2020 started off for me at a good pace and mindset to meet my goal of ten thousand kilometers of cycling.During January I had leveraged my fitness and form from December to make 897 kilometers. February saw a slight drop off to only 685 kilometers. By March, though things had been short circuited to only 168 kilometers over four rides. We were in lock down. I was in rigorous isolation thanks to being very sensitive to respiratory disease. I had zero indoor training equipment for cycling after giving it all away once I realized that life in Southern California and life this near the ocean means it is almost always nice enough to ride outside. Once I retired I was no longer constrained to riding after work. My riding increased. I can look back at my training calendar and see this upward trend. 2017, the last year I worked but, for only the first six months, I managed 3,398.9 kilometers. The next year, fully retired, but working on house improvements and renovations for friends of kids and even with a long vacation on my motorcycle I managed to log 4,560.7 kilometers. 2019 would see my biggest year since 2016; 5,536.8 kilometers for 2019 versus 6,661.8 kilometers in 2016. One year prior to my retirement. I’d reviewed all those numbers and had a plan for 2020. Then Covid-19 hit the world and my training plans were tossed in the bin.
I still had a goal of losing weight back to around where I’d managed through running after work, cycling as I could on weekends and most importantly watching my diet. That was in 2012. I’d managed to drop below 160 pounds or 72.5 kilograms. The preceding several years of work travel coupled with long hours had led to bad habits and little physical activity.
Back to 2020, I had established in my mind what I could do as far as cycling for training after exploring routes around our retired life for a little more than two years. I figured I could increase my riding to just about double the previous years mileage and at the same time, begin monitoring my diet more closely. With the pandemic I along with everybody in the world were left to figure out how to make life work. Being retired this was easier for us, then for those still working or in school. We got to watch as friends and family found their way with remote learning, teaching, working, unemployment and isolation. For me training began with a several weeks long just waiting and wondering. I really didn’t want to spend the money on a trainer if things were to be back to normal in a couple of months. I initially began doing basic core exercises on a yoga mat and lifting weights we already had or found cheap. For about a month and a half that was my routine to slowly work on some toning while waiting on the trainer I ordered.
A good bit of reading during this physical lull satisfied me that this was going to take at least a year, maybe more before I could go back to riding like I was used to.
I should talk about that riding a bit. I had gotten into a habit of riding out to a park, stopping for water and restroom then ride to the next stop. I’d developed routes where I had these facilities spaced about ten miles apart. With those restrooms and water fountains closed, my distance of rides would be dictated by how much water I could carry and how long I could hold it. Yeah that part. I can definitely carry more water on the bicycle than I can inside my body. And for far longer. Those two logistical problems coupled with what I figured a real timeline looked like for a vaccine, the key to my safety riding, made the decision to go Smart Trainer shopping. Of course by this time online ordering was the way the world was doing business, but supply lines were interrupted thanks to all the isolating going on. Delivery took a while, but ended up being about two weeks faster than the online store had anticipated. I had just barely enough space in my tiny garage to set up training.
I began by setting up the mat which helps keep the trainer in place on the slicker than it looks floor next to where the motorcycle is jammed against the shelving. The other bicycles are to the front of the motorcycle. There is enough room to walk between the bicycles, trainer and bicycle along the left and the tool boxes and tables and kid stuff piled along the right. The garage serves as the hallway entrance into the house. We rarely use the front door which is actually on the side of the building.
I began riding using Zwift . Smart trainers link GPS data, speed gradient with a video and the resistance on the trainer. They return a more simulator-like experience along with the usual metrics for time, distance, elevation gain, power output and calories burned. The trainer I decided on is the Wahoo Fitness KICKR SNAP. I picked this model based on some reviews and that it was a wheel-on trainer and folded for storage, figuring when this is over, I’ll store it smaller in our storage unit along with the monitor, mat and front wheel chock.
