Oliver I was fortunate to have watched a video someone posted on how to race in Zwift. They described it as much more like a Cross or MTB race in real life where riders explode out the gate fighting for the line into the trail. So I happened one day to have done a work out a when I saw a race was about to start. For a laugh I jumped in and went like a banshee! It sure helped that I was completely warmed up! As I hoped I was with the front surge but another group still got out in front. Things backed off within a min and another surge happened and we caught the riders that got away. Next thing I knew I was in the lead. I found this all pretty thrilling because in over a decade of MTB racing I’ve always been pretty much dead last off the line.
As thrilling as it all was, a few words of caution about what you’re seeing. Well, more of a diatribe actually!
I’m a very experienced racer and raced on tour around the US. And I’m also a coach. However I’ve never used a trainer until the last year, and over all my career I’ve been very wary of the numbers people tout, especially with “watts”. Meanwhile I have a friend who’s represented the US in rowing and virtually all his training revolves around watts. I know how valuable the data can be, but I’d still caution you about it.
We have a Wattbike at the local gym; a very sophisticated trainer designed in part by British Cycling and meant to be one of the most accurate trainers available. It was not ideal conditions but I finally did my first FTP test. It came out to 272watts. That’s a decent number, but it’s nowhere near the numbers my fellow racers post up. Being that I’m significantly larger than most of my comp and knowing the caliber I’m competing at, I was expecting to see an FTP of more like 350watts.
So this Wattbike? Was it calibrated right? I didn’t have a fan; did that make a difference? The fit wasn’t perfect like my real bike; did that make a difference? Really there are endless variables. I will get on the same bike a day later and see higher numbers. IT could be anything; was I overtrained? Did I have a cup of coffee? A good breakfast?
I’d say for the most part machines tend to be accurate at least to themselves, so staying with the same trainer is a good idea. Since my FTP test I have gotten Zwift. I’ve tried it with two machines by Tacx; one their bottom level smart trainer, the other an upper midrange trainer with a built in motor to simulate DH. First of all the numbers I’m seeing on Zwift are much higher than the Wattbikes (and higher too than the Stages cycling bikes which are also meant to be dead accurate). Not only that, but the numbers I’m seeing on the higher end machine are even higher still. I’ve been doing a lot of training now on a trainer, and there is an art to taking an FTP test, so no doubt I’ve improved. I have not actually done a full FTP test on the high end machine, sure if I did it’d be over 400 watts. This machine is published as being within 5% accuracy.
So we’re talking possibly a 100+watt differene between ‘accurate’ machines!
I think in my case the Wattbike rewards a perfect rounded pedal stroke, which I don’t have. The trainers though, with virtual flywheels, especially the one with the motor, rewards my real life pedaling style which tends to be very lugging and more of a thump thump thump then a continuous spin. They may all be accurate in the watts they read, for all I know…, but continuous motor feels more like the road, in that I may punch out 400 watts for 10 seconds, but then I’ll subtly drift it back for a few seconds, and then carry on at 400 watts. The wattbike would drop quickly in it’s power readings; whereas the trainer does not. And nor do you really drop in real life (at least not much). It’s why stava will estimate I’ve averaged 450 watts up a climb when I just haven’t.
I’m returning the higher end machine. It feels great but it just doesn’t seem as consistent in the erg mode as the cheaper trainer. It also ramps too much at lower speeds and doesn’t simulate how it’d feel in the real world which is one of the reasons I wanted more resistance.
The problem with the cheaper machine for me is it doesn’t have enough resistance for sprint efforts or continuous efforts over 400 watts. I’m not there often though so I’m happy to stay with this machine for now as it works great for erg workouts and feels pretty darn good.
I know Zwift is less than accurate with everyone out there, but it’s still great training and good fun, with whoever you’re riding with. I’ve been thrilled with the experience.
I’m sure you’ve all done this, but when just looking for a good spin about I like finding a Zwift rider and just trying to stay with them, no matter their speed. Sometimes you’re overshooting and sometimes you drop too much, and you’re trying to pay attention to which direction they might take or whether they upped their effort… Sometimes I find someone doing strong efforts in workout mode and I just try to follow along :)