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.

Pretzel Club

The plan for this morning was to head out into the Peak again for a good  hilly ride. The forecasts I’d seen were for a nippy start and rain kicking in later in the day, but for me, was good enough to think I could get out, ride the route and probably only get soaked for the last 20-30 miles.

Which for me, seemed a fair deal.

Unfortunately, it had been wet yesterday and when I got up to walk the dog I saw that my road had been replaced with an ice laden death trap. And the next road. The next road after that is gritted, but, was still not great.

A new plan was needed.

Matt had mentioned that he was going to ride the Pretzel. This is the uber-segment on Watopia. It takes in both the KOM and Epic climbs as well as the Sprint in both directions and is just over 40 miles long.

The idea of riding that far on the turbo wasn’t a nice one. But it’s there, the Pretzel is a challenge. And that’s enough to get me interested.

I got the garage set up and got on the bike to ride. Mat joined in a bit later, then Darren and JPW. Pretzel club was rolling. A bit of messaging between us to keep us motivated on our individual quests.

Darren quit. Because he’s a quitter. Says he’s got a cold. Some excuse. Matt suffered a Strava crash throwing away most of his ride. JPW took his usual breaks…

It’s done though. I rode the whole thing, my official segment time 2:31:56 and I have no intention of ever trying to improve it! 60-90 minutes is a decent Zwift training session. And mentally do-able for me. It’s so much better than any other indoor training option for keeping me engaged. But not for 2:30. Well not again anyway. Challenge ticked off. Back to normal turbo and hoping for better Sunday weather!

Testing the Legs

So the January Spanker was the first proper ride of the year. I was on the heavy bike with the fast guys so I was slow. I felt strong. But I was lagging behind constantly. I needed a proper test of my fitness. Needed a proper chance to assess how I was on the bike in the depths of the winter fitness slump after not having been able to ride properly since the accident in August.

This was a tricky one. It had to be the Peak District to get a real test. But I didn’t want to start hitting the 100 Climbs. As it was January, there was a risk of ice making roads dangerous.

A bit of thought and poking round with Strava Routes came up with a loop that took in some tough climbs, to give me a test, mainly on bigger roads that I hoped would be well gritted and travelled enough that I’d be safe on the bike.

I prepped the good bike to. The light weight carbon bike. Took it off the turbo, fitted the non-turbo rear. Reindexed the gears. Cleaned and lubed the drive chain. Fitted lights, saddle bag with the right spares. Made sure I was all set.

Sunday came and it was cold, very cold. So I layered up in my finest winter gear, loaded the route and set off to meet my mate.

I think I got the layering about right. We hit snow, rain, sleet, hail and rain. Occasionally it was dry too. It wasn’t too awful out. It felt great to be out riding in the Peak in not-the-greatest weather. Tough. Rule #9 applied.

After the boring bit (with hills) riding out to the real Peak, we had a good cruise across the top of Froggatt before dropping down to Hathersage and steaming along Hope Valley to Bradwell where we hit the climb on the road to Tideswell.

That’s a good road to ride. Starts stead, building the climb, kick and a drop before that final slog to the top. Often a bit busy with traffic, on a cold wet January Sunday it’s quite empty. Felt good. Smashed up it.

We dropped down to Miller’s Dale, which is a nice cruise down, before climbing out via Priestcliffe. Again, good steady climb. And across to Longnor.

There’s a brilliant cafe at Longnor, but we were on a no-cafe-stop ride. No fannying around. It’s winter. Get the hills ridden and get home.

After Longnor is one of my favourite Peak District climbs. Crowdecote is half a mile. It’s steep. It has hair pins. It’s a beautiful place. That was shrouded in fog and drizzle this week.

I got my 4th best time up there. Which I thought was great going for January. My legs were starting to try and attract my attention by then though. Hope to set a PR up it in a few months, on a nice day. I do love that climb.

Cracked on from there, back to Bakewell, Bradwell and then using Owler Bar as the best option to climb back out of the Peak. I paced steady up that. Save what was left in the legs.

It was just great getting out for a proper ride. At points, when the snow was light and proper snow, settling on the edges of the road and fields, it was magical. At others, like the hail facial tattoo, it was a bit grim. But generally it was great.

