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!

From TT to Road bike: Aero topped handlebars

A little update on my winter project! As outlined previously I wasn’t getting enough use out of my Planet X TT rig so over the winter (still very much winter here in Tasmania) I’ve been fettling away to convert it from time trial weapon into a fast road machine.

Since my last update, I sourced a set of 3T Aero Nova handlebars. These are aero topped carbon fibre drop bars with internal cable routing. Sexy as hell I gotta say!

This was my first foray into internally routed cabling and it was quite the job. Luckily the bars came with hollow plastic tubes to help feed the cables though which made the job easier, but certainly not easy. The cables were fine, but there was a LOT of poking and prodding and swearing involved to get the fatter housings fed around the tight bends. It took the best part of an afternoon to get right.

Hoods pulled back and cables run through the feeder tubes.

Once fed through and seated properly, finishing the cables to the brakes and mechs was a breeze. The Planet X is old school so externally cabled – it may not be as pretty but it made my life much easier. To finish the job I went with my favourite bar tape, Lizard Skins 3.2mm DSP wrapped to just past the hoods. Classy.

The black colour of the bike and the bars don’t quite match, mildly annoying!

My first test ride was only a short 35km local loop just to dial in my position, index the gearing and get my head around SRAM DoubleTap shifting. Not sure I’m a huge fan of it yet, I guess it doesn’t help I’ve been rocking Ultegra Di2 for a bit! I’ll pass judgement and do a comparison to Shimano 105 further down the track. It still needs a little more fine tuning to get the shifts spot on.

The bike on the other hand is dead set awesome! :-)

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

CyclingTips eFondo: I just “rode” a Sportive on the turbo…

So a while back I wrote about eFondos and eSportives totally becoming a thing these days. Not one to knock things before trying, I jumped aboard my Tacx NEO and logged in to join the first ever CyclingTips eFondo on Zwift.

The night before I went through my usual cycling event prep. Clean and lube the bike, lay out my kit, prepare my ride fuel/bottles, make sure everything is in it’s place and most importantly study the route profile. Just like a “real” Sportive!

The route for this one was the Watopia Pretzel, which takes in all the “climbs” on the island (apart from the Volcano) over a distance of 73km. Having ridden part of the route before I knew that that first 15km were basically uphill, all the way from sea level into the Watopian Alps and to the top of the Radio Tower. The course then rolls around the island with a couple of lumps before heading back up the reverse side of the mountain for a second big climb.

The morning of the ride I had a hearty breakfast of my usual porridge topped with golden syrup before kitting up and logging onto Zwift for a short warm-up. The riders were set off in two waves for this event. I joined the second wave consisting of over 250 riders all resplendent in their eFondo jerseys. A whole peloton of pixelated people pedalling away on their trainers. Alone yet together.

There’s a short roll-out before the road heads (virtually) skywards and stays that way right the way to the Radio Tower. The pack thins out and I settle into a nice climbing rhythm with a small bunch of other riders. I know this climb is going to take around half an hour – with the hardest section right at the top – so it’s best not to push too hard and blow early. There’s a long way to go and more climbing later.

I’m sitting just above FTP wattage for most of the climb, alternating seated efforts with short bursts out of the saddle. With 20 minutes done we turn left, heading up to the infamous Radio Tower climb. The road ramps to 19% at places. It may be virtual, but when the Tacx NEO clamps down it sure feels like true suffering! It’s a tough grind in my lowest 36/28 gear, but I manage to snag a PR to the top.

Circling around the Radio Tower and heading back downhill, I reach for my first gel of the ride. Yep, I’m fuelling this just like a real ride. The descent is ace. Once you reach a certain speed in Zwift, if you stop pedalling your avatar will “supertuck” and fly down the hill like a pro. The NEO has downhill drive to add to the immersion. It’s good to rest the legs for a moment as there’s plenty more to come.

Half way through the course and our group has thinned to six riders. We circle the island at a lower intensity, knowing we’ve still got to head back up the mountain in the opposite direction. The second big climb is a real killer. Another 20 minutes with much of it at 10% or higher. As we slog up with heavy legs a few of the group fall away until we are but three. I just concentrate on my wattage and keep focused.

Finally over the crest and another fast descent follows. We’re into the final 10km of rolling roads now.

Having given my all I’m pretty gassed and  eventually I lose the draft of the two other remaining riders of our bunch. Nothing left! Looks like the last 5km are going to be solo. Through the last of the rollers and it’s a downhill sprint to the line. Well, as much of a sprint as I can muster. I’m happy with my effort as I’ve got nothing more in the legs. As I pass under the banner my time flashes up on the screen with the results table: I’d finished in 21st place with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 49 seconds! Really pleased with that.

Unlike a regular Fondo or Sportive, there’s nobody at the finish line to hang a medal around your neck or hand you a goody bag. You do unlock the CyclingTips eFondo Jersey though, which your Zwift avatar can proudly wear so that’s something! I must say I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, it was about as “fun” as riding a turbo for over two hours can be! This was mostly due to the seriously immersive nature of Zwift paired to the Tacx NEO.

Would I do it again? Yeah, probably. CyclingTips are running a series of five of these eFondos over the Australian winter. If the weather is rubbish and the legs feel up to the challenge I’d be tempted to give it another shot! #RideOn

Total distance: 73km
Elevation: 1365m

Time: 2 hours 17 minutes 49 seconds
Finish Position: 21st