Zwift Academy 2017 Review

Well it’s all done and dusted. The 2017 Zwift Academy (for those who haven’t made the final U23 top ten) is officially over. From the 9234 entrants in the Men’s Academy, 1245 managed to finish the program, myself included!

Over the six-week program, entrants needed to complete 8 structured workouts, 5 group rides and 2 races on Zwift. The workouts were pretty tough, especially towards the end of the program. One called for twenty four 15-second sprints at max power with only 30 seconds recovery! But then they are made to test you and also uncover real talent for the Dimension Data Pro Conti team! Overall it was great to have some proper, structured training rather than just randomly smashing it on the trainer.

The warm downs were a bit long for my liking, a lot of them were over 15 minutes long soft pedalling at really low wattage. I was ready to climb off and grab a recovery shake after five. I prefer a short, sharp hour.

The races – as with all Zwift races – were brutally tough. I’m very much a mid-pack B grade racer on Zwift at the best of times. I managed 26th place on my first race and a much more respectable 5th place on the second. Those were a real test! The group rides were a little hit and miss. I used most of them as recovery spins.

Overall I did enjoy the Academy. It motivated me to get on the trainer and dig deep in order to complete all the rides within the specified time frame. The workouts were longer than I would have preferred and that is my only real complaint. Would I do it again? Yes, if the program fit in with my training at the time. Free structured training laid out for six weeks? Why not!

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The Wahoo Kickr Climb?!?!

Have you ever thought to yourself, “you know what, turbo training needs a bit more realism, I wish my bike would change angle according to the virtual gradient on the screen.” Well now thanks to Wahoo you can have your wish granted.

Introducing Wahoo’s latest trainer innovation – the Kickr Climb. Now you can not only have automatic resistance changes, but you can have the front of your bike simulate climbs (and descents) with this new device automatically raising or lowering the height of your front end! We’re talking raising your front end to simulate up to 20% climbs and lowering for “realistic” 10% descents.

Now, I’m all for realistic indoor training, but I’m not sold on whether this would actually add all that much or just be a distraction. I would however LOVE to try one out. It’d be interesting to see how quickly, smoothly and seamlessly it can react to gradient changes in Zwift – through the Watopia rollers it can switch very quickly. Check out this little taster video from Shane Miller:

The release price is £450. Now that’s an awful lot of coin for a device that doesn’t actually change your training all that much. That price is also over and above the cost of a KICKR2 trainer so you’re talking around £1500 for the complete setup. Ouch.

I don’t see a huge benefit in terms of indoor training. Okay, so you can train your climbing muscles a bit better and get used to the changing angles when you hit some real hills. That’s about all I can think of.

Gimmick? Maybe. I bet it’s kinda fun at first though!!

Climbing faster, getting fitter (or taking the #ZwiftEffect to the streets)

I’ve hardly ridden any road miles in the past couple of months, a combination of a chilly Tassie winter and weekend commitments meant that outdoor cycling has taken a back seat. Finally last weekend I got out for a decent spin including a local climb.

Mount Rumney (can you pick it from the route profile? lol) is a Cat 3 rated climb and number seven on Hobart’s Top 10 Climbs list. The full climb is a fairly consistent ascent averaging 5 percent for just shy of 6km. It allows to you get into a good seated rhythm for the most part, with a few steeper sections to test you out of the saddle.

On my fastest previous attempt I was actually gunning for a PR and was pretty gassed by the top. This time around I wasn’t aiming for a good time – simply enjoying the ride and fresh air – and I managed to knock 30 seconds off my previous best! I still had plenty left in the tank and was going to bang out another rep, but ran short on time before needing to be home. Instead I took a quick photo at the top…

…before descending back to the base. There’s actually nothing else at the top of this climb besides the nice view towards Hobart and only one road up the mountain.

I know I bang on about Zwift a lot, but it really has saved my cycling over the past couple of dark and cold months. There is no way I’d be as fit as I am or as motivated as I am right now without it. Bring on Spring and Summer!

Cycling Tips eFondo #3 London Pretzel

It’s still very much mid-winter here in Tasmania, with many a frosty start to the day and snow settling about half way down Mount Wellington. So when the third event in the CyclingTips eFondo series rolled around, I decided to jump on again and ride the virtual sportive bandwagon!

This time it was over the shorter “London Pretzel” course. It’s only 55km yet covers all the roads on the Zwift London Map in both directions – so about 32km of rolling road followed by “climbing” Fox Hill and Box Hill before descending back into London for the finish.