I’m not in peak form, it’s January. I need to keep the Zwift sessions going in the week and work on the fitness. But I’m ready for proper long rides in the Peak. Well. Ready to start building the stamina better. My back is not used to that long on a bike any more and is killing me…

Zwift vs Reality

If you ride a bike you can’t avoid hearing about Zwift. Virtual Reality riding linked to your smart trainer to make that winter training more bearable. For some, including me, it’s a massive win keeping me motivated to sit on my turbo for over an hour this evening trying to set some new PRs on some virtual hills.

For others, they can’t understand why we’re not out in the cold wet and dark getting killed by winter motorists as well as cold wet and miserable.

But each to their own…

Big bone of contention is that Zwift racks up your mileage and climb totals for the year on Strava, which annoys the hell out of people.

So, should it count? Is it close enough to reality?

I only really care about going up hills, so let’s look at that. First, I remember Ben at Veloviewer.com posting an article about how to find segments you’ve ridden that are like a climb of interest you won’t get to ride. It’s here. So we can use that to find a segment that suits us for comparison.

To save me the bother, Andrew pointed out that Half China is quite a lot like Carr Lane. Which is a segment B&DCC, the club we ride with, runs a hill climb up so we’re quite familiar with.

How to compare? Well I figure VAM is a good one. I’ve only ridden Carr Lane 7 times, which is nothing compared to Andrew who is over 80 repeats. My VAM ranges from 652.4 3 and a half years ago to just over 1000 for my PR and last April.

My VAM for Half China goes from 844 a few days ago to just over 1000 just before I got ill late last year and slumped my fitness.

I’d say that’s a pretty fair comparison and climb on Zwift counts then.

I checked one or two other segments, seems close enough to me.

Double Brutal

It’s the time of year again to go Double Brutal.

That’s doing the Sheff Rec Strines Challenge route, 50 miles and loads and loads of climbing taking in some of the Tour De France roads (the wrong way actually) AND a bonus extra 50 miles riding to it. Check the original post from last year for details.

The Strines route loops round, loads of points you can drop out and ride into Sheffield if the weather turns really nasty in winter. Or your legs break. Or your mind breaks.

I need to update the route a bit, but, being an ultra-tough ride, there are many options.

I’m planning to start at Eckington, because I don’t want to ride in the wrong direction to get to Bolsover start. From there we ride through Door etc to get to Strines. This means there’s a good meeting point at Damflask Reservoir for those who want to pick up just the brutal 50 in Strines.

Yes I did say Just.

Lincoln Blast

Purpose of this ride is to get stamina up. On the flat you pedal the whole way. Which is a different kind of energy sapping than riding hills. Plus on a Lincoln Blast, it usually ends up with suffering into a headwind.

Idea is to ride from the usual B&DCC start at the Cenotaph in Bolsover on Sunday the 18th of January. 9am start. Ride out to Lincoln, smash up Michaelgate. Then back the scenic route.

No cafe stop planned at the moment, last few times we’ve done this we just stopped at a shop to pick up more fluids and snacks and cracked on. Depending on the weather, warming coffee may be desired though.

Route on Strava.

2015 Epic Training

2015 is looking like a high-mileage year for me and many others. For me, there’s the Wales in a Day in September and a 206 mile ride in Newark in July. Plus probably a Coast to Coast in a Day and a lap of the Peak District.

Which means I need to do lots of long rides regularly to build the stamina and fitness back to peak for that. So, I’m going to be out as many Sundays as possible for at least 50 miles, and need to make sure that every month includes at least one epic.

Here’s the plan:

  • January – Lincoln Blast – just under 100 miles. Flat.
  • February – Double Brutal – Lots of opt outs if the weather changes, but 100 miles of intense climbing.
  • March – ?
  • April – ?
  • May – Cleethorpes Run?
  • June – Peak Epic++
  • July – 205 mile Sportive
  • August – Lap of the Peaks
  • September – Wales in a Day

Generally, the mileage is high, but the cafe stops are low. Because there’s a lot of miles to get in. Self-sufficiency is important, I always carry:

  • 2-3 inners
  • pump
  • tyre levers
  • cable ties
  • multi-tool with chain breaker
  • Speed Links for the chain
  • Energy Gels
  • Flapjack
  • Phone, ID and Cash

With this, can handle pretty much anything that happens on a ride, without a problem.

