I’ve shared lots of Cheddar participating in yoga photos. But the thing is, he’s my constant companion, especially when I’m the only one home. All of my work colleagues now know him from videoconference meetings.
When I’m riding my bike on the trainer, he’s my number one fan. He sits on the sofa behind me watching the screen, only occasionally nodding off.
I’ve been riding indoors, in a heat wave, in a house with imperfectly operational air conditioning.
Enter the new fan, fan number two.
So last night I was doing the La Bicicletta Toronto Supper Time Trial, a very hard 17.6 km solo effort. Both fans accounted for and I got my second best time on the route. Thanks Cheddar and thanks Heavyweight Honeywell.
Most cyclists have different kinds of things they wear, depending. When I was riding with Coach Chris, I wore Coach Chris kit on group rides. But I didn’t ever wear it on casual rides with friends. I felt it was my speedy outfit! Club kit is for riding or racing with the club.
I also have other serious cycling clothes for long rides, like my very best (expensive) bib shorts. And then I have the old beat up, worn out bike shorts I wear under dresses when commuting to work or out and about running errands.
Then there is the fun casual cycling variety of clothes. Star Trek jerseys and Simon the cat jerseys (thanks Susan) fall into this category. Their message is that I’m out riding to have fun.
Zwift is sort of the same. You get awarded kit by doing events and by riding certain distances and leveling up. I now have a wide range of virtual jerseys, socks, helmets, gloves, and sunglasses. I’ve even been known to do some events (Hi Betty Designs!) just to get the kit.
I wear club kit when racing in Zwift so teammates can recognize me but if I’m noodling slowly around Watopia on a recovery day, I want to wear something fun and casual, that matches the speed I’m riding.
Last night I was doing the Monday night race series with my team and just off the start I caught sight of my socks. Eek! I was wearing purple Pride socks with my yellow team kit. They clashed horribly. Still, they made me smile. Stealth Pride rider in the race.
We watched Stage 2 this morning. If you’ve ever been curious about Zwift this is pretty realistic. Well, except for their watts per kilo. Wow!
STEEP CLIMBS AND FLAT SPRINTS
Stage 2, July 5
Racers start at sea level, breathing that salty oxygenated air before going under the sea via the Ocean Tunnel. After the competitors exit the ocean, keep an eye on the climbers. During the next 5.8 miles (9.4 km), they’ll ascend a 3.9% grade. And the final push, AKA the Radio Tower Climb, is brutal.
Here’s the stage winner, Lauren Stephens. And here’s commentary on the race.
And here she is, in world, crossing the line.
Thing 2 is Ontario Women’s Cycling Week.
I’m away next weekend but if I was at home with Zoom and Zwift nearby, here’s what I would do:
SATURDAY JULY 11TH AT 9:00AM ON ZWIFT
Zwift No-Drop Social Ride – Hosted by the Toronto Hustle Women
Join us for a social Zwift ride led by the Toronto Hustle Women from 9:00 – 9:45am.
“It has been rescheduled to run from August 29-September 20. For the virtual Tour de France, Zwift is set to build new race routes, including one in Nice for the opening stage and another in Paris to mimic the traditional finale of the Tour de France on the cobbled circuit of the Champs Elysées,” according to Cycling News. For more details see here.
And double wow, there’s also a women’s tour.
There are no details yet except that there will be both a men’s and a women’s race.
Regular blog readers know that the absence of a women’s tour has been bothering me for many years. In my optimistic moods I hope the Zwift race goes so well that we have an in real life version next year. In my grumpier moods I think that it’s only now that the Tour has been moved to the virtual world that there’s room for women. Like many of us, in these strange times, I’m moving pretty quickly between hope and optimism and grumpiness and despair for all things. I guess this is no different.
Here’s some of my past thoughts on the need for the Tour de France to include women riders:
I started out the pandemic riding inside, a lot, on Zwift. What’s a lot? I rode enough that I got my unemployed badge for 14 days in a row. It’s now changed on Zwift, thanks to the pandemic, to the “working from home” badge. What’s that in distance? More than 500 km a month. So far this year I’ve ridden nearly 2000 km (not including fat bike riding or commuting.) I’ll be curious to see how far I ride this year. I used to aim for 5000 km. See here and here for discussions of cycling distance goals.
