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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Zwift On-Line Cycling Game

I rode my first Zwift ride this week. I chose to ride the 1 hour and 13 minute Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test ride. This is the longer of two options for the Zwift FTP test. I had already setup a Zwift account, downloaded the App and setup my profile a week ago so all I needed to do was login, verify that my heart-rate monitor and speed/cadence sensors were paired, select my ride and start pedaling.

The slightly blurry images below were taken with my cellphone during the ride.  I haven't figured out the hot-keys yet where I can screen capture in one easy stroke. What's not shown in these images is the total number of other riders on the course. In this case I was riding the Richmond UCI World Championship Course. The other course is Watopia which I haven't seen yet. Those riders near me are listed in the column on the right. I'm listed in the middle of the column in blue. Each listing includes the rider's name, their position in seconds either in front of or behind me, their current watts-to-kilograms ratio (w/kg), and the number of miles completed so-far during this training session. In the left column are listed the sequence of stages for my FTP test from top to bottom. The warm-up stages are on top and the cool-down stage is on the bottom. Each stage lists a duration in second or minutes and a recommended power output in watts. The current stage and statistics are displayed at the top-center of the display.

The Warm-up
 The FTP test includes a long warm-up process, FTP test, and cool-down.

The Cooldown
Before I started online or virtual training about a month ago with CycleOps Virtual Training I calculated my FTP at 190 watts. CycleOps upped my FTP to 192 before I took the CycleOps FTP test. The subsequent CycleOps FTP test put my FTP at 214 watts. Now that I've completed the Zwift FTP test my calculated power is 231 watts.  My power zones are charted in one of the two charts below. Which one is correct I don't know. I'm thinking it's the second one.

Watts per Kg is 3.4 or "B" Group for Zwift Races
Watts per Kg is 3.59 or still the "B" Group for Zwift Races
Once setup Zwift automatically sent my ride data to Strava after I completed my ride.

It looks like I'm going in the right direction but maybe I should get off the bike and run more.

What's overwhelmingly apparent is that there is a vibrant online community developing around this game. Users have taken it upon themselves to recommend features and fixes, and yes, there seem to be a few bugs. Overall however, my first experience was a positive one. I've got some learning to do regarding rides, how to join and what to do once I'm in a group but I'm sure it will all come to me. It's as easy as riding a bike.  Right?

Here are a few online Zwift resources. The Chris Pritchard YouTube channel has several informative videos that I found helpful as a first time Zwift user. The Zwift Riders FaceBook group page has a Pinned Post at the top of the page. Click See More and you'll find links to other resources on the web. The FaceBook page itself is a great resource. Ask a question and you're guaranteed to get several replies. Blogger James Gill has created an expansive unofficial online Zwift manual on his blog TitaniumGeek. Riders can also use the teamup calendar to find out about upcoming organized virtual group rides and races. More information about racing can be found on Virtual Online Cycling. Lastly, there's the Zwift website and the Zwift Support page.

Then there are the peripheral add-ons or enhancements that include applications that use the Zwift data to its fullest for data junkies and communication applications like teamspeak which helps riders to stay connected.

So, how much does it cost to play? I registered for the free trial but after my first ride I ponied up the $10 per month fee. Fortunately, I can cancel anytime but I think I'll get my money's worth over the next few months.

I took my second ride two days later in Watopia. It was a blast but hard as hell.

That's about it - RIDE ON!

Thanks for reading.

Update (12/12/15): Apparently my FTP was 229 after all. I found my FTP results in my profile. Double click the left arrow, click the profile edit button below your name, and there's the User Profile page.

I used the calculator on the British Cycling website to calculate my power zones and w/Kg.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

CycleOps Virtual Training

My 20 week training plan for the Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 triathlon race starts on January 4th. I know it will be cold here in Georgia at that time of year. It's winter outside and I hate the cold. To keep myself motivated with my training plan through the winter months I've registered for the CycleOps Virtual Training (CVT).

