Indoor training, part 7: YouTube in the pain cave

Many who take indoor cycling seriously have gone toward Zwift. I don’t blame them; it’s a pretty good service that makes a competitive game out of the drudgery of indoor training. Unfortunately, a good Zwift training setup costs more than what I would like to shell out.

Due to one reason or another, I’ve had to put in my saddle time indoors more frequently. At home, my setup simply revolves around a smart TV or a PlayStation 3 with the YouTube client app installed, and it’s surprising how much the video-sharing service has in store for indoor cycling.

GCN (GLOBAL CYCLING NETWORK)

Famous for its regular stream of road cycling content, as well as its charismatic crew of presenters and guest hosts, GCN also sports a slew of indoor cycling training videos. They don’t publish as many of them, or do so frequently, but what they do have runs an impressive gamut. Many of their sessions revolve around high-intensity intervals, although they also have constant-effort sessions which vary the cadence and power.

What sets their videos apart is the presentation. Effort level is shown via a 10-point scale, where a 10 is the maximum you can put out. GCN scales the effort against time, as well, so they usually reserve 10/10 efforts for all-out sprints. Cadence, on the other hand, is shown via a circular metronome, where two yellow dashes spin around it at the cadence they recommend. This greatly helps people like me who don’t own a cyclocomputer with actual cadence measurement; just match the movement of the yellow dashes with your pedal strokes. Their sound guys have excellent taste in music, too.

GCN’s training videos fall under four general categories. The first of them sees the presenters inside the studio, along with guests, where they have one of the presenters (usually Simon Richardson or Matt Stephens, who left GCN in early 2018) as a leader giving direction via cues.

The second category is largely the same, still in studio and with a similar crew size of six, but with spin bikes and a non-presenter leader providing direction. These spinning sessions are all pretty challenging, and they take advantage of the multiple hand positions of a Spinning stationary bike, which are slightly different from those of a road bike’s drop handlebars.

Due to their tie-up with the Maratona dles Dolomites, a massive annual cyclosportive in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomite Alps of Italy, many of their training videos have onboard footage of presenters Simon Richardson or Daniel Lloyd riding the climbs of the region, such as the Passo Giau and Passo Falzarego. These make up the third category, and these mountain passes also figure in the route of the Maratona.

Lastly, GCN will sometimes tag along with a professional cycling team at a race, and do a training session with them too. Most of these infrequent videos are with Team Sky, but they’ve also teamed up with Team Mitchelton-Scott.

What GCN doesn’t offer is anything that lasts longer than an hour. While Dan and Matt construct very well-structured sessions that offer maximum pain/benefit for a given time, they don’t really believe in the value of sessions longer than 60 minutes. Also frustrating in some of their earlier videos is that the cadence metronome isn’t visible all the time.

CTXC

Outside their YouTube videos, I don’t really know much about CTXC. What I do know is that their training videos are pretty brutal, and they nicely fill in a gap which GCN is all but reluctant to address. In my experience, CTXC’s training videos are awesome for the times you want a workout to last longer than an hour…which is ideal for, say, the times when you wake up too late to join your Sunday morning long ride.

From what I can tell, CTXC is a moderately large cycling club based in Melbourne, Australia. Invariably, their videos are onboard footage of the club peloton, riding at high speed on Melbourne asphalt, while maintaining a rotating double paceline to share the effort. This is the meat and potatoes of CTXC’s workouts: they’re all designed to mimic the kind of fluctuating effort you need to pull off when you’re in a paceline, either wheel-sucking to conserve energy, or surging to take your pull in front. If you’re interested in making your indoor training emulate real-world efforts, their workouts are perfect.

CTXC’s training video library is fairly small, at just a dozen. That said, each one is made to a certain duration in mind, from 20 minutes all the way up to two hours.