Well, good but weird. Like lots of things these days. We packed supplies. We did all the right things. We brought our own stuff–food, drink, and things to fix flats. We were not reckless speed demons. I gave several QOM attempts a miss. We had someone at home to call for a ride in case something worse than a flat befell our bikes. We brought masks in case something unexpected happened.
All of that stuff is pandemic related. But it also felt weird because it wasn’t Zwift! Along the way, in my head, I started compiling a list of the ways in which cycling in the real world was different than virtual cycling.
1. Cars: In the real world, you share the road with cars and trucks. In Zwift, it’s all bikes and runners. Since cars and trucks can kill you this is an important difference.
2. Animals: There are critters in Zwift, some real and some magical, but they don’t run out in front of your bike. Unlike chipmunks and squirrels which here in Guelph so make the occasional dash.
3. Traffic lights and stop signs: My average speed is higher in Zwift and in part that’s because there is never any reason to stop. There are no stop signs and no traffic lights.
4. Downhill: In Zwift I never brake downhill. I’ve got some amazing top speeds. There’s no way to crash so need to worry. Just zoom! You can super tuck in Zwift to recover on long descents but that’s for race strategy reasons, not safety. You still go very fast. Here’s a how to descend guide for Zwift. No braking involved.
5. Wind: OMG. I’d almost forgotten about wind. There’s a draft advantage in Zwift that’s a big deal but you don’t feel the wind in your face the way you do in real life cycling. The Zwift wind is also the same everywhere. There’s no headwind on the way out, tailwind on the way home. There’s also no good and bad wind days.
6. Cornering: There’s no skill in cornering in Zwift. You hit a corner at speed and the bike takes the corner. In the real world, that’s something you learn how to do as a cyclist. I have memories of crit racing and the turn we called “collarbone corner” for a reason. Sunday Sarah sprinted for a light and then realized at the last minute she had to turn right and the bike wouldn’t just do it. Braking and turning was required.
7. Speed versus Power: On my road bike while Zwifting the number I care about is watts or watts per kg. Rides aren’t announced with speeds. They’re announced with watts per kg. I know my cruising pace in watts per kg. I know my time trial pace in watts per kg. But in Zwift I don’t pay attention to km/hr. In the real world, I don’t have a power meter and I don’t know my watts. My Garmin tells me my speed and average speed, distance and heart rate, but not watts.
8. Brakes: There’s a lot of braking in the real world. None in Zwift. Except when the ride is over.
9. Uphill: I’m better uphill on Zwift. I can spin slowly. In the real world, I rarely do that. I’m not that comfortable shifting to a spinny gear and going slow. I think I worry about falling. In Zwift, up Alpe due Zwift, speedy runners pass me.
10. You’ve got to make it home to stop: When you’ve had enough on Zwift you just stop. That’s it you’re done. Sadly in the real world you can’t stop until you make it back home.
Bonus: I’m ageless in Zwift. The avatars all the look the same not matter what your age. Some people have their ages in brackets so you know. (J.Smith 12 YEARS OLD) or (B. Anthony 70+). I’m never quite sure why people do that. Only at the extremes which is interesting. And related to age, in Zwift you never get a sunburn. No sunscreen needed.
As everyone who reads the blog knows, like cyclists all over the world, I’ve been riding lots on Zwift. It’s become a crowded place sometimes Just yesterday Sir Bradley Wiggins, CBE, former professional road and track racing cyclist, led a group ride on Zwift with nearly 3000 other riders.
In the past I didn’t pay much attention to some of the “game-y” features in Zwift like the badges. But then the pandemic happened and in short order I got the habitual, the addicted, and finally the unemployed badges. There’s been a lot of jokes among Zwifting cyclists about renaming them. Maybe we should add one after “unemployed” and call it the “quarantined.” If “unemployed” is riding 14 days in a row, maybe “quarantined” could be 30?
