I love cycling. There’s nothing like going out in nice weather on a really nice bike on really nice roads, and enjoy the sun, the slight breeze, and the zippy feel of effortless pedal-strokes making your bike glide over those perfect roads. Really, there’s nothing like it.
And that’s exactly the problem. There’s nothing like that.
While I do have a really nice bike (or actually: two), the other aspects that make up that perfect ride are very rare, and I can’t recall a single ride where the universe magically aligned to give me perfect weather, perfect roads, great legs, and plenty of time.
Reality: making excuses
As we live in an imperfect reality, the perfect ride really never happens, so we’re stuck with imperfect rides. Bad weather, poor roads, sore legs, or work schedule interfering; perfect weather when you’re at the office (and rain when you get home), or simply no time to ride at all.
And because that imperfect ride seems a little less appealing, we start making excuses. We don’t go out because there’s too much wind, or because we’re tired, or because we didn’t make it home until 8pm.
Every time I skip a ride that I actually just should have done, I imagine my bike silently crying a little in my bike shed.
To fix the problem I worked on fixes for the excuses I was making. Some fixes worked, some didn’t, your mileage may vary.
- Lights: it’s perfectly possible to ride in the dark if you have some proper lights on your bike. A big 500 lumen headlight, and a bright flashing tail light and you’re good to go. But did I mention the cold, and rain?
- Clothing: get some proper winter/rain clothing. Windstopper and GoreTex exist for a reason, and with a properly configured outfit you can easily ride in rain or cold, without freezing to death. As an added bonus, the bazillion layers of clothing will make you unrecognizable. Just don’t try going to the bathroom mid-ride…
- Bad-weather-bike: when you ride during the winter, or in general shitty weather, you need to properly clean your precious bike afterwards. Except that after two hours of riding in blistering cold or soaking rain, what you really want is a hot shower and some coffee; not spend another 30mins in the freezing cold trying to get your bike cleaned while wearing your ‘cycling mummy’ outfit. Get a relatively inexpensive bike, or just take an old retired bike, make sure to keep the components properly lubed, and you’ll get away with skipping the bike-shower every now and then (or ‘most of the time’). Or get a cyclocross bike. Because, well, everyone needs a cyclocross bike.
- Rollers / Ergo trainer: If the weather is really too poor to go outside, or if you simply can’t get yourself to put on the bazillion layers, indoor cycling can help. However, ergo trainers are generally extremely boring, and rollers are not for everyone. You wouldn’t be the first (or the last) to get injured after an embarrassing crash in the bedroom…
Still making excuses
Personally, I have tried all the fixes mentioned above. I have a pretty badass bad-weather bike (Specialized Diverge DSW), proper lights, a bunch of weather-proof clothing to keep me (relatively) dry and warm, and rollers in the bedroom. Yet, I really never go out in the pouring rain, only rarely in the dark, and the rollers I only use every now and then. As far as ‘cycling feel’ goes, rollers are as good as it’s going to get indoors, but unless you have truly mastered the rollers, you’re going to be looking at a single spot on the floor or wall in order to not crash. After about 30mins I am either going to crash anyway, or die of boredom, so my roller-sessions generally don’t last very long.
All in all, I really want to ride my bike, but especially during winter I find myself making excuses because riding outside in bad weather isn’t very appealing, and riding indoors is plain boring. But I’m not going to squash those Strava PRs by sitting on my ass and looking at cat pictures online. I need a real solution.
Indoor cycling done right: Zwift
After so many semi-failed attempts to get my lazy butt on that bike, regardless of weather, time, or sore legs, I discovered Zwift. Zwift is an MMOCS, or Massively Multiplayer Online Cycling Simulator, and it genuinely changed the way I look at indoor cycling. Contrary to other ride simulations, you’re not riding along with a video of someone (inside a car) riding up Alpe d’Huez. Zwift is virtual, interactive, and best of all: you’re not alone.
Zwift currently has 2 ‘maps’; a virtual representation of the 2015 World Championships in Richmond, and Watopia, a virtual island the makers of Zwift created. Riding on Zwift, and Watopia in particular, is awesome. I tend to ride on Watopia a few times a week, and my ‘regular route’ (because yes, you can pick your own route to some extent), is the flat lap of Watopia. The flat lap takes me along the coast of Watopia, and after a small climb and descent, into the mind-blowing glass tunnel that runs underneath the ocean.
Have you ever waved at dolphins while cycling?
But it’s not just the visual part. It’s not even just about being able to see other riders. Or being able to chat with other riders. When you close in on another rider, Zwift will encourage you to close the gap, and if you do, you will notice you can actually draft behind that rider. If you use a smart ergo trainer (like the Wahoo KICKR models) you will actually feel less resistance when you draft. It’s awesome!
So the environments look good, you can see other people, interact with them and even draft behind them. But can you actually ride together? Absolutely! When you start your ride, you can enter Watopia close to one of your buddies. Or how about joining one of the many Zwift group rides. Regardless of your fitness level or timezone, there’s likely a matching group ride close to you. Or you can simply say hello to other riders you meet along the way, and join their group.
But it gets better. You can hook up Zwift to Strava so you can track your ‘real’ and virtual rides in the same place. You can customize the way you and your bike look. You can try and get the (daily) KOM of various segments (sprint, climb, overall lap). You can even participate in Zwift races without the risk of big crashes and pileups. That is, unless you manage to fall off your bike in the living room.
Then there’s stuff like achievements for things like maximum power, time spent drafting, etcetera. Zwift also includes an bunch of usable workouts for serious training. You can even create your own workouts if you like.
You sound like a commercial
I know. But this stuff is awesome. I have been extremely busy this last month, and the weather was pretty shitty. I managed to do 14 rides this past month, only 3 of which were outdoor rides. Without Zwift, I probably would have skipped the other 11 rides. I even chose to ride indoors during Paris-Roubaix, while the weather outside was OK. I just really wanted to watch Paris-Roubaix, but I also wanted to ride. So I compromised.
I clocked in over 2 hours of indoor riding; something I never managed to do before. However, note the towel in the picture above, because if you’re serious about indoor cycling, you’re going to need it. ‘Zwifting’ may take away the poor weather or poor roads, but it compresses the other aspects of your ride. If you do it right, a Zwift ride means the same amount of pain, in a lot less time.
OK, how do I get started with this stuff?
First of all, you need a bike with some ANT+ compatible sensors for speed and cadence. Second, you’ll need rollers, and ergo trainer, or for the best experience a smart trainer. I use the Wahoo KICKR Snap, which is a smart trainer. Finally you need a somewhat decent computer running either Windows or OSX, with an ANT+ USB dongle. There’s a companion app for your smartphone as well, to basically turn it into an additional controller for Zwift.
No more excuses
To me, Zwift can never replace a great outdoor ride, but it certainly beats a poor outdoor ride any day of the week. My ‘Zwift station’ (bike + trainer) is already sitting in front of my computer (so I can’t sit there myself), it’s not cold, it doesn’t rain, it’s actually pretty entertaining, I can ride whenever I want (even at 3AM), and if my legs are sore I don’t have to worry about choosing my route wisely. I can simply ride until I’m too sore/tired to continue, unclip, and hit the shower.
No more excuses.