For starters, what is CycleOps Virtual Training? From what I've seen or read so far, for a small monthly fee it provides me the opportunity to download or stream videos or Google maps/Streetview of bike routes via the Internet to my laptop computer and attached television, or other device, from a catalog of over 1000 member submitted bike courses. Along with the video and maps, I also see displayed dynamic ride data from my bike speed/cadence sensors and heart-rate monitor. Rides are categorized as either training rides or races. The difference seems to be that races can't be paused and race results may be included in the course statistics for best time. There are probably other differences as well.

My gear is not new except for one item. I purchased a CycleOps JetFluid Pro bike trainer in late 2012 though I've rarely used it. Bike #1 is a 2011 Trek Madone 5.2 road bike that has a Bontrager DuoTrap ANT+ speed and cadence sensor. Bike #2 is a 2010 Quintana Roo CD0.1 tri-bike with a Garmin GSC-10 speed and cadence sensor which is also ANT+ compatible. I had a Garmin 910XT watch that came with a soft ANT+ heart-rate monitor which I recently replaced with a new Garmin 920XT watch and Run ANT+ heart-rate monitor. The watches aren't needed for virtual training however, I still like to use it to capture my workouts for Garmin Connect. CVT doesn't automatically send data to Garmin Connect. I have two laptop computers. My newer computer is a Toshiba Satellite S55t laptop running Windows 8.1 with an HDMI output to which I'll connect to the HDMI input on my Sharp 52" television. However, after some thought, I decided to start out using an old but still still functional Toshiba P775-S7165 laptop running Windows 7. It's a PC that I can dedicate completely to virtual training. Everything is several years old. I guess that means it's tried and true. The only piece of hardware that is new is a CycleOps ANT+ USB Mini stick I just purchased. The dongle provided with the Garmin 910XT works fine just so long as the Garmin Express application has been shutdown while riding.

Mic/ear plugs cable, Wireless Mouse dongle, ANT+ stick, and HDMI cable (l-r)
Laptop and TV setup
Bike Garmin 920xt on a Garmin Out-front mount
I have a pretty fast Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Wi-Fi connection to my home router as indicated in the Speakeasy Speed Test screenshot below. I wrote about it in my blog Goodbye U-Verse!. A high speed Internet connection is probably not needed although I wouldn't attempt using CVT with dial-up. When I perused through the CVT route catalog I saw one route available for download that was almost 1GB in size. However, most files are much smaller. That's probably far too large to attempt with anything below a 30-40Mb download speed connection. A 1GB file even with a 59.86Mb would take about 2 minutes and 23 seconds to download. An 8Mb connection would take about 18 minutes to download the same file. That said, I've ridden my preferred course several times so far and never downloaded it.

Internet Connection

The compatibility check process is separated into two categories, Smart Trainer and Classic Trainer. The Smart Trainer version is for all those higher end trainers and stationary bikes. These typically provide some sort of electronic and/or program controlled resistance which changes as a rider navigates the route. The Classic Trainer version that I will use with my CycleOps JetFluid Pro has a "progressive" resistance - the harder I pedal the harder it gets.
CycleOps JetFluid Pro
  • Encased fluid resistance unit provides a quiet and more consistent ride.
  • Progressive resistance offers the widest resistance range and road-like feel.
  • Preassembled on a fold-flat frame.
For the Classic version, riders will note that additional effort is required to maintain speed during a climb up a simulated hill due to some algorithm within the Virtual Training application. At least, that's my understanding. I've indicated in bold my selection options.
Smart Trainer or Classic Trainer:
  • A smart trainer is a trainer that transmits a power signal. Most, but not all, smart trainers will also automatically control the resistance for the rider.
  • A classic trainer is a trainer that does not transmit a power signal. The use of a speed sensor or power meter with a classic trainer is necessary to use CVT.
Classic Trainer List
Power Meter or Speed Sensor:
  • The use of a power meter will basically turn your classic trainer into a smart trainer and provide CVT with the most accurate power data possible for a realistic experience.
  • CVT knows the power curve for each classic trainer listed. The simplest way to ride is by using a speed sensor and letting us determine your Virtual Power based on the classic trainer you are riding.
When I selected "Other" and clicked "Next" the application indicated that my sensor was "Not Currently Compatible". I proceeded with the setup process anyway.