Zwift is video game-like in appearance. The video is not real, but a rendering of reality for some routes/courses and pure fantasy in others. I used it for a month then changed to Kinomap. Kinomap uses user generated video and GPS for training content so as you “ride” the trainer you are virtually riding a real world route. I find I prefer the real video over the computer graphic rendered environments. The accuracy of the wheel on is said to be less than direct drive units, but the reality is I’m in this for the diversion and exercise. My exact power output is of little importance. While it is interesting to see what my FTP is, as a 67 year old, who never intends to compete anywhere, ever, the numbers and metrics exist to keep my mind occupied and as a reference to Tour de France pro’s that I am well and truly not them. Which if course I knew. But, riding real video of Paris – Roubaix cobbles is actually a fun workout. You do not feel the cobbles of course, but do feel the increased resistance of any climbs and likewise the drop in resistance when descents appear. The video more or less follows the video pretty closely in “Challenge” mode which means the trainer video challenges the rider to match the performance of the original recorder. I rarely if ever meet that. But, after almost four months of pretty regular workouts, I still look forward to them.
One big plus about a stationary trainer like this is the opportunity to fiddle the last increment of fit of the various points of contact on the bicycle. The cleats, bars, brake hoods, bar height, seat height, seat tilt, and seat fore and aft location. I have been able to not only refine my fitment settings, but for example correct my pedal cleat position and eliminate the irritation a new cleat placement created. I had replaced my shoes and cleats just prior to the lockdown and I also had flipped my stem. As I slowly peel weight off, I work on my flexibility to adapt to the new lower reach to the drops. I do feel like I may switch to a slightly shorter stem for just a wee bit better fit. This trainer set up makes that a pretty simple option over trying a stem on the road. Here I can swap stems, ride for half an hour or so and get a good idea of how it feels without taking off for a three hour ride with an adjustment I don’t like.
I do feel at times the smart trainer is harder than the real world. I know it is most of the time, because when there is a descent I am pedaling to attempt to maintain watts output, where out on the road, I’d many times be coasting to recover from the climbing effort. Ah, yes, climbing on a trainer. It is odd. The bike of course does not tilt side to side as you do when standing on the pedals, or as Phil Liggett coined, “dancing on the pedals”. I mostly sit and spin or grind it out if a shorter, not that steep of climb. I have a triple on my Roubaix and I use that when things tilt up steeply. In the real world most of the riding I have done over the last couple of years, I’ve not needed that triple. But, there are climbs where I have to resort to it rather than get off and walk. One of those is a sharp hill that is part of the 1984 Olympic road race course near here, the other is a street named, Pacific Island. Both are very steep.
I feel the trainer can lead to stomping the pedals in a larger gear than spinning smoothly as rollers inspire. This I think is caused by two metrics, first is speed and secondly the watt output. The head up display on the screen displays these metrics along with time, distance covered and distance remaining and gradient and distance to the next gradient change. I don’t ride with a computer out on the road and record my rides using my watch and Strava. I ignore the metrics that may be displayed. I suspect serious racers, training indoors are going to use some other tool such as Training Peaks to work on specific areas of cycling. There are functionality both with Zwift and Kinomap that provide coaching as well as specific workouts. I have not used either. I’m here to ride a ride and explore the world. That exploring part is exactly why I chose Kinomap. I have as stated earlier ridden virtually pieces of the Paris Roubaix spring classic race, along with parts of Tour de France courses and the time trial course in the United Kingdom. I’ve gotten to explore some of the great rides along the central coast of California and I expect to explore some more parts of the country and world.
A short synopsis of a few issues I’ve experienced with the trainer and the applications. First thing was getting the video feed from the web into a not so smart $25 TV monitor. When I began I was streaming off my 13″ Mac. I sat the computer on my workbench which made reaching it impossible while on the bicycle. I used a wireless keyboard a few times while I was using Zwift, then decided I didn’t need to key anything in or say “hi” as I passed folks or most often they passed me. Then I found an old flat screen computer monitor and ran HDMI cable from my computer to the screen. This worked well for a larger display, even though the reason the monitor was in the garage was because the color was off and wouldn’t recalibrate. Then the $25 TV with no remote came to stay and the color befuddled monitor went way. I began streaming from my iPad to the TV via an old first generation AppleTV. The application on the iPad eventually stopped working with Zwift because the iPad, like the AppleTV is old. I solved this by using my phone since there was little room on the bench for the Mac. When I switched from Zwift to Kinomap, I found that Kinomap only works with the training mode through the app. It is not yet ported to Mac/web. I am able to stream from my phone to the AppleTV and this works well. When I had an HDMI cable from my Mac to the new TV screen I could never get the scaling right. Old cheap WalMart TV that is not really compatible with the wider, more letterbox screen sizes of today.
