Sunday, 2 December 2012

Product Review -

I said it before - I'd much prefer to ride outside, but sometimes its just not in the cards.  During the winter, I try to maintain a pretty steady routine of sessions on my Kinetic trainer.  While some are content with spinning for an hour or so in front of their favourite Netflix movie or YouTube stream, I find it very difficult to do a simple, monotonous ride - that is, unless I'm doing a quick 45 min recovery spin after a race or a hard workout.

Over the past 2 years, I've accumulated a number of videos, ranging from the hairy-legged man-fest known as Spinervals <shudder> to the overly entertaining Sufferfest videos.  While effective, I needed more.

Here's the thing - with these videos, your workouts are based on what's known as PLE - Perceived Level of Effort.  This means that the video tells you to push, for example, at a 7/10 level of effort.  Well, on a good day, that could be 280 watts, on a bad day, 250.  There's not really anything pushing you, except for your own self-discipline.

Enter TrainerRoad.  For $10 bucks a month, you get a lot of cool stuff:

-  if you don't have a power meter - you get virtual power (more on this in a second)
-  hundreds of structured workouts
-  programs containing workouts to reach a certain goal (FTP, endurance, century training)
-  workout analysis that automatically calculates your "zones"
-  synchronized workout functionality with Sufferfest videos (more on this in two seconds)

$10 bucks a month.  A local cross race costs $30 for 45 mins of racing.  In relative terms, its a banging deal.  You can try the service for a 30 period for free.  You can also cancel or suspend any time.  Suspend you ask?  Well, I don't see myself using this service too much during the summer - so instead of cancelling the service, deleting all my history, data, and progress - you can suspend.  Stop paying, but keep your data, only to pick it up again for the next winter.

Virtual Power.  How much does a brand new Powertap hub cost?  $900??   Quarq?  $1200?  SRM?  Can't even guess.  Virtual power works like this:  Your trainer, whatever brand it is, works in a pretty controlled environment.  There's no wind, no hills, no terrain.  This means that at a given speed (as measured by your cyclo computer) equates to a certain wattage of power - depending on the type of resistance unit your trainer has (magnetic, fluid, fan etc).  The nerds at TrainerRoad have analyzed literally hundreds of trainers and developed algorithms to determine how a certain speed equates a certain wattage.  When you download the software, you tell the program which trainer you have (in my case, the Kinetic Rock and Roll), and it uses the proper power curve to display a "virtual power".  According to TrainerRoad, the data is within 3% as measured against a true power meter.  Did I mention $10 a month?  How many months would it take to pay off a $900 power tap?

So how does TrainerRoad pick up your speed and other data from your bike (heart rate, cadence).  Well, you need a USB ANT+ stick and a sensor package on your bike that measures off the rear wheel.    Have a Garmin Edge 500 computer that came with the GSC-10 speed/cadence sensor and a heart rate monitor.  I also bought my wife a Garmin Forerunner watch that came with a USB ANT stick (score!!!!!).  The ANT stick goes in my laptop, I open up the TrainerRoad software, go to DEVICES, and the software instantly recognizes my heart rate strap and my sensor on my bike.  It then displays this data live on my laptop.  Super super cool.  It then takes the speed as detected by the sensor, and converts it to power based on the nerd algorithm.

In summary, in addition to your bike/trainer, you need:

-  A laptop/computer (Mac needs Snow Leopard or better)
-  ANT+ USB stick, like this Garmin
-  A speed sensor that works on your back wheel - again, Garmin makes one
-  The TrainerRoad software, which you download.
-  A TrainerRoad account, which provides you with the access to use the software.

From there, you pair up your sensors and you're ready to go.  You have essentially 3 options:

1)  Ride on your own and save your data
2)  Ride one of the provided workouts
3)  Sync a Sufferfest video and ride that workout.

Before you do any of those 3, I recommend doing an FTP test - Functional Threshold Power.  This is a level of effort that you're just barely able to sustain for a certain amount of time - usually 20 minutes.  Once this level of effort is determined, the software automatically determines different "zones".  

From there, you no longer have to use a "perceived" level of effort - the software TELLS you exactly how hard to work.  As long as your bar is GREEN, you're working at the right level.

It also displays a live graph, showing you the profile of the workout, and how your numbers compare to what's expected of you, again, based on the results of that FTP test you did.

In addition to all this, you can sync up your Sufferfest videos to this data feed/analysis.  I've praised Sufferfest before, but like all videos, there was nothing really pushing you, giving you feedback on how you're actually performing.  TrainerRoad does.  You open the appropriate workout - The Hunted - for example, then you drag the video file into the window.  TrainerRoad then syncs the live graph profile with the video.  When the gun goes off signalling a sprint in the video, the graph and power targets display appropriately.  Now, instead of sprinting at 8/10, TrainerRoad tells me to target 300 watts and keep it there - the bar stays green if I do.  It turns red if I overdo it, yellow if I'm slacking.  Awesome.

Did I mention that you can still use your Garmin Edge to collect all the data for use in Strava and Garmin Connect?  Yup, it still works.

Bottom line, $10 a month is nothing considering a 'cross race costs anywhere between $20 and $40.  You get power, structured workouts, and instant tangible feedback.  No more guesswork.  You keep the bar in the green, its that simple.  What's also cool is that TrainerRoad will automatically adjust your zones if you are finding yourself either struggling or kicking too much a$$.  If you're constantly excelling during your workouts, surpassing the target levels, the program will boost your zones, so now you have to work harder to keep that bar in the green.  The program grows with your fitness level.  Very very cool. 

The first month is free - no questions asked.  However I'll wager that you'll wanna keep the subscription.  Its given me a whole new motivation to stay on the trainer this winter - which we all know, can be very difficult.

Happy riding and suffering!!

1 comment:

  1. Absolutly agree !!! My name in Trainerroad - akartsev. What is your ? Andrey Kartsev from Belarus.