cycling · fitness

Virtual Speed and Sam the Daredevil

ZWIFT activity report.

When I first joined Strava I became aware of my downhill speed compared to other riders. See Strava, QOM, and does downhill count?

But there are limits to my downhill speed caused by real world practical concerns like FEAR OF DEATH. Years ago, in Canberra, Australia (I was there on sabbatical) I did a course on safely descending at speed and I’ve gotten better with time. Interested? There are some good tips here.

I follow more experienced riders downhill and follow their lines. I don’t brake that often. Still though I don’t pedal hard downhill. Did I mention FEAR OF DEATH?

But this winter and last I’ve been riding on a trainer in the virtual world created by Zwift. One joy of Zwift riding is that you can’t crash. It’s not just that you don’t actually crash. You don’t virtually crash either. There’s no crashing at all. So there’s no reason not to keep up your watts as you zoom downhill.

My efforts in the virtual Yorkshire, speeding down hills unlocked a new achievement for me, DAREDEVIL, for exceeding 50 mph.

Me a Daredevil? I think my kids are likely laughing. But I can be a virtual Daredevil it turns out.

cycling · fitness

Is it ridiculous to ride inside in the summer?

Yesterday I read that in the UK riding for both leisure and commuting is down. As usual perceived lack of safety is the main reason people give for not riding and preferring other methods of exercise and getting to work.

Here’s British cycling policy manager Nick Chamberlain, “While cycling remains statistically safe, traffic speed, close passing or potholes can often make riding a bike in Britain intimidating and unpleasant, especially for those who are trying it for the first time. “The impact of this is clear in the numbers of people still making short, cyclable journeys by car – with all of the associated consequences for congestion, air quality and physical activity.”

I’m not sure what the numbers look like in North America and elsewhere but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same.

Interestingly, indoor riding is on the rise. And I’m part of that trend. Oddly enough.

Chamberlin said British Cycling was pleased to see “a moderate spike” in the level of indoor cycling, “and we hope that last month’s inaugural British Cycling Zwift eRacing Championshipscan help to further grow the profile of this discipline and encourage even more people to take part in the coming years.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Zwift lately, about safety, women’s participation, and the gamification of sports. I will have lots of things to say!

Truth be told, I’m even considering riding inside myself during the summer, some of the time anyway. There are reasons: I don’t like riding alone. I’ve got a very complicated schedule. But it’s not just that.

Zwift is also fun in its own right. It’s fun racing down virtual hills, zooming down hills without braking. Fun taking corners at speed. I’m not worried when Zwifting about crashing into other bikes. I’m not worried about cars or other traffic. I love sprinting on Zwift with zero tension or fear, no looking out for cars.

A white feather on a green circle.

It turns out that I enjoy the gamification of sport. I liked getting a virtual feather the other day that when applied dropped my weight by 15 lbs. I wasn’t sure at the time what it was our how to use it but now that I do it’ll be fun to see the difference that has on my climbing speed. You can also get trucks which increase the benefit from drafting and aero helmets that make you more aerodynamic. For a better, more complete, explanation, see here.

The weight thing is interesting. Zwift knows my actual weight and hills are harder as a result than they would be for an average sized cyclist. Both watts and weight matter when determining your speed. But my avatar–see below–doesn’t look as big as I do. What matters on Zwift is that she can keep up. And she can, because in the the real world I can. What matters is watts per kilo. I weigh a lot but I can also put out some pretty good watts. I’m okay–if occasionally disgruntled with the math and the physics of it all–with working harder to climb on Zwift. No one looks at me oddly. No one comments on my weight. Other riders just know my watts per kilo and I’m okay with that. I’ve had no weight loss suggestions, no comments on my size. That way, it’s a pretty relaxing environment. It’s made me realize how much people noticing my size bothers me in the real world. I’m sure I’ll have more to say later about this. I’m still thinking about it all.

Oh, also having good indoor options makes it easy to stick to a training schedule. Some articles I read about Zwift in road cycling magazines said that North American summer was a ghost town in Zwift. It’s just full of Australians riding at odd times of day and triathletes who prefer indoor training. But as indoor cycling becomes a sport in its own right, it’ll be interesting to see what the summer numbers look like.