I didn’t plan on smashing myself over this one as I’d been slacking in the training department, but as I sat in the virtual holding pen warming up with 300+ other Zwifters, that plan went straight out the window! I dialled up over 400W and launched out the gate in order to make the front group. No matter what the event, the starts are always a smash fest so I knew the drill. Sprint hard out the gate, keep it above threshold and hang on for the first five!

As a bunch formed I tried to hold it at FTP wattage with squirts above to keep my place in the group. The pace finally “settled” and the initial selection saw our 50 strong peloton put a minute or two into the rest very quickly  – we were bowling along at 42+ km/hr average all the way to the foot of the first climb.

As soon as we hit Fox Hill the group shattered as expected. I’d been riding at or above threshold for the best part of an hour so was doing my best to keep pace with the depleted bunch around me. It wasn’t to be my day though and right at the crest of the climb my head was shouting PEDAL HARDER but my legs had other ideas. Tank empty. I was shelled quicker than a boiled egg at breakfast…

Luckily the descent down the other side gave some respite – although the pace was still high as I tried to latch onto any other rider I could. The rest of the ride was spent trying not to lose too much time – a short flat section back through London swapping turns with five other riders and then straight up Box Hill (the less said about that the better) before hammering it down the other side to the finish.

Passing under the banner I was spent – hardly anything left for a final sprint – but somehow I’d managed not to embarrass myself too badly coming in 39th place from 320 starters, six minutes down on first. I’m a fan of these events now, they really do push you hard and the motivation to keep pace with those around you is strong! A great way to keep those legs turning through the winter. #RideOn

The secret to getting stronger on the bike!

Here it is folks – the secret that all pro cycling teams and the fastest guys on your club ride have been hiding from you for decades. The reason they’re decimating you on every hill climb and leaving you in their dust on every town sign sprint. They know it, they use it, they repeat it, they live by it.

So here it is. Your secret to speed. Your recipe to rip it up. Your key to crushing it. Listen up and pay attention. The ultimate way to get faster, beat your mates and become a stronger cyclist is to…

PEDAL HARDER!

Or to expand on that concept slightly:

Pedal harder. Eat well. Rest. Recover. Then pedal even harder next time! :-)

But of course, don’t forget to #enjoytheride

5 Reasons the Tacx NEO is awesome (and one reason it’s not)

The age old debate of Wahoo KICKR vs Tacx NEO! Arguably the top two smart turbo trainers currently on the market (although there are plenty of new contenders).  If you’re looking for the ultimate indoor trainer or epic Zwift experience then these two are your top choices as both are high quality trainers in their own right. I rode a KICKR but bought a NEO. It’s the first day of winter down here in Tassie, so here are my 5 reasons why the Tacx NEO is an insanely fantastic piece of kit:

1) It’s rated to simulate 20% inclines and can handle 2200 watts. Higher on both fronts than the Wahoo KICKR. Oh and that’s a lot of watts, in fact if you can hit that kind of wattage on a regular basis, then  I want to be reading YOUR blog.

2) The sound of silence. When Tacx say the NEO is near silent they mean it. Your fan (you do have a fan, right?) will be louder. So will your drivetrain. My wife is often asleep in the next room, her head literally three feet away. She can’t hear it. Have a listen to DCRainmaker’s KICKR vs NEO sound comparison below.

3) Direct drive. No rear wheel  equals better power transfer, no tyre wear and no slippage. All your effort goes into smashing out watt bombs! It’s a turbo trainer game changer. I’d never go back to a wheel-on trainer.

4) No need to calibrate. Every single other smart turbo currently on the market requires some form of periodic calibration to retain accuracy. Sometimes every ride and after the turbo has warmed up. Not the NEO. Not once, not ever. Get on. Ride.

5) It syncs seamlessly with Zwift (other platforms available) for a fully immersive experience. It can even simulate road surfaces such as wooden bridges and cobbled streets if you want it to. Hit a virtual 10% incline? You’ll feel it! Head downhill after that big climb? The NEO spins out as if you’re flying back down the mountain! I could write a whole bunch of superlatives and fancy metaphors describing the experience, but you really need to ride it for yourself.

And of course, the one big reason it’s not so awesome…

1) It is – without a shadow of a doubt – a crazy expensive trainer! There’s no getting around the fact that you could buy a very decent second road bike for the money the NEO will set you back. It’s quite the purchase so you’ve got to know you’re going to get serious use out of it before pulling the trigger.

Now, who want’s to buy my no-longer-needed rear wheel? #RideOn