Archive for January, 2016

Thoughts on Zwift as a Training Tool

This morning was a washout here in metro New York. With heavy rain, wind and fog from about 5 PM until 11 AM outdoor riding wouldn’t have just been tough, it’d have been dangerous. Even solo.

But alas, these days there are a bevy of indoor options: Sufferfest, Zwift, “spinning to the TV” and, of course, indoor cycling classes. My teammate Vito offered a terrific indoor group session today at Gavia Cycling, but to get there, I’d have to bike. And if I was on the bike in this weather, I might as well keep riding outside! My “pain cave” of choice was Sufferfest until Zwift came around last year. Since then, Zwift has added lots of features, and lots of riders. It’s a pretty awesome platform for sure.

However, after three recent “workout sessions” on Zwift, I find myself longing for a good Sufferfest video. And here’s why I’ll likely be using both of those, and indoor group classes, all winter long.

1452446057596What Zwift gets right is gamification. Making what may cyclists consider “torture” (a bit harsh, but you get the idea) into something competitive and fun is a terrific idea. Some indoor cycling classes do this as well – that’s why I like Flywheel and Swerve in NYC. Both offer some level of competition that’s just friendly enough to make it motivating, rather than disappointing (especially when you “lose”). Zwift ups the ante with a virtual world and a ton of data. By tying you on an indoor trainer to a powerful computational engine on your computer, Zwift can do a lot to make a virtual ride seem real. And, sure, if you have a traditional trainer, we can argue over the Zwift Zpower all day long. But for me, it’s close enough and, even if it’s off, it’s a benchmark I can use to gauge my training. And the visuals are pretty compelling – realistic, yet often a little silly to have some fun. I mean, look at that wooden bridge – it’s almost like crossing the Croton Reservoir!

Now, here’s the paradox…

1452443337210I love data. I love Zwift data. I love that I just did a 90-minute training session and could accurately adjust my power to fit the training plan. But with that comes tunnel vision. Everything that Zwift does so well fades into the background. Silly underwater tunnels start to feel like you are pedaling into the tide. Group chats become an annoyance. Other riders suddenly seem like they are in your way. It’s funny that the best things about Zwift in general make serious workouts harder for me.

On the bright side, I can now tunnel vision on the spot on the screen with the relevant data while making constant rapid-fire adjustments in my cadence and breathing. But I think I’m getting too fixated on the perfect workout instead of aiming for a pretty darn good workout that I really enjoy. I think that’s where videos like Sufferfest excel. You may need to make lots of estimations regarding data, but that’s a reasonable balance along with the enjoyment those videos bring to the workout. And while I haven’t been to a class with Vito yet, I know that he’d give me a motivation that no game or video can ever replace. Just like the best Flywheel and Swerve instructors that I frequent, there’s no substitute for human feedback.

Am I giving up on Zwift? Hell, no! Did you make the connection that I love data and they have tons of data? And gamification is seriously fun! But for well rounded training, especially in bad weather, I’ll need a combination of Zwift, Sufferfest and group classes at Gavia, Flywheel or Swerve. And as many cold, winter rides on 9W that the weather will allow.

New Bear’s Day

It all started innocently enough… Let’s ride on New Year’s Day to clear the cobwebs of the holiday season. And while not as crazy as the Polar Bear Plunge, our ride would include Bear Mountain. Emma hadn’t been to Bear yet, so Gavin and I were very willing to oblige. We got a “late” start to assure that the hangovers had properly set in, and there were actually six of us preparing to ride together at 9:30 AM. One of them was a “surprise guest” and he had no aspirations to take on the Bear this day, so he rode alone after the bridge. Susanna and Michael started with us knowing that they’d veer off at some point along the way.


The morning was cold and dreary with dark clouds that made it feel late in the day before we even got started. Not knowing what kind of crazies would be on the road on New Year’s Day, we opted to avoid 9W and instead took the suburban back roads through New Jersey. Of course we all had a different idea of which roads to take, so we zigged and zagged quite a bit before settling on a northbound road taking us to Sparkill. From there Susanna and Michael turned off for a food stop at The Market. The remaining three of us continued in search of our first food stop. We settled on a bagel shop off Route 303 and ate rather quickly sitting in the cold parking lot since the shop had no seating. I guess a cold, hard slab of concrete can certainly keep get you motivated to keep moving.


From the bagel stop we continued through the more scenic suburbs before picking up the more “traditional” route through Haverstraw and up 9W to the start of Bear. In Haverstraw we came across this interesting holiday scene, complete with a “Where’s Gavin?” After Emma and I finally identified the Gavin (which is apparently the brown dog in front of the strange man in blue) we rode through Haverstraw along the water where we helped point out a few secret “quick stop” points to Emma for May 15th. It’s those insider secrets that can make the difference on “race day” (which Emma asked us to more politely call RIDE day.)


IMG_0016Despite the cold, dark and damp weather, we arrived at the base of Bear in good spirits and ready for the long climb. During the ascent there were some really light snow flurries which we all found rather entertaining. The entertainment wore off as the flurries became light snow which continued during, and after, our descent. (More on that in a moment.) I watched from my spot at the back of the group as Emma slowly pulled away from me, and Gavin from her. Until the entrance to Perkins Memorial Drive, Gavin in almost the precise location as my virtual training partner on my Garmin. This means that Gavin “taking it easy” up the first half of Bear is about equivalent to my best time. I was mildly pleased when he didn’t continue at that same pace up Perkins.

At the top of Bear, there was some snow on the roadside and there was a light snowfall as well. Yet for the first time all day there was a lift in the gloom allowing us to see this great shot of the city skyline:

And we got this shot of us as well:


It didn’t take long for the chill to set in while we were at the top, so we began a quick decent. The snow kept falling, but it wasn’t heavy enough to cause any issues on the road. Yet it was just enough to remind us how darn cold it had gotten! Half way down, as we approached the gate at the bottom of Perkins, I managed to lock my back wheel while traveling 44mph. Emma was a safe distance behind me, but she was probably more scared than I was as I skidded several times ultimately going off the road, skidding some more, and catching my balance in the dirt before getting back onto the asphalt. She was sure I was going to crash. I can’t say I wasn’t so sure, either.

When we reached the bottom and estimated that the wind chill during the descent was likely around 10F, we decided to head to Peekskill to catch the train back to the city. Although, as cold as that sounds, I think in the cold rain of GFNY 2013 it felt even colder! Before catching the train we had lunch at the local taco bar:


Then we got punchy as the sun finally came out (too little too late):

IMG_0048And finally we completely lost our minds as Emma tried to find that one speck of sand on her cassette:


All in all, it was a pretty fun day, even if we didn’t complete the century ride as planned. Maybe New Bear’s Day will become a tradition! Oh, right… Frank already started that, but didn’t tell anyone, so we were climbing Bear as he was riding home. Maybe next year we’ll do it together. Are you in?