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.