Zwift

Mary & I have recently entered the virtual world of indoor cycling. It is all the rage. Lockdown means everyone wants to cycle and everyone wants to Zwift. Zwifting has become synonymous with indoor cycling or turbo training as we used to call it. 

Consequently, we get asked a lot about our setup and what we would recommend. Any turbo trainer will do the job. How well it will do the job and how long it will last are often functions of the price. As with anything I would recommend you get the best you can afford and get one that will have some resale value. The better your initial experience will affect how likely you are to stick with it and that can mean investing some cash.

In this post I will take you through our reasons for cycling indoors, our setup and our initial experience. 

Ready Player One!


Cycling Indoors

Sometimes, it just isn’t practical to leave the house for hours on end to go riding. Work, dogs, kids, chores, the latest Netfilx series, terrible weather, boredom of the same local loop, and my very favourite: your delivery will be some time between 8am and 8pm!

The upshot of this is when you finally have a day off, the sun is out and you set off on that bicycle adventure that you have been lusting after; the slightest incline kills you. Your legs & conditioning have gone and it isn’t the joyous experience it could have been because you are preoccupied with oxygen intake and imminent death.

Turbo Trainer

Some years ago I purchased a turbo trainer. I splashed out a hard earned £100. It had great reviews and I received a free sweat catcher and water bottle with it. I clamped my bike into it’s frame with the rear wheel on the roller and I set off. It was great! I rode miles and miles, watched TV, kept the dogs company, answered the phone, I didn’t even have to wear anything special. Total Win!

I had one good session on it. I triumphantly dismounted in a sweaty mess only to realise the trainer had melted my rear tyre and sprayed the rubber all up the living room wall! Total fail!

I didn’t realise that I would need a special tyre! It all became far too impractical. I only had one bike and couldn’t afford to buy new tyres & wheels and swap everything over when I needed to pop to the shops. So the trainer was swiftly sold and I consoled myself with: ‘well cycling outside will toughen me up’, but of course, life & vague delivery slots wore on, and cycling slipped into the background.

Outside Adventures

Then Mary & I started the Bicycle Adventure Club and tried to ride uphill. Oops. 

Mary moaned spectacularly at this geomorphological affront to such a joyous passtime. Amply evidenced in our Wild Camping adventure to Wales video.

I didn’t moan so much, but Christ it was tough. A planned weekend of glorious cycling that we struggled to enjoy because we weren’t used to it.

That trip to Wales justified our purchase of a Wahoo Kickr. The Kickr represents the latest in indoor cycling turbo trainer technology. At £999 it is a high initial outlay, but Mary & I saw it as an investment in improving the quality of our adventures. Our commitment to cycle the NC500 in September 2021 also heavily influenced our purchase. If we couldn’t cycle over some Welsh mountains, we were in no shape to cycle around mountainous Scotland. We needed to practice and the Wahoo Kickr would help us do that.

Wahoo!

A few days later, sometime between 8am and 8pm, we were the proud recipients of a Wahoo Kickr. The very latest in indoor cycling technology. 

The Wahoo Kickr is a direct drive machine! It replaces your bike’s rear wheel; so no more rubber splatting. I removed the rear wheel and attached the bike to the unit. Not quite as simple as it sounds. The Kickr came with an 11 speed cassette, but my bike is an 8 speed. Fortunately I had the tools to swap the cassette from my bike wheel on to the Kickr. It came with various spacers, feet and simple instructions. The set up was surprisingly easy. I downloaded the Wahoo app and started riding. 

I was really impressed with how quiet it was and how good the riding felt. It helped that I was comfortable being on my own bike.

I very quickly found out that I needed a fan. No; not someone to stand by me, shouting words of encouragement and telling me how fantastic I am – although that is nice; but a wind producing machine. You don’t generate a breeze cycling indoors and within seconds I was drenched with sweat. 