In the above image you can see the extra features of the more game-like Zwift. Silly fun.
Back to issues, next was an equipment maintenance/fail. A screw securing the cover loosened and fell out. The flywheel and attached assembly gets really hot in an hour of riding. and scorching hot in two hours. So, it makes sense the screws could loosen.
It was simple to fix, but a reminder to keep an eye on all the fasteners. Heat and vibration are both present. In the above photo did you notice that tire? Looks funny?
That tire is a GP 5000, not cheap. I’ve not cooked a tire like that since motorcycling track days. I found there are special trainer tires available. I ordered one up and swapped out the pricey melting Continental for The Vittoria.
The Vittoria doesn’t skid as easily on the rub wheel when I stand and doesn’t melt. And it was only $23 on sale. For the trainer I chose the Wahoo Fitness KICKR SNAP as a package deal with the mat and front wheel riser/chock. That ran $616.11 from Competitive Cyclist.
Fans, I started off using a tower fan. These don’t move a lot of air. There are special fans for trainer use available that are controllable from your phone, but they run to around $250. My daughter found a pair of rusting old box fans for $20. Works perfectly when propped on the drawers. The cooling fan also minimizes another issue, sweating on the bike and floor, anything and everything under and around you when on the bike and after you get off the bike. A mess that a few fans help minimize. The other big change was not so much equipment, but rearranging my garage to swap the motorcycle and bicycle locations. I rotated the bars on my daughters beach cruiser since it rarely gets used and to get to them I have to move the trainer set up. The motorcycle got spare tires stacked between it and the shelves since the bars keep it from being pushed up too close.
My gear, I wear my usual road riding kit, Voler top and bibs, with smart wool socks in my Sidi shoes. I use my road bike, a 2010 Specialized Roubiax Expert. The bicycle has about 34.5 thousand kilometers on it at ten years old. No helmet or gloves. I don’t wear a sweat band on my head. One bottle in the holder for any ride of about an hour. I bring a second bottle down to the shop when I figure the ride is to be longer. I have a couple of old towels on the floor under the bike and a special sweat bib for the bicycle itself that works well. I have another thick hand towel hanging near the set up to wipe my face and head once in a while and a second hand towel covering the tops of the bars and brake hoods. So far I’ve logged 66 hours on the indoor set up slowly getting to this point of development. The things that interrupt regular sessions are the air quality and excessive heat. I’m using this trainer in a garage with the overhead door open because the space is not conditioned. Nor is the rest of the house. So, the air outside is the air inside. And it does get hot. Even a half mile from the beach it gets hot. But, at least that doesn’t last long.
All of the smart trainer apps I looked at offer a free trial period of a month. It is easy to explore them on YouTube. There are more than a few reviews from DC Rainmaker to GCN Show. Those two links are for Kinomap, there are also reviews of Zwift, Rouvy, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest and probably more. There are also plenty of smart trainer reviews as well. I found YouTube to be more helpful than web-based ten best lists of reviews. I only considered at Zwift, Rouvy and Kinomap. After I had ridden Zwift for about a month, I looked at Rouvy and Kinomap and decided I liked the reality of Kinomap over the altered reality of Rouvy. Both Zwift and Rouvy have more of a VR feel to them to me. I wasn’t after that or the game or social features. What really did it for me with Kinomap is the real world video. When on a trainer in the past, way back when I raced bicycles where it snowed so there was a time when I could only train seriously indoors. Those were not smart trainers and rollers. We all used televisions, VCR’s and music to soften the time stretch. This is current tech is much better than those old days. The proof for me of that is I want to train every day. Because I’m excited to go explore some new course or revisit a route I’ve already ridden and want to see again.
Total cost of my setup: is $710 or so. If I were to do it over, I’d have decided to do this sooner and made my order a month earlier. And if I knew everything I know now, I’d have started with Kinomap, bought all the pieces at once and got off to an earlier start.