Choosing Your Gear: From Smart Trainer Rigs to Indoor Cycling-Specific Apparel, a Comprehensive Guide to Optimizing Your Virtual Cycling Experience.
By Christopher Schwenker - Cycling, Esports, Performance, and Fitness | The Zommunique
Are you passionate about cycling but find riding outside all year round challenging? Well, here's some exciting news for you! With virtual cycling, you can experience the thrill of cycling right from the comfort of your home, regardless of the weather conditions.
Even the most ardent traditional cyclists have come to realize the potential of indoor cycling as an engaging and effective indoor training alternative. With the surge of virtual cycling platforms like Zwift, e-racing has turned from a novel idea to an exciting reality for many cyclists around the world.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the world of indoor cycling, focusing on the popular virtual cycling platform called Zwift. So, let's dive in and discover everything you need to know about virtual cycling!
What is Virtual Cycling?
Virtual cycling is like playing a video game, but you pedal on your indoor bike instead of using controllers. It allows you to ride your bike indoors while watching videos of cyclists from around the world or interacting with other cyclists in a virtual world. It's an engaging and safe way to enjoy cycling workouts, especially when outdoor riding is impossible.
Not too long ago, the idea of year-round cycling seemed out of reach for many of us who have to deal with challenging weather conditions. Now, the situation has changed drastically with the rise of indoor cycling workouts. Simply log onto your computer and immerse yourself in a global community of cyclists, all pedalling away in their living rooms, garages, or dedicated "pain caves."
Why Choose Virtual Cycling?
Indoor cycling classes and virtual cycling offer several distinct benefits. Firstly, it's incredibly convenient—there's no need to worry about unfavourable weather, and you don't have to clean your bike afterward! Secondly, it provides a controlled environment to target specific training goals like cardio fitness, strength, or power.
The gamified experience of virtual cycling keeps you motivated, and the realistic simulations satisfy even the most dedicated cyclists.
Choosing the Right Virtual Cycling App: Zwift
With advances in technology, the experience of virtual cycling has far surpassed stationary bikes and simple training programs. Modern indoor cycle trainers can connect to various devices, offering a more immersive and engaging indoor training experience.
Zwift stands out as one of the most popular choices among the various virtual cycling apps available. It offers a unique and immersive experience that allows you to ride with friends, join groups, compete in races, or simply enjoy a solo ride. Zwift combines elements of gaming and cycling, making your workouts more enjoyable and rewarding. With constantly evolving challenges, events, and unlockable in-game gear, Zwift motivates you to achieve your fitness goals.
Exploring Zwift Features
Zwift provides a wide range of features to enhance your virtual cycling experience:
- Free Riding: Zwift offers over 100 routes across ten different virtual worlds, including Watopia, France, Richmond, Paris, and Tokyo. You can explore these worlds, choose different routes, and ride with virtual cyclists of various abilities, including Pace Partners.
- Physics and Riding Dynamics: Zwift emphasizes in-game equipment realism, allowing you to choose from a variety of bike frames and wheels with different performance characteristics. The riding dynamics are close to realistic, and Zwift has introduced steering to add another layer of realism to your experience.
- Structured Workouts and Erg Mode: Zwift provides an extensive library of workouts and training plans. You can choose pre-designed workouts or create your own using the workout builder. Erg mode allows you to control the resistance of your trainer through the Zwift Companion App, ensuring a tailored training experience.
- Community and Social Engagement: Zwift has a vibrant community of cyclists. You can join group rides and events, meet fellow cyclists, and even create your own group rides. During the pandemic, Zwift became a popular platform for social interaction, with thousands of riders participating simultaneously.
- Racing and Competition: Zwift offers competitive racing events, including daily races and prestigious championships like the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships and the virtual Tour de France. Zwift sponsors the women’s Tour de France Femmes and hosts the 2023 Olympic Esports series. While there have been concerns about cheating, Zwift organizers are working to address these issues and provide fair competition.
The Zwift Racing League, the company’s flagship community race series, attracts thousands of teams, all testing their Zwift race strategy against racers worldwide.
- Multisport Options: Zwift also includes running options with specific routes, workouts, and events. This appeals to duathletes and triathletes who want to combine their indoor training with running.