Some people have suggested that since so many people have lost their jobs in the real world, that Zwift’s Unemployed badge isn’t such a funny joke any longer. Mostly I ride after work but sometimes in order to catch rides in other time zones, like the Australian breakfast rides with Chicks Who Ride Bikes, I take breaks during my workday. I was riding with someone from California the other day who was working while riding! Her company encouraged staff to work while indoor bike riding. Me, I’m not coordinated enough for that.
If you want to find out more, here’s this from Zwift Insider: ALL ABOUT ZWIFT’S “UNEMPLOYED” (AND SIMILAR) BADGES: “With many of us riding and running only indoors due to coronavirus-related restrictions, the topic of Zwift’s “Unemployed” achievement badge is popping up regularly. This is the badge awarded when you (as Zwift says), “Ride a lap 14 days in a row”.
It’s true I’ve been riding more. I don’t what May will look like but here’s April.
One of the things that’s interesting are the different ways races are organized to make racing fun and fair. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s no fun if you have zero chance of winning and not fair, maybe, if you’re competing against younger, fitter, more powerful riders. So bike races use categories to divide up riders to make the competition more even.
Think of it like one design sailboat racing where everyone races the same style of boat. Or car racing where there are rules about what the cars raced are like. There’s less determined by gear and skill is more of a factor. It’s like that bike racing only instead of boats, it’s bodies. Now it’s true that in both real life, and in Zwift, we’re also riding different bikes–Zwift has different classes of virtual bikes and some are more aero, lighter, faster. You acquire them by “buying” them with virtual coinage you acquire by riding lots. That’s an element of the “game” part of Zwift. But the big difference isn’t bikes, it’s rider power, measured in watts. Some cyclists are more powerful than others and Zwift divides riders in various ways.
Here’s three different ways of classifying riders in Zwift races that I’ve experienced. I’m sure there are others.
The most obvious one is by sex. Tonight I’m racing in the Monday Madness series. It’s a team based series across categories A-E. Cats A-D are open to all riders and the differences between them are based on your power output. I started out in D but as I got fitter and faster I got bumped to C. Roughly, C means that I race somewhere between 2.5-3.1 watts/kg.
Cyclists care about power, but what really matters, unless you’re riding on very flat terrain, is power to weight ratio, or watts per kg. Here is an explanation.
An aside: Entering a race in a category below the one in which you should be racing for the purposes of an easy win is “sandbagging.” Zwift has introduced the green cone of shame which appears above your head while riding if you exceed the power limits for the category in which you’re racing. See Zwift takes steps to limit sandbagging. They also notify you in advance. In my case I got disqualified, DQ’ed, after my first race that I won while exceeding the power limits for D, and the next time I registered for C. All good–no cone of shame. Phew!
But tonight I’m racing in E, which is the women’s category which is open to all women riders. That means that I’ll be racing against women in all categories. Ouch! I won’t win. I might come in somewhere in the middle. But that’s true for me in C too. I was winning D races but as I got faster it was no longer fair to have me in the D cat. Why race in the women’s cat? Well, it’s a team sport and our team gets points for having riders in each of the categories.
In an ideal world, I think that we won’t need special categories for women riders. Certainly lumping all the women together isn’t fair. But lots of women want to race against other women. In the real world, I can see that, especially in amateur racing.
I’ve also raced in Zwift in age groups. But again that was a little strange. There are some very fast 50-somethings out there! My theory is that lots of people ride and race in their 20s and 30s but by the time you get to 50 only the fast people are sticking with it.
Anyway, it’s complicated but I like that there are a variety of ways of dividing up riders to make racing more fun.
Why? I’m asked that a lot and I thought I’d try to explain.
An aside: Sometimes you write a blog post just to explain your reasons for some conclusion or activity. Partly I want to point people over here when they ask why. Partly I want to lay out the reasons for myself, to see if they still hold up. But what I am not trying to do here is persuade others. That’s not my main aim. If you find my reasoning attractive, join me. But that’s not my goal.
First, I take the advice of Cycling Canada pretty seriously. They say, if you have the means to train inside, do it. Cycling Canada recommends you extend your trainer season. “Canadians have been urged to stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus,” says the organization. “At this time, Cycling Canada recommends that cyclists who are equipped to ride indoors strongly consider staying home for recreational riding and training.” And I’m very well-equipped. Without the smart trainer, I might well choose to ride outside. But I have one and I’m using it lots.
