The Pain Cave - Cycling Aviator

8th Oct 2016

Riding in winter can be nasty and having to train for something means you don't have the luxury of choosing the weather you'll expose yourself to. If by some stroke of luck a nice winter day presents itself when I'm not at work, I can see aviation presenting itself far more enticingly.

I also have to fit cycling in around regular gym sessions, for both knee rehab and general fitness. Being on an out of hours standby roster for work is another complication as I need to stay relatively close to home on those days.

I have a recumbent exercise bike at home, that was really good leading up to the High Tibial Osteotomy and for initial rehab. It still has it's uses now but only as a warm up/cool down/quick 10min type of thing as it is so bloody dull. Obviously the gym I use has a multitude of stationary bikes but again, fine for warm up but there's only so long I can watch the same infomercials being shown on the tv screens nearby.

At the cycle show I looked at a few alternatives in the shape of turbo trainers and rollers. Rollers are exactly that, a set of rollers that your bike sits on and gives you the ability to cycle on the spot, however, unless you spend a fortune, they are just free running and are good working your balance and the finer points of pedalling but offer little in the way power training. They are also notoriously tricky to use. Turbo trainers support the bike and the rear wheel drives a flywheel that has the ability to have a braking effect applied upon it replicating the need for increased effort, i.e. going uphill. The top end kit is self contained with it's own gear rings so you remove the rear bike wheel and mount the frame onto the trainer, clever and very very cool, but at a price.

Where turbo trainers play their trump card over rollers is the addition of the 'smart' tag, meaning you can control them via your phone, tablet or computer. This in itself isn't particularly amazing but it then opened the door for developers to design applications that can put you in a virtual world where your real time efforts on the bike is replicated on screen where you can ride a virtual course. This in turn led to the application increasing the resistance you feel on the real bike to match the topography of what you are seeing in the virtual world. Add in a multiplayer concept where you can ride with or race against people from all over the world and it really is very clever stuff, although again, not cheap.

I was fortunate to pick up a nearly new smart turbo trainer for a very cheap price on eBay but have been trying to figure out where to rig it up, as although it folds up quite compact to be stored, in use it needs a bike attached to it and I don't think Emma would appreciate me dragging that through the house. Not to mention, it is quite noisy in use. The solution has been to rearrange my workshop/shed a little and remove some of the shelving and cupboards to widen the space, it's only just over 3 foot wide wall to wall anyway, and designate that area the Pain Cave.

Connecting it up to Zwift was straightforward enough and after I'd done a couple of first time calibration things I set of for my first ride in the virtual world of Watopia. It really is very slick and, although I was only using the screen of my Macbook, very immersive. It was also exhausting, as in the time honoured tradition of not reading what to do and just wanting to try it out I ended up climbing a mountain, well the first bit of it. It has to be said though that other than the bike being rigid it felt very realistic, I even found myself turning the handlebars to go round a corner at one point, something that you don't actually have any control over. As the Macbook can output HDMI I'm on the lookout for a cheap TV to use instead.

One thing that is more urgently needed, is a fan, as without the natural breeze you get when riding outside, you get very hot and sweaty. It really was a good indication of why you need to keep hydrating when cycling. It's never going to be able to replace riding in the real world but for those time poor, not to mention miserable, days between now and May I think it'll prove a useful tool.

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