Tuesday, December 22, 2015

CycleOps Virtual Training vs. Zwift

I've had a few weeks to get myself acquainted with the CycleOps Virtual Traing (CVT) and Zwift training/gaming applications. There are other similar training aides, namely TrainerroadBKool, and Kinomap but I haven't used any of these three options yet. This article is a comparison between CVT and Zwift using a CycleOps JetFluid Pro classic trainer, ANT+ speed/cadence sensor, and heart-rate monitor (HRM). No power meter is used in my setup. Any comparison of these two applications has to acknowledge that they are very different in many ways. In fact, the only similarities may be that they incorporate some type of bike trainer and provide some degree of motivation or entertainment beyond watching television, cycling videos, or listening to music.

Lets break this comparison into its constituent parts, these being 1) on-line dashboard, 2) downloadable application, 3) equipment needed to ride, 4) ability to motivate and entertain, 5) data collection, 6) workout flexibility (intensity and duration, and solo and group), 7) integration with social and other training sites, and 8) cost of membership.

1) Dashboard: Both CVT and Zwift have an online component (websites) and a downloadable application which resides on the rider's PC, tablet, and IOS or Android cellphone device. Information, support and, downloads can be found for CVT at www.cycleops.com (or www.cvt2015.com) or for Zwift at www.zwift.com. The CVT dashboard lists all previously completed rides and an extensive amount of related data which is accessible on-line anywhere. The on-line Zwift dashboard also lists previous rides and some limited data. To view more data from Zwift rides you'll have to either go to Strava or download the gpx file from Strava and import it into Garmin Connect or another similar app. Well, that's what I do anyway.

CycleOps Virtual Training website dashboard
CycleOps Virtual Training website ride data 
Zwift website dashboard
Zwift ride data can be uploaded automatically to Strava along with any segment results of which there are plenty. Premium Strava users get access to even more data. I'm not a Premium Strava user so I get the basic data which is fine for me.

Zwift ride data on Strava 
In my opinion the CVT on-line dashboard wins because it provides more data.

2) Application: The downloadable application for CVT and Zwift both support smart trainers, ANT+ and Smart Bluetooth integration of sensors and power meters, as well as classic trainers, which I have. Classic trainers  use power measurements that are calculated within either application from data collected from the other sensors. That's about where the similarities end.

To put it simply the CVT application experience, for the solo rider at home in his or her pain cave is somewhat boring. Riders may choose from either video routes or Google map/Streetview routes which they can create themselves or use those created by others. This should work well for those interested in learning a particular course as I am for Ironman Chattanooga. Although, be advised, the Streetview portion of the route only includes those streets that have actually been captured by Google. Where Streetview doesn't exist the video reverts automatically to the map. Riders do have the opportunity to compete against other riders on the course but this only shows up in the final results and only apparently if you're the fastest to complete a particular course in race mode. Otherwise, results are listed as Last Passes (or also ran). The CVT rides are, in my situation still solo rides.

On  the other hand Zwift rides are group rides from the get-go. As soon as a rider logs in you'll see other riders, real and computer generated, out on the course. The real riders are avatars but they represent real people somewhere riding a trainer. Unfortunately, there are only two courses and these are pre-selected. Some days of the week riders will be on the Watopia course and others they'll be on the Richmond, VA course. That's it! Riders do have the option to create their own workouts or use the workouts created by others. They can join races, and group rides, or ride solo on the course where they'll see and be seen by other riders. Zwift also takes drafting into count.

Both applications calculate speed based upon the incline or decline of the course. With the classic trainer the same effort can produce a wide range in speeds depending upon the grade.

With regard to sensor integration, I'd say both applications are equal. The Zwift interface is probably better thought-out or at least easier to see as the sensor window takes half the display after login.  The sensors on the CVT application are displayed in a small area at the bottom of the display. The CVT application does allow for several bikes to be part of ones quiver, so to speak. Each bike can be pre-configured with its own sensors. These can also be changed before a ride. It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

CVT Sensor Pairing
Zwift Sensor Pairing
So, which application is the winner? I'd have to say I'm torn. Zwift is definitely more interesting and fun, but CVT is a better tool for my needs. Both applications can provide a great workout.

In my opinion, Zwift wins here for ease of use. CVT wins for flexibility by allowing for several pre-configured bikes on one account. Zwift may do this as well but I haven't tried to setup my tri-bike on Zwift as I did on CVT.

3) Equipment: As I said previously, both application integrate ANT+ and smart Bluetooth (4.0) sensors, and various power meters. My sensors and PC are only ANT+. Some of the new smart trainers use smart Bluetooth as well as some of the newer tablets. The rider's experience is enhanced with a smart trainer and power meters with both applications. A quick look at a recent ride on Zwift indicated that, of the 16 riders near me, 4 of us were using classic trainers. The other 13 riders were all using smart trainers that change resistance automatically to reflect changes in the course. There were 400+ riders on the Zwift Richmond, VA course at the time. That said, for the most part, riders can get started using either application with the small cost ($38) of an ANT+ stick for a PC. That's what I did. Add-ons like a big TV are extra. Cellphone or tablet handlebar mount can come later, if needed. Zwift has the capability to use both a PC to run the game and a cellphone or tablet, at the same time, to manipulate the game and interact with other riders. It's the Zwift version of a joystick I suppose.

One caveat is that the PC (windows or iOS) requirements for Zwift are higher than they are for CVT. My 5 year old Toshiba Satellite P775 laptop with an Intel Core i7-2670QM CPU @ 2.20GHz with 8 GB of RAM running the Windows 7 64-bit OS laptop runs CVT just fine but has issues running Zwift. Even in low resolution the display area is completely grayed out on my old laptop. There was audio and my sensors were working but nothing else.