Longer sessions exceeding an hour in length usually incorporate a climbing leg in the middle, sandwiched by flat paceline surge efforts at the beginning and end. Many of the climbing intervals encourage you to get out of the saddle and grind away continuously for five or six minutes. Conversely, the flat surges at the end tend to have reduced recovery time in between.

Visuals are more rudimentary compared to GCN’s. There is an effort level meter, but its scale goes up to 6 instead of 10. Warm-up and recovery intervals are rated a 3, while power-on intervals are either a 5 or 6. CTXC’s video editor does manage to nicely match up the power-on intervals with the onboard footage rider’s turn to pull at the front. If you want some form of cadence reference, you’ll just have to watch the peloton’s legs.

While there is no voice-over, there are instructional or inspirational messages that flash from time to time, such as “How’s your heart rate?” or “Keep it smooth.” This makes CTXC’s videos a little better if you want to use your own tunes; you can simply mute the audio and put your own music on, which I tend to do due to musical preference.

Because they are so brutal, I save CTXC’s videos as an occasional treat and a litmus test of my fitness. I would also recommend them for cyclists more experienced with judging effort by feel or with a heart rate monitor, because the prescribed effort level on the videos isn’t as granular or as newbie-friendly.

Advertisements

How do you build confidence on the saddle?

A colleague of mine chatted with me on the elevator going down and out of the office recently. She had asked for tips about how to improve her confidence while riding, as her on-the-saddle nervousness was detracting from the time she could spend with her kids while they gleefully rode their own bikes.

I figured this would make for a good subject for today’s writeup. So, how do you become a more confident bike rider?

SADDLE TIME – AND MORE OF IT

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic shortcut or an instant cure that will take away your jitters. The best way of building confidence on the saddle is to simply keep riding your bike.

Or is it?

As starkly simple as that advice is, it’s too simple and doesn’t give you much of anything to focus on. A more effective strategy is to break down the task of riding into individual skills you can practice when you do log the saddle time.

EMERGENCY STOPS

This is first on my skills list for good reason. The laws of physics dictate that vehicles with one front wheel just don’t stop as quickly as those with two or more. There are things we can do to improve the odds, though, regardless of what brake system you run on your bike.

Befriend your front brake; it is crucial if you want to stop quickly. Key to making use of it correctly without flipping over your handlebars is to straighten out your bike, get your pedals level, stand up out of the saddle, and push your hips backward as you pull the front brake lever. In a sense, you are pushing the bike away as you brake. This counterweighting action basically makes it impossible for you to fly forward off your bike. Pull on both front and rear brake levers, but bias the front brake more.

It is imperative you practice and get used to this skill quickly, because it can literally save your life. Regular practice recommended.

RIDING ONE-HANDED

Easily second on my list is one-handed riding. If you have any plans of riding on the street with vehicular traffic, you will need some way of visually indicating your intentions, and the best way of doing this is with hand/arm signals.

Freeing one hand from your handlebars also allows you to drink or eat while riding, and allows you to turn your waist and head more so you can check for traffic behind you.

So how do you teach yourself to ride one-handed? Take advantage of your speed, as it’s how a bicycle stays upright and stable. At a medium riding pace, around 12 km/h and faster, try to have one hand let go of the handlebars while going straight, and let the loose hand hover a few centimeters over the bar, so you can hold it again if needed. You’ll soon find out that you don’t have to grip the handlebars all that tightly to maintain stability.

RIDING AT VERY SLOW SPEED

Having established that a bicycle is more balanced and stable the faster it goes, what do you do when you take away the speed? You become more active and work to maintain your balance.

This is an excellent skill to learn, one for more advanced riders. It’s also great to go back and practice every once in a while. Without speed, you are forced to constantly tweak your balance on the bike, making adjustments with the handlebars and leaning your body left and right. It’s effective both done in a straight line and while turning or going round in a tight circle.

The good news is that all this low-speed balance work translates directly into better bike handling at higher speeds. On a fast road ride, especially, you can get used to steering the bike with your hips instead of your handlebars.

