This winter I’ve been riding a Wahoo Kickr and using Zwift to inspire my rides. I was at the launch for Zwift a couple of years ago and found the promise of the system to be compelling. And then at the Tour de Pier in 2015 I participated in a four-person, four-team relay race that used Zwift to track our progress. My team won, but due in no part to my effort. What I found remarkable at the time was the degree to which the system was able to goad me into riding to the point of complete exhaustion. I almost fell off my imminently stationary bike at the end of my 45-minute effort. It was the hardest effort I made in 2015.
But each of those experiences came with them a social component. There were other people right there and if there’s a central truth to stationary trainers, it’s that riding a trainer is much like bathing—it’s almost always done in private. It wasn’t until I found a good space where I could set my bike up and still have wifi access that I really began to use Zwift as a workout tool.
I hark from an age when most of us who weren’t busy burning holes in couch cushions were watching old tapes of European bike racing as we pedaled on trainers louder than our TVs. The disciplined workout (a la Cycleops) was a big step forward. Those days and that technology are to Zwift what a 45 is to iTunes.
I can choose whether I do a structured workout or not. If I want to do a structured workout, I’ve got loads of choices. Recently, I did a set of three 15-minute intervals at my Functional Threshold Power (FTP). It was a 100-minute workout that left the lower half of my body effectively compromised. I was so happy.
Near the end of an interval the world goes dark and blurry. It was a familiar sensation.
The Kickr that I have can handle up to 1500-watt efforts; there’s a new version that can handle up to 2000 watts. Mine will simulate up to a 15-percent grade while the new one does 20-percent grades. The new one is quieter, but mine is the quietest trainer I’ve ever used. They also moved the handle, making it easier to pick up and carry. That the bike mounts—sans rear wheel—directly to the trainer which is already equipped with a cassette helps to make it the most stable trainer I’ve ever used as well. There are a dozen other features that make it a compelling buy, rendering one’s only counter-arguments either: 1) you live in a place that doesn’t have winter, or 2) you are unwilling to spend $1200 for the finest trainer ever made. If your argument is point 1, I get it. I’ve got a rebuttal to that, which we will come to in a second. On point 2, may I suggest the still effective Kickr Snap, which is a more traditional style of trainer that requires the rear wheel to remain in the bike, but only goes for $600.
My life has changed in a number of significant ways in the last four years. Time allocation for riding, even though it constitutes a professional duty, has become a challenge. The big realization for me is that my best opportunities for riding right now are either before everyone is up, or after everyone is asleep. Thankfully, even though the garage is immediately below the bedrooms, the Kickr is quiet enough that no one can hear it operating, even when I’m going hard enough to cripple a skinny white guy. No names mentioned. Also, in deference to anyone who is differently able, I amend my last statement to reflect efforts that might temporarily hamper a slight caucasian’s ability to walk without demonstrable difficulty.
We could drill down on the many features of both the Wahoo Kickr and Zwift for another 1000 words. And that would miss the point almost exactly. The beauty of this duo is that even spin classes can’t inspire the ultra-concentrated workouts that Zwift can guide you through. Even if you decide just to pedal around, the terrain is rich and varied, the interactivity stunning. Go up a hill and the resistance increases. Latch on to someone and once in their draft your resistance drops. Do a workout where you’re instructed to pedal at 230 watts and you’ll have to produce 230 watts, no matter what. It’s up to you what cadence you turn.
On the road or in the woods, I hate structured workouts. Nothing could be more anathema to why I ride. I go hard when the terrain suggests I ought to. I cruise when I feel like it, but Zwift gives me the excuse and sufficient peer pressure to turn myself into a guy who will sit down on the stairs in 50 degree rain because he wants to rest before climbing the other flight.
It’s not like I was going to get any wetter.
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