Second, I like riding in groups, close to other people. I like riding with friends. In the past I’ve liked riding with bike clubs. And that’s exactly the kind of riding that’s not at all recommended. Six feet away from another bike is pretty far away and it’s a hard distance to maintain. It’s also hard to be heard from one bike to another six feet, given all the breathing maybe ten feet, apart. I hate yelling.
Third, I like riding to nearby small towns for coffee and snacks. That’s also not allowed. Again, Cycling Canada says, “Cycling Canada recommends you don’t travel to the next city or town to ride. Travel between communities accelerates the spread of COVID-19, and can bring the virus to smaller communities that don’t have the same health resources as larger urban centres. Many small towns and tourist destinations – including Whistler, Canmore, Squamish and cottage towns in Ontario and Quebec– are asking visitors to put off visiting until it is safe to do so.”
Okay, I could ride with people already in my COVID-19 family bubble and we could bring our own snacks. Maybe.
Fourth, I am also worried–not overly so but a bit–about what would happen in case of a crash. This isn’t a worry about dying on my bike. It’s a worry about the kind of small crashes I’ve had before, nothing broken, no stitches or concussions, but they’ve landed me in hospital for a day, getting gravel removed and being checked out. I don’t want to land in hospital, take a ride in an ambulance, or spend any time in an emergency room. (If you’re curious, here’s the story of one of my hospital worthy accidents. CW: gruesome photos.)
It’s why I worry about things like country drives right now. Friends went driving around the countryside, with the best of physical distancing intentions, and their car broke down. The next thing they knew they were in tow truck, very close to the driver, without face masks. I don’t want that. I’d risk that for an essential activity–like driving to work if I was an essential worker, or getting groceries–but a drive in the country isn’t needed. It’s an unnecessary risk. Ditto, I think, riding my bike. There are safer ways to get outdoor exercise. If I could run, I’d run outdoors. I can’t. But I do walk Cheddar a lot.
So given the worries, and that I like riding far, and fast, and with other people, there are a bunch of reasons keeping me riding inside right now. (Note that none of those worries have to do with catching COVID-19.) Also, I’m working long days and when I’m done it’s dark. And on the weekends there are a lot of people outside. Lots of them don’t have trainers but I do.
Will I stay inside all summer on my bike? I don’t expect so. I think I’ll ride casually in the sunshine because the wind feels good on my face. But I won’t be racing downhill or chasing QOMs for awhile yet. I’m hoping to get out on some local trails on my gravel bike once they’re re-opened. I’ll ride on the country roads near my home and the university campus, with snacks, and a repair kit, and my phone to call my son to come get me if need be. I’ll pack a mask in case something happens such that I need to be near other people. I’ll get there. But right now that feels, well, complicated.
I have a yard. I have a deck. I walk Cheddar lots. But for now, on my bike, I feel better inside. Follow me on Strava or on Zwift if that’s thing your thing and send me a “ride on.”
Mostly these days, for most of us, even those of us privileged to live in houses with decks and yards, with dogs, in cities and towns where there aren’t that many people getting sick and dying, there’s a sense of loss as we go about our lives. I know I’m pretty privileged in that I love my job even in this very strange working from home state. I’m still doing lots of meaningful work and I live with loved ones and we play word games and cook meals and bake desserts and watch movies. It’s not all bad.
But even for me, there is so much that I am missing. Mostly I miss my kids in a city a few hours away. I am not going to dwell on that. I am not going to talk about the list of cancelled events and trips and postponed plans.
Instead I am going to tell you about a new thing that I am doing that I am really enjoying, that might not have been possible in, as Cate calls them, the before times, and that I might keep doing after this is all over.
I’ve been riding my bike on a trainer in the virtual world of Zwift, casually, on and off, for a year or so. But mostly I’ve been riding with real world friends side by side, exploring Zwift’s virtual worlds.
When the pandemic became physically distancing and then that morphed into staying at home, I started riding in Zwift more seriously. I started riding in groups and even doing some races. Now I’ve even joined a team. And I love it.
What do I love?
