As I'm sure you're aware, it's winter time. It's cold, it gets dark early and the roads are covered in snow, ice and gravel. I don't enjoy riding much below 50F, so it's time to move the cycling season indoors. To do that, I decided to buy a trainer.
I'm new to the whole indoor trainer thing so I sat down and thought about what I expected for indoor training. My requirements included having the ability to connect to software remotely, have the trainer manipulate resistance automatically, and the ability to ride virtual routes including videos and workouts. I wanted the trainer to be controlled by virtual ride software so that resistance changed throughout the ride.
Once you start down the research path, you'll discover dozens of good smart trainers. I had originally considered Kinetic's Rock and Roll as I liked the idea of swinging the bike side to side in a sprint. But after some research, I decided it didn't support all of the connection protocols I wanted. Eventually, I chose CycleOp's Magnus trainer. Specifically, I liked that it supports both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity. I asked for that Magnus trainer for Christmas and my sweet wife got it for me. We found a sale at REI and was able to get one under $500, including the front wheel stand.
I set up the trainer in my basement and attached my Orbea Avant. I installed a Vittoria training tire and a Cycleops front riser stand. To keep cool, I stuck a box fan on a table I had laying around.
To run training apps, Netflix, Youtube and other applications, I decided I wanted a dedicated PC so I bought a used one on eBay (more on this in a moment). I set up an older Dell LCD monitor and sound bar on an old laptop stand my wife had in the basement. It put the monitor in the right place and gave me a surface for the keyboard and mouse. Here's the general setup:
My previous experience with indoor training included riding the exercise bikes at various hotels during travel. Those were mostly LifeCycle bikes with the riding interface that allows you to ride along video routes while the program changes resistance. I wanted a similar experience from my trainer.
My original thought was to use an application called Rouvy. Rouvy lets you ride virtual routes which are filmed by riders and are available from all around the world. I liked that idea.
After about 40 miles miles on Rouvy, there were a few things that really detracted from the experience. Several of the ride videos are filmed using cars, not bikes, so they are out in traffic, at a high vantage point, and moving at speeds I wouldn't ride in real life. This distracted me enough to keep me from getting my head in the game. Rouvy also seemed to have issues controlling my smart trainer's resistance. Small changes in % grade would result in large changes in resistance which I found frustrating.
A friend of mine who is an avid cyclist recommended Zwift. I looked into it and after reading several reviews, thought I'd give it a try. Zwift is an online game, if you will, that connects to your smart trainer and controls resistance to match what you ride within it. It features a video-game like environment where you and a host of other riders ride can ride around. Within this environment, you see those other riders, along with their nationality, power specs, current mileage and position. You can ride freely within this environment, access a workout, join a group ride or even accept a challenge (like, say, burn 10k calories in a month, or take on an elevation goal). This social aspect really makes Zwift appealing.
After verifying that my trainer would work, I signed up. There is a membership fee of $14 per month. After joining Zwift and starting a ride, you're greeted with your [customized] avatar standing roadside with one pedal clipped in. Start riding and your avatar starts too. This avatar matches your cadence and away you go. As you ride along, other riders zip past, their name and nationality displayed alongside thier avatars. Gain speed and you too, pass other riders. When you near another rider, the program encourages you to close the gap. Those faster riders motivate you to ride faster to keep up.
If you choose to ride a loop, Zwift will challenge you, including sprints and other in game challenges. In game rewards open up new features and avatar customization, as you'd expect with any video game and these keep you motivated. As you zip through the Zwift world, you are drawn in and forget that you're in a basement or garage. The challenges and other riders give you a varied ride and make the whole thing fun. You push it and no longer notice the work or the pain or the sweat.
Zwift can connect to a trainer, cadence sensor, speed sensor, power meter and heart-rate monitor. I use the trainer for cadence and speed and a Wahoo TICKR for the heart rate monitor. The trainer and monitor both connect through ANT+.
- Connecting Bluetooth devices requires a smart phone to act as a translator between the device and Zwift. This is an important consideration if your trainer doesn't support ANT+.
Because Zwift is a video game, it requires video game type hardware if you want a really good experience. I run it on a dedicated PC, an old HP 8300 (i5-3750) that I bought on eBay for about $140. I've upgraded the memory to 16GB, installed an SSD and upgraded the graphics card to a Geforce GTX 1050. This setup lets me ride in 4k high definition and the graphics experience and frame rates are fantastic. I've added Bluetooth and ANT+ dongles to support my trainer, a heart-rate monitor, and a pair of wireless headphones and the experience is seamless.
Of course, you can run it on your phone or iPad at lower resolutions, too.
So if you're stuck in a place with a winter climate, I highly recommend both the Magnus trainer and Zwift.