Having been a musician in a previous life, I was able to dig out my old stage fan, which was also used to prevent sweating; but, also had the desirable effect of making me look & feel like I was performing in a dramatic 1980s music video.

ZWIFT

The Wahoo app itself is sufficient to ride and train, but as I said in my commuting blog post, staring at a screen full of numbers whilst repetitively beasting myself isn’t very inspiring, so I subscribed to Zwift to immerse myself in virtual worlds and interact with other riders. It is like Ready Player One for cyclists!

Zwift is £12 per month – each. Mary & I can’t share a Zwift account. Zwift uses your individual metrics to calibrate your ride experience and training parameters.

As well as being able to ride around any number of ‘worlds’ I have access to a number of training programmes. I’ve joined a 12 week programme to improve my FTP – Functional Threshold Power – how much power I can sustain over a period of time. Simply put: it will make me better at riding up big hills. The training programme is great. It tells me when I’m not doing it right and flashes up words of encouragement on the screen. A big blue thumb means other riders are giving me a ‘ride on’. 

It is like having a personal trainer. Zwift knows my height, weight and age and alters the training program and schedule accordingly. I am however, mystified. It knows these things yet my avatar looks like a completely un-representative, lithe, ageless, professional athlete!

When I am training the Unit is in ERG (Ergometer) mode. This means it looks after the pedalling resistance so I don’t need to worry about gears and can concentrate on the training.

Virtual Worlds

I can of course just put the miles in by cycling around Watopia, the Zwift ‘world’ or any of the other places available on a rotation. If just cycling around the ‘worlds’ the unit varies it’s resistance according to the terrain, i.e. uphill is harder, and I can use my bike’s gears as I normally would. It feels pretty real and the scenery helps take your mind off the effort. 

I recently cycled a London loop which took me off up into the virtual Surrey Hills – they didn’t feel very virtual! I cycled up a virtual Leith Hill. It was really tough, yet quite exhilarating at the same time. I felt very accomplished when I made it to the top. I’m really looking forward to cycling some of the famous mountain passes and the Alp du Zwift.

Zwift Comapanion app

A list of riders is displayed on the right hand side of the screen showing that I am cycling with people from all over the world. There are group rides I can join and with the Zwift companion app it is possible to chat with other people. Just like in real life and like real life it can be as solitary or as social as you like.

During lockdown Zwift has been a boon for cyclists and clubs who have taken their rides online. We recently had our first Bicycle Adventure Club, Zwift virtual group ride and it was great. Just 4 cartoon characters on the screen, cycling around the desert together. Knowing there were real people behind the avatars, enjoying the ride with me, I felt more invested and it was quite a social experience. 

BAC Virtual Ride

Zwift makes the indoor cycling experience fun but it is tougher than cycling outdoors. There is no coasting to rest and although the Kickr rocks on its axis, to simulate a real bike ride, I am not shifting around the bike to compensate for the terrain, which in turn moves the exertion around the body as an outdoor ride would. It is a static experience but getting out of the saddle and altering my effort helps.

The Benefits of Cycling Indoors

My indoor rides tend to be shorter than my outdoor rides but, thanks to Zwift, I push myself and my exertion is greater than I would put in if left to my own devices.  I have already  noticed a difference when riding outdoors. Gradients that would have ‘burned’ before are easier and I have found I am capable of greater efforts for longer. I am not struggling on longer adventures because I am keeping my riding at a consistent level and improving my base fitness.

We are right at the beginning of this virtual journey. There are definitely real world benefits. It is a steep learning curve. Coupled with the Wahoo Kickr, Zwift has given us access to a powerful training tool that makes cycling up virtual hills & mountains, through deserts, around volcanoes, under the sea and along with your mates; on a rainy, Monday evening in November amazing fun. It’s like actually living in the future. Cycling in the comfort of our underground apartment – on Mars!

Thank you for reading

See you in Watopia

Sarah & Mary

A cup of tea for Mary & me

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