I have always taken the approach that exercise is for the outdoors, whether it’s running, walking or cycling. It never made sense to me to be stuck indoors, regardless of the weather.
Now we find ourselves in a different situation, one that requires a new outlook.
Once I had made the decision a month ago that I would take the approach to only ride indoors, a little research was conducted on the couch on a Sunday evening about indoor trainer brands, models and price points. All for something I was as yet to test.
It was interesting and not really surprising that there were so few trainers online to purchase, and some that were for only in-store collection only. At any rate, I thought that I had narrowed down the selection and where I could collect a trainer in stock, when I decided to put in a last minute call to the local bike shop, asking whether they had any indoor trainers in stock, and he said they didn’t. He did go on to say however that they had just been allocated 4 Wahoo Kickrs, with only 1 still available if I was interested.
The Wahoo was more than the intended spend, but a quick rework of the numbers and what this could represent in “time and cost saving” of not having to travel to Macedon to find elevation, saw me take the plunge and secure the last Kickr.
It was now just a game of waiting, and wait I did. The arrival time of 3 days ended up being 8 days, which was causing some concern as different statements were being made in the media at the time as to what was classed as essential service, and what was not.
Would the bike shop be open by the time it arrived?
The 8 day wait ended up being a good thing as it provided the opportunity to finally put the finishing touches on the garage, which had been converted into my office-studio-cave. Over the years, I have collected jerseys, banners, posters, ride numbers and other bits and pieces from our Italian Cycling Tours, in particular the Giro, La Fausto Coppi and L’Eroica, and they have now all been allocated their spot.
The 8 days also gave me time to research which app I would use, once the trainer arrived.
For me, I don’t race, and I don’t train, I ride. It is about the enjoyment, challenge and reward of the roads and landscapes, and the banter with mates. So from the outset, the preference was for something that was less competition based and used HD or 4K video, rather than a virtual computer game style.
I put in a fairly general search criteria and up popped a long list of options.
One of the funny things was how many made the claim to being the best and world #1.
Anyway, I thought that with so many people talking about and using Zwift, I would give it a go. I also tested Fulgaz, Bkool, Tacx and Rouvy.
There are a bunch of others, that for me seemed to have a higher focus on specific training, and others that were overlaid with annoying instructions and messages. At the end of the day, I am after the sensation of being able to look at the screen and ‘drift” off into another country; an app that gives the closest feeling to being on the road, with great video footage and a large selection of videos to choose from, and is relatively easy to operate the settings without having to resort to google and youtube.
Below is my view on the 5 apps that I have tested.
The graphics are very good and there is a whole leaderboard of how you are riding, which is good, if that is what you like. I realise that I may be in the minority here but for me, it feels like too much of a game. With measurements of how many drops you have sweat and the unlocking of goals to change the colour of your helmet or jersey, is just not my thing.
From a riding perspective though, the feel is pretty good.
This is a Spanish site that is good. It has plenty of video workouts and rides in Spain, and other parts of the world. The video quality is a little patchy in how it speeds up or slows down with your effort, and their virtual 3D option that sees you ride “with or against” other riders is a preference I switch off, but I could see how others might enjoy it.
Fulgaz, and Australian app, offers videos that in the main, have pretty good quality. I do like how this app “talks” to the smart trainer, particularly in terms of how the gradients feel when you’re on the bike. For me this is an app with a very realistic road feel.
What I do love on this app is what the video captures on the rides, and the feeling you’re left with that you’ve actually been “riding” in the UK or Italy, or whichever country you choose to ride that day.
On one video in Italy, an older couple meet another man in the street and they greet each other with the customary kiss on each cheek, and in true Italian style. It was nice to see a little slice of Italian life while riding up a mountain in Piemonte.
Then in the UK, a rabbit escaped a car and then ran down the road with you as I rode, before ducking under a shrub by the side of the road. It was just magic.
This app has some great looking videos but it has been a challenge to get the app to calibrate the trainer, with it not taking into account my input or how quickly the video is running, and this consequently gives an unrealistic sensation when riding,
I am unsure if this is due to the Tacx software only being for the Tacx trainers but after an hour of research, self-help videos and resetting the apps, I have called it a day on this one.
While it took starting three different sessions to sort out the settings and download a high definition video of the climb to Valparola Pass before I got things to work, it was worth the tinkering. The experience is very realistic with great video, and given I have ridden this climb before in real life, it had a similar feel and changing speed, based on effort.
Another cool feature with this app is the ‘find a rider’ function in the Augmented Routes, where a virtual rider sits in the real video; you can line up your mates to start a session at the same time, all ride together, connect with zoom and bring the bike banter indoors. This is the plan, which is yet to be executed, but stay tuned.
Rouvy also has a video that I am looking forward to trying, which is rolling around the Amalfi Coast…. it looks very nice.
So, after a few weeks of riding indoors and testing out a few different apps, I have to say I am enjoying it more than expected. While the experience can never be as it is when you’re riding outdoors or in Italy on our Italian cycling tours, some of these apps do a great job of recreating an almost realistic riding experience. For this, I give Fulgaz and Rouvy the big thumbs up, with Rouvy probably taking the prize…although it’s very close between the two. This is just my high level thinking and feeling for what is right for me. If you would like some more detailed analysis of each of these apps and some others, cyclingnews.com has reviewed them in detail. However, each of these apps have trial periods that last from 7 days to a month so I do recommend taking your time to test a few out to know which is the best platform for you, and your individual style of riding.
By Damian Hancock