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!

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.