When you can’t ride outside, virtual cycling can be the next best thing. It combines a little competition with some effective visuals to mimic what it’s like to be outside — minus the rain, snow, wind and freezing temps. From the ability to join a group ride with your friends remotely to organized cycling races, here are eight things you should know about virtual cycling to get the most out of the experience.
IT WORKS BETTER WITH A SMART TRAINER
Virtual cycling apps were created to work with smart trainers. While it isn’t necessary, you probably won’t get the full experience without one. The smart trainer automatically measures things like power output and adjusts your resistance during structured workout training, like intervals, to make sure you’re riding at the correct intensity.
When you’re racing, resistance also changes depending on terrain, whether you’re drafting or not and other factors just as it would out on the road. This creates an extremely realistic experience that’s nearly impossible to create without one.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SMART TRAINER, YOU’LL NEED A SPEED SENSOR
Just because you don’t have the money to purchase a $2K smart trainer doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy virtual cycling. At a minimum, a speed sensor will work. If you have a way to connect a heart rate monitor via Bluetooth, that’s even better. Depending on your indoor trainer, there may be other options to incorporate power numbers much cheaper. Kurt Kinetic offers inRide, which provides virtual cycling apps with your power numbers for a better workout experience. Keep in mind you’ll have to adjust your resistance manually in most cases.
YOU CAN STRUCTURE YOUR WORKOUTS
Want to raise your VO2 max or become a better climber? Structured workouts make it easy to give your virtual workouts a purpose. Select any number of pre-programmed workouts that will help you reach your goals and work on your weaknesses, progressing to more difficult workouts as necessary. Interval training can be incorporated into a group ride, too, which gives you an opportunity to turn a not-so-fun workout into something entertaining.
SOME APPS AUTOMATICALLY MEASURE YOUR FTP
Virtual apps like Zwift can measure your functional threshold power (FTP) and power-to-weight ratios. This helps intervals and other structured training be much more efficient by allowing you to train in the correct zone and measure how your fitness is progressing over time. In addition, once you have these numbers in hand, the app places you in an appropriate riding group with other cyclists of similar fitness level. This works for training rides and racing, and ensures you’re not always getting dropped as soon as the ride begins.
IT’S POSSIBLE TO RIDE WITH YOUR FRIENDS
If you don’t like the idea of riding and racing with competitive strangers looking to put you in the pain cave, fear not. Most virtual cycling apps have an option to link up with your friends so you can ride together. Virtual apps like Zwift have an option to follow other cyclists or link up with your friends before the ride begins. The Companion App from Zwift makes this really easy, and even sends you notifications when a friend is getting ready to hop on a ride so you can join.
THERE ARE REWARDS FOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
All your hard work won’t go without reward. One of the cool features is reward points you receive for miles ridden or challenge tasks. For instance, Zwift has a Mount Everest challenge that gives you points after you’ve ascended the same number of feet as the iconic climb.
These points accumulate to earn lots of virtual cycling gear, such as new kits, faster bikes or an expensive aerodynamic wheelset. The good news is a new rig and wheelset won’t set you back $10K like it does in real life.
THERE ARE A TON OF RACING OPTIONS
Racing is one of the reasons virtual cycling has become so popular. It’s fun, challenging and easy to get addicted to. One of the great things about it is that — in addition to grouping you according to your fitness level — there are usually A, B, C, D and E race levels that vary according to distance and difficulty. Time trials, road races and other events are all available, and range from short 15-minute events to others that can go on for hours.
IT’S A GREAT WAY TO STAY MOTIVATED
Without a doubt, cycling will always be better outside with the sun on your face. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. Whether it’s a late night at the office or a snow storm outside, having another option that’s fun, interactive and helps you improve your fitness is the next best thing. The ability to connect with friends, track your fitness and complete structured workouts makes it easy to stay motivated and provides a reason to hop on the bike day after day when you might otherwise make an excuse to skip.