Ode to Indoor Cycling
Easter weekend in eastern Canada provided a huge dumping of snow. In between building snow forts and snow people with my boys, it gave me a perfect opportunity to get back indoors and test out the ErgVideo software.
Out of both necessity and personality, I’ve always been a big fan of indoor workouts. For specific intervals and workouts, nothing beats the level of control possible with indoor rides, where there is no traffic or changes in terrain to interrupt your training goals. This is especially true when you add the ability to regulate and record power output levels, as is the case with the CompuTrainer indoor trainer system or when riding a trainer with a power monitor on your bike.
However, one thing that has been missing from indoor workouts is the ability to really ride in a racing situation. You can ride as many different interval workouts as you want, but it is very difficult to replicate the highly variable nature of group ride dynamics and power demands.
For a busy professional and dad like myself, group rides are also very difficult to schedule in, and good race simulation workout can be very difficult to arrange unless you have a group of riders at similar levels of fitness. Therefore, it becomes a real shock to get back out into competitive group rides or in races. The high leg speed required during group rides and unknown recovery intervals are also pretty difficult to replicate in training.
The ErgVideo Concept
Enter the group at ErgVideo, based out of Canada’s capital of Ottawa (and if my trivia holds, the second coldest capital city in the world behind Ulan Bator in Mongolia!). What they have done is come up with a solution to indoor racing by taking advantage of CompuTrainer’s ability to rapidly adjust resistance. In essence, just like in real racing, ErgVideo “slaves” your CompuTrainer to its race, taking away your ability to control your workload and telling you when you need to rest and hammer instead.
Here’s the view at warp speed around the Speedway race video, tucked in tight behind my big pilot fish
The other nice aspect of ErgVideo is that the ride itself is based on an actual group ride, with video taken by a helmet-cam from a rider in the midst of the peloton, as opposed to overhead or follow vehicle views. This gives a highly realistic view of a racing peloton, making you feel as if you’re actually there in the race itself. Just like in a real race, you can anticipate when the hammer goes down or when the pack might be ready to ease up and release you from your lactic purgatory by their body language, changes in the way the group swarms or becomes an arrow, pedaling cadence, etc.
And if the lactic acid is burning up your neurons and you want a graphic display of your time of suffering, the main ErgVideo display provides a power profile at the top of the screen, giving both a graphic display of spikes and drops in power, along with a big number on the left side outlining the percentage of threshold power currently required. The MultiRider software is fully up and running throughout the ErgVideo race, so you can also see a similar graphical display of relative power requirements along with the actual wattage required at any time.
ErgVideo also takes full advantage of CompuTrainer’s ability to have multiple riders concurrently riding the same course, with eight riders on eight different CompuTrainers able to ride a course together through their MultiRider platform. What makes ErgVideo a notch above, and an ideal group hammer workout, is that riders can be of highly different skill levels and power thresholds can be riding in the same peloton and race against each other, with it even being possible for somebody with much lower fitness to drop the powerful hammerheads.
The view behind these ladies is nicer, but don’t let the view get too “distracting!” The frequent sprints and accelerations of this crit race can leave your tongue hanging out and looking like an old pervert chasing the women around!
How is this possible? When riding ErgVideo races with the MultiRider software, the resistance for each rider is based on a percentage of their own individual power thresholds. So a particular acceleration may require 150% of each rider’s individual threshold power, meaning somebody with 300 W threshold will need to pump out 450 W to stay in the pack, while somebody with 150 W threshold will only require 225 W. So this is the perfect chance for your significant other to put the gears to you and drop you for payback and bragging rights!
The ErgVideo comes with a detailed instruction for installation, setup, and operation. The documentation may seem to be daunting at first, but is really meant to protect me from myself. It’s written in the theme of “how not to screw things up” so it’s really worthwhile to carefully read things through before you stick the DVD into your computer.
First and above all, as ErgVideo “slaves” the CompuTrainer, make sure your Coaching or MultiRider software is working fine! You can choose to use either one of these software, but the MultiRider is highly recommended even when riding by yourself. One major advantage is that you’re able to adjust your target threshold with MultiRider during the race itself, whereas that can only be set at the start with Coaching software.
Next, make sure your Windows Media Player is working properly and also has the sufficiently updated codecs. It’s all free for download, and instructions led me to set things up easily. Each race takes up to 5 GB of space on your hard drive, so be careful with laptops with smaller drives and slower video cards.
Once you open up ErgVideo software itself, you can select your desired race (each one is a separate purchase) then further customize the ride. This includes individual thresholds for each rider, setting up to ride a particular segment of the race, and also if you want to ride repeating intervals of particular segments.