Getting Started with Virtual Cycling
To begin your virtual cycling journey, you'll need the right equipment. There are two main options:
- Dumb Trainers: These basic trainers, such as magnetic or air-resistance trainers, require a separate PowerMeter to transmit data to the virtual cycling apps. While they are more affordable, they offer a less realistic riding experience.
- Smart Trainers: Smart trainers connect directly to virtual cycling apps via Bluetooth or ANT+. They provide accurate power and cadence readings and adjust resistance based on the virtual terrain, offering a more immersive and realistic cycling experience.
- Smart Bikes: If you're looking for a more advanced option, you can consider smart bikes like Stages SB20, Wattbike Atom, Tacx Neo Smart, or Wahoo Kickr bikes. These all-in-one solutions provide superior performance and convenience, but they come at a higher cost.
Setting Up Your Indoor Cycling Space
Once you have your trainer or smart bike, it's time to set up your indoor cycling space:
- Stability and Comfort: Find a stable surface with enough space to set up your equipment comfortably. Consider using a mat to reduce vibrations and noise. Don't forget to have a towel nearby to wipe away sweat.
- Bike Fit: Ensure your bike is properly set up for indoor riding. If you use the same bike indoors and outdoors, ensure the saddle is comfortable. Aim for consistency in components and geometry between your indoor and outdoor setups. If possible, consult a professional bike fitter to optimize your setup.
- Creating Your Cycling Space: Choose a well-ventilated area that won't disturb others. Consider using a portable desk to hold your device, water bottle, snacks, and other essentials. Fans are essential for proper airflow and cooling, and a sweat cover helps protect your bike from corrosion. Use an air cleaner to maintain good air quality during your workouts if necessary.
Staying Cool: Fans and Indoor Cycling Apparel
Indoor training can get hot, really hot. As you work your way through tough Zwift races or arduous indoor cycling workouts, you're bound to work up a sweat. Unlike outdoor cyclin, where you get natural air flow, indoor environments can quickly become sauna-like. This is where your cooling strategy comes into play.
Keep It Breezy with Fans
Investing in one or two high-quality fans is a game-changer for indoor cycling. Fans not only make your virtual rides more comfortable, they also boost your performance. When your body overheats, it needs to work harder to cool down, which can detract from the energy you have for pedaling. You can train harder and recover faster by controlling your body temperature.
Strategically position your fan(s) to create optimal airflow. A fan set up in front of your bike will simulate the headwind you'd experience outdoors. Consider an additional fan from the side or back to circulate air around your entire body.
The Right Gear: Indoor Cycling Clothing
While you might be tempted to go shirtless or in a regular t-shirt to combat the heat, this could hinder your comfort and performance. Why? Your sweat will pool on your skin and clothing, leading to discomfort and potential skin issues. This is where indoor cycling-specific clothing comes into the picture.
Cycling brands like LEVEL Velo have recognized the unique demands of indoor training and started creating clothing specifically designed for these conditions. These garments are highly breathable, lightweight, and often feature extra venting in key areas. Wearing such apparel, you'll find the fabric wicks sweat away from your skin quickly, helping you stay cooler and drier.
Don't forget about your lower half, either. An excellent pair of breathable bib shorts or cycling shorts can make a big difference in your comfort and performance. Look for ones with high-quality, moisture-wicking materials and a good chamois to keep you comfortable on the saddle.
The Bottom Line
Stay cool to pedal hard. Fans and appropriate indoor cycling gear will make your virtual cycling experiences more enjoyable and help you perform at your best. As with any aspect of cycling, the key is to find what works for you and adjust as needed. Now, get out there (or rather, stay in) and make the most of your Zwift workouts, virtual cycling races, indoor cycling workouts, and events!
Conclusion: Enjoy the Future of Fitness with Virtual Cycling!
Virtual cycling is revolutionizing indoor training for cyclists worldwide. With platforms like Zwift, you can experience the thrill of cycling, compete in races, and connect with a vibrant community of cyclists. So, embrace the virtual cycling revolution and enjoy its convenience, motivation, and fun. Whether it's raining, snowing, or too dark outside, you can now ride on with your virtual friends and achieve your fitness goals. Get ready to embark on an incredible virtual cycling adventure!