Monday, February 26, 2018


Bit of a weird name I know, not as catchy as I thought, but I have your attention, so lets go.

Mental health and cycling, two things that are part of my life, no escaping it. Recently, in the last year or so, as the taboo subject of mental health has become more approachable, the therapeutic effects of cycling have started to be recognised and discussed in the mainstream.

Last year an event was held in East London which I really wanted to attend, but sadly I was not able to. Since then, I have worked with my GP on a couple of things, and discussed with a group my experiences with mental health. But I want to do more!
I have been ravaging my brain for months now, how can I engage with others, what can I do to help, what common grounds do I have.

So my current thinking is along the lines of encouraging people to join in for coffee and a cake, and maybe a little bike ride. Nothing stressful or requiring over exertion of the body or mind. But an opportunity to find common ground, meet new people without the pressure to interact too much, and do something positive and healthy at the same time.

Just a thought, and a very small one at the moment, but with the right ideas, location and support, I think it could help, even just a few people.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Is Zwift really "riding" ?

In November I decided to buy myself a smart trainer. A Tacx Flux to be precise. wheel off, direct drive, with good resistance. Why? Well Zwift of course! Having had my attention drawn to it, and watched many videos on YouTube about it, and smart trainers, it sounded right up my street.

I am no gamer, I have owned many consoles and all have gone unused until I sold them. So the attraction to Zwift is certainly not that of a gamer. My mindset when buying was a simple one, don't let my legs get lazy on off days, or days it was not practical to get out and ride. Having had a few injuries (non cycling related) over the years, I thought it would be nice to be able to jump on and do a few miles without too much strain on the feet and legs, with the added bonus of not ending up stranded somewhere if all went wrong.

The main aim though, I admit, was to get more riding in when I was feeling too lazy to go for a ride in the cold and damp of winter. However, before I get bombarded with people saying I should man up and get out onto the roads and ride like a real man.... I commute 5 days a week, cover about 100 miles and don't let the weather bother me, unless the conditions are going to make things a little too risky to take on South London's roads at rush hour. I'm brave, but not stupid!

So far this month (January) I have covered about 700 miles, 265 were Zwift, and the remainder split between commuting (which to some doesn't count either) and road rides. 22,894ft of elevation. Again 9,692 on Zwift (Three Sisters you bitches!!) and 13,202 real world.
Were any of the Zwift miles easier, sure they were, no wind in my face, controlled temperature etc. But I should also point out that the power figures were similar to road rides, so my legs were working pretty hard all the same. The nice thing I have found of course on Zwift is, on days that I have been tired, I have been able to pace myself, and still get in pedalling time.

As for the elevation, again no it was not "real" riding, but the effort made, power developed, and nausea which was induced was all pretty damn real. Strengthening my legs, allowing me to develop my climbing, practise out of saddle efforts, and improve myself. While all the time putting my body through the mill.

Something to be aware of, which some "real road or die" people might no know, is that depending how you ride, stopping pedalling on a trainer is just not the done thing. Where you can enjoy freewheeling a descent after a long climb, this feels less natural on a trainer and Zwift, so you are inclined to keep pedalling and developing power. So you are right, its NOT the same, you end up putting more effort in.

I am aware of the differences between riding up real hills and virtual hills. I am no pro rider, but I do like a challenge, so pushing my heavy body up the hills in Southern Spain in the summer has been fun. As have some of the nice little hills in the UK, up to Pyg Track, the Horseshoe Pass etc. Both have their challenges, both take it out of you, but I completely agree that riding on a real road up a real hill feels..... real'er ?

My view on the comparison between real and Zwift is simple. The real road stuff is great, nothing like having a leisurely ride with a friend, stopping for coffee, taking in the sights, snapping some pictures, and making a lovely Relive video at the end. Lighting up some more of the heatmap. I love it, and enjoy getting out on the bikes as often as possible.

Sometimes however, it is just not sensible to go out on a bike, especially solo. Kudos to anyone who does, but for me there are limits, and they start with my own safety. Damp roads and super low temperatures, meaning slippery roads, nope, I will use the trainer thanks. I have had my fair share of spills now, and picked up injuries which have kept me off the bikes for weeks, so I do not wish to repeat any of those.
Torrential rain with a forecast which says it won't let up for the whole weekend. Again, no thanks. I am more than happy to ride in the rain, but again I have my limits. Catching pneumonia is not on my bucket list. Me and fully waterproof jackets don't get on, the feelings of bathing in buckets of sweat is just not me. Sweat and breathable clothing, great, but wearing things like my Proviz 360 for hours on end are not my favourite thing to do. Not to say I have not done 60-70 mile rides in them, but would rather not do it.

Of course there are other reasons to ride at home, or spend time on a trainer. First of course being structured and controlled training. But that doesn't seem to be an issue for people. Clocking up miles on trainers while "training" is OK, but less so for Zwifting, for some reason. Maybe it is the "game" aspect which offends? Cycling is serious don't you know!
Then there are other commitments, like looking after your kids, being limited by time, no one to ride with, and many other good genuine reasons why people feel uncomfortable getting out on their bikes.

To simply sneer and jeer at people for their decisions of when and when not to ride "properly" is a little childish really. We all have our own reasons and limitations, so respect them, don't make people feel bad for not wanting to go outside their comfort zone. When I say that I mean it with regards to the arena they choose to ride in. Of course we should all be well outside our comfort zones when it comes to physically riding. No pain, no gain and all that.

Now while I am defending the merits of Zwift, please don't think I don't understand what some peoples point is, of course I do. When it comes to challenges on Strava there need to be parameters, and a way to differentiate between real and virtual rides. Veloviewer does a lovely job of this, and you are able to break down your data by riding type, bike, efforts and much more. As long as I can see a breakdown of my own data like that, I am happy. So it would be nice to see the same divisions to be drawn for challenges which allow virtual rides to be included.

When it comes down to leaderboards, I am very unlikely to figure anywhere higher than the midway. At 245lbs, build is against me there, so I am happy to muddle along. However I can understand the frustrations of those nearer the top, battling for that extra position or two, and being pipped to the post by someone doing virtual rides.

Even the segments which emulate real world sections of road should not be compared, and would not be for a second by any sane person. Box Hill on Zwift is certainly not the same riding experience as it is in the real world. But both are good to ride in their own individual rights.

Would be interesting to see how many people are happy to allow their miles and elevations numbers to count towards their annual totals, but still dispute their inclusion in challenges. And more to the point, it would be interesting to know how many trainer haters even use one, or have experience on platforms such as Zwift.

One important note of course... The cheats. Those entering false body weight and data to fool the algorithms, and thus gain a power advantage are only cheating themselves. However I can imagine such people really do piss off those at the top end of their game. There, and just about only there, can I see a point.

I guess what I am saying here is..
1/ Don't beat up on other people who's riding life differs to yours. Not everyone has the same fitness, time or ability to commit as you.
2/ Pushing along at 90% FTP for 2 hours is near as damnit as hard work on the road as it is on a good trainer. Especially with elevation and resistance changes.
3/ There should indeed be a way to differentiate and split results on Strava between real world, and trainer miles.
4/ Cycling is meant to be enjoyable to at least a certain level. Stop stressing and enjoy life.