That’s me below in the in the orange stripey jersey and my new sunglasses, earned for riding a certain number of kilometers. I also earned a helmet but opted out. This is one place I don’t need to worry about hitting my head.

cycling · fitness · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the March version

Thing 1. I am really tired. I don’t usually play the “I’m busier than you” game. I love my work.  But March in the academic world is not a fun month. My former Dean used to say, when I was a department chair, that we should never introduce anything new in March.  Faculty will hate it, guaranteed. Also, nothing anyone says in March really counts. Professors have been teaching all year and they’re tired. However, all the faculty also retreat to their research cocoons in April and so there’s some pressure to get projects that require faculty input and involvement finished. Add to that the tension around our provincial government’s budget and cutbacks to universities, we’re all busy, tired, and stressed. I work 12 hour days quite often and then I come home and do this. (Note though, unlike other Deans I don’t work on weekends other than showing up to events and though there’s lots of those they mostly feel fun and celebratory.)

Thing 2. My left knee saga continues: This is neither up nor down. But it’s official. I’m in the queue for partial knee replacement. The wait time is 6-12 months which is good because that’s after the 5 Boro Bike weekend, my Newfoundland bike adventure and likely also after the one day bike rally and the tri-adventure. Priorities. It’s not certain yet that I’ll go through with it. It’s scary stuff but I’m one step closer and I’ll get (yet more) expert advice.

Here’s an image of knees from Unsplash but they aren’t mine.

Image description: Someone’s knees, not mine. The knees are wearing brown cargo pants. A blurry mountain and some trees are in the distance. Photo from Unsplash.

Thing 3. My riding: I kind of hoped to get outside riding more in March but thanks to the weather that didn’t happen. Instead, I bought a monthly membership for unlimited indoor trainer riding at the Bike Shed. I’ve left my bike there with the goal of making it in three times a week. I love it there. I’ve left my bike there and I’ve been Zwift riding around New York City and London, UK.

Screen capture of my recent Zwift ride.

Oh, and Facebook and Google keep reminding me that in Novembers past I was riding outside in March. Thanks, I guess.

cycling · fitness

Sam rides around New York Saturday morning (virtually)

As readers know, I’ve got my winter cycling options all lined up. I’ve got my bike in a trainer in my home office and Netflix awaits. But I’ve also been watching friends post their Zwift workouts and I’ve been feeling intrigued. I’ve also been looking for indoor bike trainer classes in Guelph. I miss Chris Helwig’s basement.

Enter the Bike Shed. It’s a bike studio in Arkell just outside Guelph  I first spotted it on my way back from a ride around the country side east of campus though I wasn’t sure then exactly what it was. Turns out it’s a converted schoolhouse set up with bike trainers and screens. You bring the bike and the owner, Neil, supplies the trainers and technology.

What’s Zwift? Part video game, part bike training software, it places you in a virtual world with cyclists from all over the world. Your speed on the actual physical bike translates into your bike avatar and if you’re on a smart trainer, like the kind the Bike Shed has, hills translate into much harder pedaling. You can ride in groups, with friends, or do your training plan.

We rode in a virtual New York the Big Apple but with no cars and added hills.

That morning there were more than 9000 cyclists from around the world on Zwift.

What did we think? On the whole, Sarah and I both found it pretty engrossing. The time on the trainer passed quickly. I loved trying to keep up with people, just like in real life. 

Sarah says she didn’t find the smart trainer accurately reflected riding up a hill. She found you had to spin faster rather than harder – like you had already downshifted. She joked that it was like riding a bike with an automatic transmission.

I liked that the were segments you encountered over again and it reported how much faster or slower you were on subsequent rounds and ranked you against other riders.

It was odd not steering! And not crashing. And riding right through other people. There’s no way to go around them.

Back to the Bike Shed: The studio owner Neil was super welcoming. We felt at ease pretty much right away.  He was encouraging and enthusiastic and proud of the space he’s created. You can see it in the video below.

We’ll be back!

Here’s a shot of virtual New York.

Here’s the Bike Shed owner talking about his studio:

Are you a regular rider on Zwift? What do you think? I know I’m late to the party but I’m anxious to get back out there.