Where the Rubber Meets the Trainer
All this theory is great, but how does the ErgVideo actually ride in action? I took in the “Speedway” race that was sent to me, consisting of a group race around a car racing circuit lasting 2 hours 18 min. I set up my Cyfac with the PowerTap SL wheels onto the CompuTrainer, plugged in my MP3, and got set for my first race in a good many months. Heeding the advice of the designers, you need to treat the entire ride as a race and to warm up well, because the hammer gets dropped almost from the gun and it’s a full-on race for the entire length!
The wide range of possibilities for ErgVideos also means that the non-roadie set are taken care of. Here is a video of mountain biking in the Gatineau trails outside Ottawa, perfect for recreating the quick power bursts indoors. Another video offers solid pain in the form of a team time trial.
First thing I found was that my first race on the setup, at 70 min, was probably the fastest 70 min I’ve ever spent on an indoor bike. I was so caught up in the race itself and reacting to the pack and race dynamics that the time really flew by. The second thing I noticed was the realism of the ride and the video itself. Besides looking at the graphical display of required power levels, you really can tell when the hurt is going down by carefully “reading” the body language of your fellow riders, from when they’re about to stand and accelerate, when the pack begins to bunch up, and when a hill approaches.
The next thing to note is that the ErgVideo rides are quite highly realistic in favouring and demanding a high pedaling cadence, as opposed to grinding low gears. The instructions recommend that you stay in one gear (e.g., 53×16 or 15) throughout the ride and to keep the cadence high throughout. So a hill or a big surge will see the resistance against your bike by the magnetic rollers increase rapidly, and you need to respond by maintaining the high cadence and gear against the increased resistance.
Part 1 of my power profile from the first half of a 70 min segment of the Speedway race. The threshold wattage was set to 200 W as opposed to my normal value of 245 W. The yellow line is my wattage, the red my heart rate, and the green my cadence. As you can see, it was comfortable but still not an easy ride, with lots of random efforts of over 350 W and all-around suffering thrown in.
And above all, the ErgVideo makes for one hell of a race simulation. Just like in a race, there are prolonged stretches of relative ease at low power outputs where you’re rolling along in the pack. Then some Jens Voigt wanna-be takes off and the whole pack goes nuts trying to chase them down, leading to parts where I was starting to see stars from going way above my threshold for way too long, and just praying that the pack would somehow slow down. Then there might be a bit of easing up where I would try to spin and recover as much as possible, then some other rider would attack or the virtual me would start hammering off the front, and the pain would start all over again.
Part 2 of my power profile from the second half of a 70 min segment of the Speedway race. Yellow = power, red = heart rate, green = cadence. The pack was starting to really put the hammer down in this half, with higher and more frequent spikes in power, leading to a higher heart rate too and less recovery. Two massive sprints at the end too for added fun.
Taking a look through my power levels, nearly half of my ride was spent at relatively easy power levels of 120-180W. This was interspersed with repeated short surges at or above my threshold level of about 240 W, with these surges typically lasting about 30-60 s at 240-400 W. Then at the critical junctures, I hit out >600 W for 5-10 seconds a number of times. In short, a highly typical hard group ride! With my O-symetric chainrings on the Cyfac, I typically go for solo or steady group rides at a cadence of 86-90 rpm average, but I was averaging 98 rpm or so for the bulk of the race. Therefore, this makes for a great tool for leg speed training too!
The Future of Indoor Racing?
The future for the ErgVideo concept is strong. With the basic software design and template in place, the possibilities for future ErgVideo simulations seem to be limited to only the imagination of the designers and the demands of the market.
All in all, if you already own a CompuTrainer, the ErgVideo is an ideal piece of extra software that will allow you to greatly maximize and extend your training possibilities. The cost is also very reasonable – at US$45 per video, that’s about the cost of a single race entry, and you can ride this race over and over until your legs drop off. If you buy multiple videos you get a discount of up to 22%.
Get ‘Em Here
The race video catalogue and descriptions are online at: Ergvideo.com/Catalogue.aspx
There are a total of 23 discs currently available, each US$45, built from many distinct rides (some videos include 3 different rides or workouts). The race catalogue includes road races, triathlon courses and time trials. The new Train for RealTM series adds base training, group rides, a wide range of interval sessions, plus other specific training sessions coming soon including motor pacing, sprints and hills. Expect about 30+ discs to be available by the end of November 2007, including more training and MTB rides.
• Check out the ErgVideo website for more details and ordering information.
• And check out RacerMate to see who are riding CompuTrainers and why.
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