In order to get Zwift to work on your computer, there are two options.
1 -You will need an ANT+ wireless receiving USB dongle to pick up and transmit your ANT+ wireless protocol sensors (Garmin) to Zwift
2 – If you have Bluetooth compatible sensors, download the Zwift Companion App, which works for both iOS and Android platforms. With the companion app, you log in to your Zwift account simultaneously on your phone and computer, and the app transmits the Bluetooth sensor data to the game. The companion app then works as a controller for the game, eliminating the need for the mouse until you’re done riding.
Screen size and resolution are up to you. Go trawl Zwift’s Instagram for some inspiration.
Once you’ve got your physical stuff set up, it is time to get virtual. Fire up Zwift, start the companion app, and create a rider profile for yourself. Once you’ve got that all set, select your course, click the button that says “RIDE,” and you’re off!
Because I really don’t like being cold I’ll be getting Zwifty until the snow is gone. Plus, I want to be road fast in March, and you can’t get that from the fatbike alone. I hope to virtually ride with you online as well. If you join, you will become familiar with Zwift’s slogan: Ride On! Learn more at zwift.com