Rise of the virtual ride – Interbike 2012

By Peter Suciu in Las Vegas, Nevada | Friday, September 28, 2012 11.00pm

Riding indoors will never match the thrill of riding outside. But in recent years, some virtual training devices have improved to the point of making indoors almost enjoyable.

This year at Interbike just about every company in the roller, trainer or exercise bike market seemed to have a virtual training option on hand.

CompuTrainer, Tacx, Elite, Wahoo Fitness and even Saris have products for riders that turn exercise into a bit of a video game.

“Training videos are a great idea,” said Regina Hammond, professional triathlon coach at Trismarter.com. “We’ve been trying to complete several over the past year.”

Unlike with games on the Nintendo Wii or other video game consoles, the heart of these systems is you and your bike, rather than a game machine trying to encourage random movement. What has made this technology viable is a number of factors, including ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart (4.0) wireless technologies that allows for easy connectivity from a trainer and a PC.

A few years videos were little more than just that —videos recorded with a camera that was often less exciting than watching a rerun of The Office on the exercise bike. But the new technology can sync with the bike, providing a reaction to effort.

The tacx system works on ant+, and can connect wirelessly to your power meter as well as the tv screen as : the tacx system works on ant+, and can connect wirelessly to your power meter as well as the tv screen as The new system from Tacx works on ANT+, which means it can connect wirelessly to your power meter as well as the TV screen

Of course this technology isn’t new, and CompuTrainer was an early leader in the category.

“CompuTrainers, the 'go to' technology of competitive cyclists for the past 20 years offer interactive race courses which allow you to train on the bike course of your ‘A’ race all winter long,” added Hammond.

But now there is competition that could bring the road to the living room.

Tacx has provided computer animated terrain that includes criterium and velodrome races, along with virtual opponents. Cycleops from Saris offers route creation with Google Earth, virtual route mapping, and as with the other systems is synchronized with the bike. Some companies, such as Kinomap, just offer the route creation software - you'll need the appropriate hardware to make it work.

But the other factor has been the advent of wearable and handlebar-mounted action cameras such as the GoPro, which allows for user created content. The pairing of the trainers and the cameras means users can share courses and settings. Factor in that TV prices have fallen, so that large screens are now commonplace in living rooms and suddenly a trainer, software, a TV and a fan can turn a winter spin into something a bit more like a ride down a familiar road.

“Training videos, specifically bike training videos, can be priceless for a lot of athletes in terms of motivation and staying on track with their winter training,” Hammond, who has also worked in video production, told BikeRadar. “Sitting in the saddle for five hours can make you stir crazy.”

“If you break that riding time into 60-, or 90-minute efforts focused on heart rate or power zones, you can turn a mediocre workout into a very high quality one,” she added. “Using a training video for those specific time frames can get you 'in the zone' focused on your effort.”

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