Big Ring VR

A few winters ago I tried a training plan from The Time Crunched Cyclist book. While getting on the Turbo through the winter improved my fitness, making myself slog through a dull turbo session, even one where I was having to hit hard numbers, was tough. It was really hard to hit the numbers too. Keeping going through 5 minutes of pain was just not working for me.

After I got knocked off the bike last year I was desperate not to lose my fitness levels. So I got on the turbo with Zwift. That made for me all the difference. I can ride hard up a mountain for 20 minutes. I can take more pain for much longer when there are bends, ramps, dips and other riders to blast past. It’s been working well for me.

But I got a tweet this week that I checked out:

This needed looking into. BigRingVR are offering an alternative Virtual Reality training option. This one provides streaming videos of iconic climbs which sync the gradient to your turbo, if you have a zwift capable turbo that is.

I figured I’d check it out, because there are some climbs on there I’d just love to do for real, include L’Alpe D’Huez.

The app is in Beta. It’s not as user friendly as Zwift, but they tag their site with user experience focused. I don’t know where they are with their plans, but I think the app needs some work to attract the masses as it’s a bit techie to get started on. Having helped a few club mates get going on Zwift. They’ve got a way to go on that.

Anyway, no bother for me to get it set up and ready to go. I warmed up a bit on Zwift as it looks like all the climbs are pretty much straight into the main course. And a 8.8 mile climb felt like I should warm up.

It works. I was engaged. I had no problem with getting myself to stay on the trainer for the 1hr 7 it took me to complete the climb. There are options to ride against opponents loaded from TCX files (race your own ghost?) but no other riders on the route with you, except from the camera footage they use for the climbs.

The footage was really good high quality footage, but, it’s shot as a vehicle rides a constant speed up. I was slower than that, so everything seems to be in slow motion, which is a bit odd, with a few jumps where they got stuck in traffic/at the road works. But there were other riders to try and catch, and I did. But no idea how hard they were riding, how fast they were. The details in Zwift really helped me there.

Of course, if you’re using real footage, that’s inevitable. But, it just doesn’t feel as natural as the virtual world of Zwift.

Also, as the camera was fixed, the view doesn’t look into the corners like you would in the real world, which felt constrained at points.

Still, it was good, kept me engaged and riding. And it’s in Beta so who knows where it will be when it’s finished. One to keep an eye on as an option.

There are however other similar products out there already. They’ll all have the same weird slow motion experience or not ride at your actual pace. That’s inevitable. And perhaps their UI is even less user friendly. I might check a few out.

I think I’ll have another go at BigRingVR during the week. See what another climb is like and if I can track down a TCX partner to race. But I think Zwift has the edge with other real riders, and the world moving at the right pace.

Strava and Gear Fit Integration Pt II

So, I have been playing with the Strava integration with Gear Fit. My first try was less then smooth. However, that seems to mostly be down to the beta quality of the Gear Fit software itself. Rather than from Strava’s side (I do think the Strava app is awesome. Shame about my phone battery life and HRM integration limitations, so I’ll stick to Garmin).

Seems that the Strava/Fit integration shows you the  “Popular” segments you ride, and segments you star.

So today I set off to ride Holme Moss, part of the 2014 Tour De France stage 2, and made sure before I set off that the Holme Moss segment I consider definitive was starred.

When I got to Holmfirth I started Strava on my phone. Battery was already low, as Gear Fit Manager holds a wake lock keeping the phone awake and draining the battery instead of letting it deep sleep.

Samsung support say this kind of thing is “typically” fixed with software updates but they have no idea if we’ll ever get one. Twats.

ANYWAY. I was dead happy to see my percentage progress, current time and lead against my PR display on my wrist as I slaughtered myself up Holme Moss.

I pushed hard. I over did it on the early part of the ride and was 23s ahead of my PR really early on. Which meant on the last stretches of the climb (1/2 a mile and counting down, love those lines on the road) I was hurting and losing some of the 2+ minutes of gain I had on my PR. When I hit the 200 yards I gave it everything and finally pulled myself over the finish in 22:09, nearly 4 whole minutes under my PR from May last year.

And being able to see that count down/up on my wrist was really fantastic.

It’s just a shame that the battery life on my phone is butchered by the Gear Fit Manager. Not that it’d last long enough for me to do a whole 100 mile ride anyway with GPS tracking. But, it is just slaughtered as a useful device by the buggy beta quality of Samsung’s integration apps.

Strava and Samsung Gear Fit Integration

I’ve recently got myself on the bleeding edge of technology by buying a Samsung Gear Fit smartwatch/fitness band. It’s a great looking smart watch, but, the software so far is a little bit flaky. I’m guessing it’ll get more stable as time goes on.

It does the job of a pedometer, HRM and exercise tracker as well as letting me choose which notifications that happen on my phone will also happen on my wrist.

I was slightly surprised that when Strava updated on my phone, an option for “App Connect” appeared on the Gear Fit with the only option being to enable Strava. On top of the option to have notifications from Strava on the watch.

I couldn’t quite work out what it did/would do so I contacted Strava support who took a little while to work out that basically it would display summary data from Strava while riding.

I usually track with my Garmin Edge 705, as I like the navigation, display options and the battery life on really long rides. But I thought I’d give the Strava app a go to test the fit tonight on a shorter evening ride.

First problem was that Strava crashed every time I started recording. I eventually un-installed and re-installed Strava and it ran.

Update: this was a bug with Strava 4.0.1, when I re-installed I got 4.0.2 which fixed the bug. Nothing to do with the fit.

Then on my wrist, time elapsed and distance were displayed, along with a “chequered flag” which I presumed stopped the work out. I pressed the button on the fit to go adjust the brightness. After that I couldn’t get the Strava app to display again on the fit.

So I stopped recording and started again, the fit screen went all garbled, it lost connection to the phone and rebooted. I tried again a few times. No luck.

So I rebooted the phone and the fit and tried again.

This time I got the display back, and didn’t turn it off!

This displays nicely the elapsed time and the distance:

Strava Summary on the gear fit
Strava Summary on the gear fit

I thought wouldn’t it be nice to see segment information, so tried swiping the screen, and there we had it, the last segment I had ridden with my time for the segment:

Strava Segment on the Gear Fit
Strava Segment on the Gear Fit

Great! Perfect for short evening segment hunting rides, I can see my progress through the latest segment, and I can see the PR maybe?

Only I can’t. After I got to the top of Give it Some to the Pub, it came up. Short segment. I then kept an eye on it as I dropped down through Killamarsh.

As I was trying to draft a big car through the village on the Killamarsh Tramstop Dash and then smash myself up Halfway Up, it was still telling me I was 100% through Give it Some to the Pub in 20s.

Which is a bit disappointing.

Still, it’s new, and can only get better!

And having a button instantly there on my wrist to stop the Strava app is neat, any time I do use the Strava app over my Garmin. Which given the instant segment information and the Gear Fit information (as it gets better) I am very likely to do for shorter rides.

I’ll pass the info on to Strava, and hopefully it’ll be made more stable soon.