RIDING IN A STRAIGHT LINE

This might sound too simplistic, but you actually do need to intentionally practice riding in a straight line. Why? I see too many bike riders who cannot ride straight without flopping their wheels over left and right. Imagine the cold bullets of sweat you’d feel having to ride alongside such a cyclist.

The constant need for left-right correction while riding straight just means a rider cannot keep balance well. Much like in car racing, the more you move the steering wheel, the slower you ultimately are. While a fast pace on the saddle isn’t top of everybody’s priorities, I bet most people want to ride without having to needlessly expend energy doing anything else but go forward.

Practicing this is as simple as finding a white line on the side of the road and trying to keep yourself as parallel to it as possible – or even ride over it if conditions allow. Again, the side effect is you learn to steer your bike using your hips, rather than your hands. For added challenge, drop your speed and hold the straight line at a very slow pace.

Indoor training, part 6: The flywheel effect

I’ve had the Minoura LiveRide LR340 turbo trainer for a while now and I’ve used it with both Hyro, my cyclocross bike with 700C wheels, and Bino, my 20″-wheeled folding bike. A few buckets of sweat later, shared between these two bikes, I started noticing a few differences.

At this point, I’ve documented numerous times the more rapid rate of tire wear from the smaller wheels – and the larger resulting mess that comes with it. It turns out that’s not the most telling difference between the two bikes.

With Bino, I find I can crank up the resistance and use much heavier gears. I regularly dip into the higher end of the gear ratio spectrum. I’ve gotten to the point where I can sprint in the 50×12 top gear combo at the final flat-out interval of a workout…and push as hard as an indicated 60.8 km/h on my cyclocomputer.

I have no idea how I’d sprint to this speed on a folding bike. My limit on the road is around 44 km/h, at which point I’d be pretty spun out.

Even in my 50×12 top gear, it’d take my legs a pedaling cadence of 154 RPM to get to this indicated road speed. Yes, that’s not sustainable for long periods, and most likely very hard to do out on the open road due to aerodynamic drag, but I’m mentioning it to illustrate my case.

On Hyro, though, it’s a different story. I use nowhere near half the LR340’s total resistance range, and despite using the same cassette and chainrings as Bino, I usually never breach the halfway point of the cassette. Beyond 50×19 or 50×17 are gear combos that are too big for me to push my pedals to on a turbo trainer. My indicated road speed also peaks at a significantly lower 52.5 km/h.

V-max on Hyro while on a turbo trainer.

It’s entirely possible that the two bikes are giving me slightly different workouts, and I pin this down to their rear wheels acting as flywheels of different sizes.

With Bino, the smaller 406 mm rear wheel acts as a flywheel that is much lighter and quicker to spin up with pedaling the cranks. The consequence is it takes much more resistance from the turbo trainer to give the training load called for by sprint intervals. Hyro’s 622 mm rear wheel, on the other hand, has more mass and needs more energy to get going…but requires less out of the turbo trainer to give roughly the same training load.

In practical training terms, I think that indoor training with Bino is more of a test of souplesse, or pedaling smoothness. With the smaller wheel size, I find it is much easier to accelerate and decelerate simply by changing my pedaling cadence. Peculiarly, with a change of bike, I find I could get the same kind of training coaches used to recommend getting a roller trainer for. Bino also has a slight edge for really high cadence work. Mounting Hyro’s bigger rolling stock on the LR340 will allow me the low-cadence training that replicates endurance climbing efforts, as well as getting used to holding low positions for faster riding.

Without hard data, and sharing just my palpable differences training between the two bikes, I feel like I may just be blowing a load of hot air. For that reason, I would love to quantify all this difference with a power meter. Unlike heart rate or speed, where external factors such as aero drag or physical condition can affect readings, power meters are more “insulated” and are better at actually quantifying your training load and output – a watt is a watt is a watt. Unfortunately, while they have been coming down in price almost constantly since 2012, they’re still too rich for my blood.