In the world of riding with friends we all have tendency to default to a comfortable speed. It’s easy to end up always riding in the same heart rate/exertion zone. It feels comfortable. Instead now that I am back doing time trials and crits, there is definitely a lot of time in that uncomfortable, very hard zone. When I do social rides where we’ve agreed to stay at the same pace, it’s easy. Going slow is important and it can be hard to do. On the social group rides I’m happily in the endurance zone. I do some training events that are in the middle. It’s deliberate and the variety in pacing is good for me.
2. Now everything I’ve said about different paces would be true in the real world. But there are also things that are fun about racing in Zwift. No crashes! You can accelerate downhill without fear of death. I hit some ridiculous max speeds that just aren’t on the table for me in real life. I like descending and I like descending fast but in Zwift there’s no fear which turns out to be a nice thing. There’s no worrying about cornering too aggressively on the crit courses or getting tangled up with other bikes. It’s true that some of the skills are missing too but it turns out, in my fifties, I really like the no crashing part. Who knew?
3. I’ve been enjoying some of the gamification of bike racing in Zwift. Again, that’s new to me. It starts with my avatar. I liked choosing her hair and her sunglasses and she wears different clothes for different events. Now I’ve been riding for awhile I have a choice about bikes and wheels. I also like the features in the game like the power-ups. These include feather that makes you lighter, a draft boost that increases the draft effect you are experiencing by 50% for 30 seconds, and my favourite a burrito makes you undraftable for 10 seconds.
4. I like the community. There are cyclists from all over the world and while in real life I struggle to find people my age, my size, my speed etc riding and racing bikes, not so on Zwift. I like the chatty women’s group rides, especially The Swarm, but also the community rides, like the Herd with their goofy in ride games and quizzes.
5. Maybe it’s because we’re all avatars, maybe because the chat is heavily moderated (I don’t know about this) but I haven’t encountered any sexist, homophobic, racist banter. Again, I wonder about how much avatar limits affect this, but there aren’t even very many comments about size other then the self-deprecating sort.
6. The schedule of group rides and races is kind of awesome. There are events everyday, all day, for all different abilities, across all of the time zones. I’m writing this on Monday evening and I’ve just finished a Monday night race series and tonight’s event (3 of 6) was an 8 km time trial in Bologna. It ended with a solid 2 km of climbing with the tough bits at 14% grade. Ouch. But on the weekend I had a chatty social ride with the Swarm. Friday night is crit night. And I might do a midweek team trial. Don’t get wrong. I miss riding my bike with groups of real people in the real world. But racing? I think I really life Zwift and will stick with it.
You know that I left the gym early. I don’t remember when I last went but I posted about my decision to leave on March 9th. It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot inside the gym, the yoga studio, or the Bike Shed.
So I’ve been working out at home for awhile now. Mostly it’s all fit together pretty well.
Piece one of the puzzle is that I’ve been riding and racing my bike virtually. Hello Zwift! Piece two is that I’m back together with Yoga with Adriene, enjoying her Yoga for Uncertain Times series quite a lot. Piece three is everyday exercise walking Cheddar the dog.
But the fourth piece is not working out quite so well. It’s there but it’s a work in progress.
That’s at home strength training. I’ll confess we weren’t as well-prepared. We have a motley, somewhat random collection of tools. The one great thing is Sarah’s TRX which we mounted in the living room which is now combo home office for two and home gym for three. We also pandemic panic purchased a 25 lb kettlebell the day before the shops all closed. Sarah also has a lone 8 lb dumbbell from her injured shoulder physio days. And we own some resistance tubing with handles, one is not very much resistance and the other one a bit too much. You read about that purchase here.
My son is home from university and he’s regular gym goer. He usually lifts pretty serious weights most days of the week. I think at first he thought he’d wait it out but now he’s planning home workouts for us, scouring Instagram for ideas. I’m really glad he’s here.
It feels a bit like the cooking challenge where you’re given random oddball ingredients and asked to construct a meal. But he’s doing a great job.
How to make chest and triceps day out of this?
We’re making do but I miss the gym. How about you?
Once it warms up we’re going to hang the heavy punching bag in the backyard. Will report back!