Power Meter or Speed Sensor
ANT+ or Smart Bluetooth:
  • ANT+ has been used with trainers for quite some time and there are many options on the market that use ANT+. In most cases the use of an ANT+ device will require an additional ANT+ antenna for your PC, tablet, or mobile device.
  • Bluetooth Smart is becoming a popular method of communication with trainers. Typically no additional adapters or antennas are required to connect them to your device. Bluetooth Smart is also known as BLE, Bluetooth LE or Bluetooth 4.0
ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart
The Cycleops website compatibility page lists the required hardware (ANT+ mini stick), PC/iOS/Andriod system requirements, and enhanced hardware option for the my selections - Classic Trainer (CycleOps JetFluid Pro), Speed Sensor (Other), ANT+. I then needed to download the Virtual Training App for my specific device. My laptop computer so I downloaded and installed the PC version. I also signed up for the Premium subscription - 6 months for $72. That should get me through to spring.

The setup and user interface for the Virtual Training App are not intuitive and the Trial version seems to have a few bugs where one might edit one's profile. The Premium account appears to be better. I continued to setup my bikes and found that the virtual bike gear setup was very tedious and unneeded after contacting CycleOps Support.

My first successful virtual training ride was somewhat thwarted. I wanted all my sensors to work properly before I rode my first real virtual training ride. However, I found I had a dead battery in my heart-rate monitor and a cadence sensor that wasn't positioned correctly. Once I replaced the HRM battery and adjusted the magnet for the cadence sensor I would have been in business but for a nasty septic tank problem and an overzealous plumber with a backhoe who took out my Internet for several days and my irrigation system. Bad luck comes in 3s so I should be okay be a while. So it was almost 2 weeks into my Premium CVT subscription until I spent more that a few seconds training virtually. Sometimes technology is more a hindrance than a benefit.

Measuring the septic tank access hole location for future reference - 113" to the fence
Not only was this a messy proposition to contend with, it was also a big distraction from my training. It was also something I couldn't put off until another day.

My artful irrigation system pipe repair - no leaks
My basement Pain Cave setup. The television and laptop are in front, a fan and miscellaneous accessories are on the table to the left (a second fan is not shown to the rear), a dog cage on the right acts as a mouse pad/tabletop.

The Pain Cave
My first CVT ride route that I selected was submitted by another user. It was created for the Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 triathlon. I'm hopeful that even though this is a map route and not video route it will help me become familiar with the course before the race next year. There is also an Ironman Chattanooga 140.6 route. I've saved both routes to My Favourites.

CycleOps Virtual Training - My Favourites
Chattanooga 70.3 Bike route
I've ridden the same route in Training and Race mode and I have yet to figure out how to have my time listed in the Route Records in yellow.

Route Records
My rides have been listed in the Last Passes list. Interestingly the time of day when the ride started is listed beside the date but no the time or duration of the ride. I would think that would be what folks would want to see most.

Last Passes
The data from my 3rd attempt to ride the 57.32 mile route is shown below. Since I don't have a power meter my watts are calculated with an algorithm in the software - 182 watts. 

Data from my 3rd attempt at the course
The CVT application automatically uploads ride data to Strava and a number of social media and training sites. I've included the Strava data from the Chattanooga 70.3 ride.

As I noted previously, the Garmin 910XT watch comes with an ANT+ stick that will work with the CVT application without the need to purchase the CycleOps ANT+ stick, just so long as, the Garmin Express application has been stopped.

Quitting the Garmin Express application
In summary, the CycleOps Virtual Training application surely helps motivate me to push through to the end of the route more than I would if I were listening to music or watching television. It doesn't relieve all the boredom though. In my case it's still just one person on a trainer riding solo from start to finish. The advantage is, since the course is exactly the same, as is my equipment, I can measure my progress as the months progress and become somewhat familiar with the course. Of special interest are the turns and railroad tracks.

Also, after registering for CVT I realized that there are other options out there for virtual bike training. Zwift is a similar application that I have yet to try. It seems interesting though. Zwift has video game style graphics where the course is computer generated and other riders are represented as avatars.

One thing is sure, online bike training is going through a revolution. It's also going through some growing pains but when it's all said and done virtual training seems to provide a safe and efficient means to get a great workout.

Thanks for reading.