Zwift running on an old Toshiba laptop
My newer Toshiba Satellite S55t-B laptop with an Intel Core i7-4710HQ CPU @ 2.50 GHz and 16GB of RAM and a 64 -bit OS and x64-based processor running the Windows 8.1 OS works fine with Zwift in low resolution mode. All this says is one should check the system requirement beforehand so you won't be disappointed. I would suspect that Zwift requires a faster Internet connection as well.

Zwift Settings with Game Resolution pull-down options open with Low (576p) selected
In my opinion, CVT and Zwift are equal in the equipment required to get started category just so long as your PC has adequate horsepower.

4) Motivate/Entertain: As far as I can tell the only motivating factor in CVT is the leader board for each course and trying to beat one's previous time. However, the CVT leader board seems flawed in that it only shows the fastest finisher and no others. It seems that it should show, as Zwift does, where one stands in the overall historic results for the course at least. Also, those riders who didn't even complete the course are included in the list of  LAST PASSES.

CVT Leader Board
Zwift's ability to remove the mental boredom from a solo ride put it in the winner's circle in this category. Some questions might arise from other players regarding a rider's setup as it refers to their weight and subsequently their w/Kg. An intentionally or inadvertently entered weight could easily place a rider on the virtual podium, so to speak. If you're an "A" group rider then don't ride as a "B". Likewise, if you weigh 180 lbs don't enter 160 lbs into Zwift to increase your w/Kg. That's called weight doping.

Segments on Zwift are fun because they provide an abundance of data as you ride, and afterwards on Strava. As a rider passes over the white line, which is easily missed, the timer starts and the top-center popup appears. The popup includes my current time in the segment, the time of the rider just below me, the distance to the end of the segment, my estimated finish time, and my 30-Day Personal Record (PR). As time passes the rider just below me in the standings is replaced by each subsequently slower rider until I cross the finish line of the segment.

Zwift Segment for Best Lap
Another Zwift Segment for 23rd St.
In my opinion, Zwift wins here.

5) Data: Ride statistics are a must for anyone looking to improve. Both CVT and Zwift have there own Functional Performance Threshold (FTP) tests for riders to evaluate their power output.  Data from these and other rides is collected for both applications. For Zwift a limited amount of data is present on the application. Most of the data is uploaded to Strava, if setup, and that's it. CVT on the other hand collects, charts, and exports ride data to a number of websites, if setup. The only site noticeably absent from the CVT list is Garmin Connect.

In my opinion, CVT is the clear winner here. All ride data from each ride is uploaded to the CVT dashboard including charts. Each ride can be reviewed individually. Overall statistics are also available.

6) Flexibility: As I stated before, Zwift has but 2 courses, Richmond, VA and Watopia, and a workout creator which is easy to use. Multi-rider events are easily joined and fun to do. CVT has an almost unlimited list of user created and Premium workouts to choose from, Group rides are for all intents and purposes non-existent unless done in something like a classroom or gym setting. I haven't participated in any CVT multi-user sessions so anything I say here is clearly speculation.

CVT Premium Workouts
CVT Popular Workouts
CVT Searchable Routes in the U.S.
CVT Routes close to my home in Atlanta
Zwift also has a list of workouts from which to choose.

Zwift Workouts
In my opinion, CVT wins here. Using the CVT Route Creator any rider can create his or her own route. This has applications for maybe a local century, sprint triathlon, Ironman, etc. I suspect clubs will include their own group ride routes at some point.

7) Social Media Integration: Rides completed on CVT upload to upwards of a dozen websites, if they're configured, whereas Zwift only uploads to Strava. Neither application will upload directly to Garmin Connect. To do that I download the gpx file from Strava and import the file to Garmin Connect manually. CVT says that it will upload to Facebook but the CVT site says only basic ride statistics are uploaded. I haven't been able to get any statistics at all to upload to Facebook from CVT. That's okay though because I'd prefer not to have each and every completed or aborted ride posted on Facebook.

List of CVT linked social media and training sites
Zwift allows a rider to "Follow" another rider however, finding a rider in the list of what could be 500 other riders is almost impossible since the list is not searchable nor does it include any filters.

Follow another rider
In my opinion, CVT wins here.

8) Cost: Zwift costs $10 per month and memberships can be cancelled at any time. CVT is a little more expensive at $15 per month or $120 annually for a Premium membership.

In my opinion, Zwift wins here. It's cheaper!

Enhancements: Free applications collect or analyze more data and are not affiliated with Zwift or CVT are also available and include Strava Enhancement Suite, Strava Sauce, Stravistix for Strava, and Golden Cheetah.

The use of a noise cancelling gamers headset is also optional for those interested in using the free app teamspeak on Zwift to talk to other riders. Not all Zwift group rides or races use teamspeak though. My first experience with teamspeak will be with the ear buds that came with my Samsung S5 cellphone. I can use them in the cellphone itself using the teamspeak Android App or in my PC using the Windows PC version.

Summary: So, it would seem as though CycleOps Virtual Training is the winner with 4 wins, but I'm not so sure. Zwift had 2 wins. There were 2 ties. However, CVT lacks one thing that I didn't know could exist in a trainer workout until Zwift arrived on the scene. That thing is the experience of riding with other people and sometimes these other people are Pro cyclists. How awesome is that! I've always thought of cycling, as opposed to running, as a group activity with a big social component. CVT doesn't fill that void however, though not completely, Zwift does. So, I'm a Zwift fan. Zwift clearly needs more development but so does CVT. The fact that I haven't ridden CVT since I found Zwift says a lot.

Thanks for reading.