The Indoor Cyclist's Guide To Winter Training:
Zwifting Into The New Year
If you haven't noticed yet, the weather is cold outside. The Northeast, well pretty much the entire country, is suffering from an Arctic blast. It's so bad that alligators are freezing in the Everglades, leaving their snouts sticking straight up out of the water as they go into deep hibernation till things eventually thaw out. I couldn't believe it either, but the reality is that it's winter, and it's here to stay for awhile. Every year I write about winter training, and the tools you need to stay fit before your next big event in the Spring, but this one is a little different because technology has changed and it's allowing people to ride together more than ever. I'm talking about virtual training and the applications you can sign up for to ride with your buddies, no matter what the weather conditions. So let me bring you up to speed on some of those applications, and what I've been using.
Many cyclists prefer indoor trainers that work with your bike and allow you to ride in the comfort of your home instead of riding the indoor bike at the gym. There are many types of trainers available today to choose from. There are Wind trainers, Magnetic trainers, Fluid trainers, Smart trainers, Meghan Trainor (wait, wrong trainer). Each one has a different style of resistance roller, which can be smoother or quieter than the other. Smart trainers are cool because they are interactive and can pair with a device that has Bluetooth compatibility. Although they are more expensive than a traditional trainer, they can measure power output, speed, candence, distance and provide a controlled resistance for a more realistic road ride. Brands such as Wahoo, CycleOps, Kinetic, Elite and Tacx offer trainers with these features. If you are an athlete looking for the best indoor experience, these are the trainers for you.
Right now the most popular application to use with your smart trainer is Zwift, an online software that allows you to ride virtual roads, perform structured workouts, and ride socially with other riders from around the world! Other training applications include Trainer Road, and The Sufferfest that provide structured workouts, but with no social connection. If you're more interested in riding with friends, and less interested in structured workouts, Zwift is the perfect choice. The best part about Zwift is that you don't need to own a smart trainer to experience this virtual cycling mecca. If you are on a budget, and have an existing trainer, you can still use Zwift and ride with your friends.
My indoor trainer is a CycleOps Fluid 2, which I've had for almost 15 years. Since it's gotten very little use in those almost 15 years, it still rides like new. The Fluid 2 provides a real smooth riding experience, and the resistance builds as you ride harder on the trainer while shifting your bike. Zwift has a list of compatible trainers on its website, but you can use practically any trainer as long as you have an ANT+ speed and cadence sensor(my speed sensor is shown in the photo below) as an accessory for the application to recognize. With my set up, I have both a Stages power meter and an ANT+ speed sensor from Garmin for the Zwift application to talk to.
I downloaded the Zwift app on my phone, and was able to sync my power meter and speed sensor to my phone. When I tried to do the same with lap top, I had no such luck. My Bluetooth was on, but the signal did not work to sync my devices. I needed an external dongle to enhance my computers Bluetooth, so once I installed it I was able to pair my devices with my computer. Originally, I was against riding the trainer this winter thinking that no cycling app could possibly make riding inside any better, and for years I had spent time riding inside listening to music or watching movies or YouTube to pass the time, which seemed to stand still no matter what I did. But once I was able to start using Zwift, it completely changed the way indoor riding should be, dare I say enjoyable? I chose to ride on my own, not with a group, for my first ride so I could get used to the application.
I have to say that it's been fun riding in the virtual world, and I've even done a few group rides as I'm writing this (I did one recently on a closed course in London, England). I haven't done a race or a structured workout yet, but that is an option you can choose when you log in. The monthly membership is definitely worth it, especially with how unpredictable the weather is, you'll always have a place to ride. So while the winter weather might be unbearable, at least riding your bike inside won't have to be.