Strava Centurion

If you use Strava, have a premium account and don’t  have a power meter. Strava Centurion might be of interest.

It’s an open source app that I wrote with two guys from work into cycling to take a TCX file from a garmin and perform power calculations, producing an output TCX file that contains wattage points as if you’d ridden with a power meter.

If you then upload this file to Strava, instead of getting the limited charting/graphing/analysis of Strava’s own power estimation, you’ll get the full premium user power meter based data.

Now, this is still power estimation. It’s based on the same physics and handwaving as the Strava power estimation detailed here. Only you have finer control over the simulation of reality that is provided.

This doesn’t mean it’s any more accurate. Just that we had more fun playing with the physics. And you can use all the strava power charting with the estimated data.

So, this is how you use it:

  1. Run the app
  2. Click the reality tab
  3. Configure your reality (only need to do this once, or if you want to change bikes/temp)
  4. Go back to the TCX tab
  5. press the … button to load a TCX file
  6. Press Power Xtreme

Then in the same folder your input TCX file was found in, will be a file with the same name but a load of numbers (they’re the current date and time). That has the power. Then you use the Strava upload from file to put it into your Strava account.

Configuring Reality:

Bike Weight and rider weight are in KG and are self explanatory I hope. I record my bike weight as the actual weight of my bike with the pump, spares, full bottles etc in place. Obviously the weight goes down as I drink the water. But it’s not going to be much more inaccurate.

And my weight might vary a bit as I wear different kit and carry more or less gels/bars and eat them etc. But. It’s not going to be much more inaccurate. It’s estimated power.

The temperature won’t have much effect, it’s used to estimate air density, and thus resistance, but, seriously do you notice on a cold day when the air is heavier it’s harder to push through? It’s there as we were having fun with physics.

That leaves the interesting fields. These are the coefficient of rolling resistance, how much power you lose to your tyres on the road surface. This is going to vary massively over a ride. The potholes and smooth surfaces and rough surfaces are going to vary. I’ve got a nice default in there for thin, slick tyres on average road surfaces.

The frontal area and drag coefficients affect the calculations of pushing through the air. It’ll be different for the Fat Lat At the Back on the Mountain Bike with the non-aero position to the climbing sparrow on the full TT bike. I’ve got an “on the hoods” average road bike figure in as the application default.

However, here is the chart I cribbed it all from, and you can probably find other figures round the internet to use:

Drag Chart

Drag Chart

And here is the Release of the app to play with (7zip archive, just download and extract). It’s a bit techie. But. It might be of interest. Source code is available on github here.

Why Centurion and Power Xtreme button? Blame my childhood.

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.

Double Brutal

Last year, the Sheff Rec Cycle Club announced they were going to run their usual club annual challenge ride as an open sportive with limited places. The route is a tough 50 miles of repeated climbing in the Strines area near Sheffield. It covers ground that the Tour De France Stage 2 2014 will cover.

You can see the information they published about the event here.

Frankly, we were too tight to pay the entry fee to ride the sportive, especially since it was only 50 miles. So we decided we’d just cycle out to Strines one Sunday and do the route ourselves.

Unfortunately, that meant that we were adding an additional 50 miles onto the route, and a considerable amount more climbing to get over the hills to Strines.

Thus was born Double Brutal.

We thought it would make a good March landmark ride as part of our C2C Training Ride series. The route is good, because it loops round Strines a lot, which means if the weather turns really nasty, or it’s too tough, it’s easy for people to drop out and head back to the start.

Strines is also quite sheltered, so if the weather is a bit off, we won’t be constantly blasted by wind like we were on the Lincoln Blast.

We’ve improved the route this year, so it’s not just out there, challenge and back, but puts a bit of interesting Edge of the Peak District Fun on the return, and called it Double Brutal – Redux.

This ride is brutal. It’s 100 miles, with over 13,000ft of climbing. That’s 160km with 4,000m of climbing. Almost the same ascent as the C2C.

We’re planning on riding the route on Saturday the 15th of March. A Saturday not our usual Sunday just this once. We’ll likely be starting from Eckington at 8am. There’s the possibility of picking others up at Bradfield as we hit the start of the main Strines Challenge route for those who feel they’d rather have their Brutal in a single measure.

And this video should give you a good idea of what it’s like, just look at those silky smooth surfaced empty roads with beautiful views and weather…