As the Autumn evenings draw in ever earlier, the temperatures begin to drop and the weather becomes more inclement, many modern cyclists, rather than resort to overshoes and leg warmers, instead seek the refuge from the elements offered by the ‘pain cave’ to supplement their structured training, racing and even social rides.
Some cyclists however are adamant that a winters riding outside, battling the wind, rain and wet tarmac, builds essential ‘grit’ and steely resilience essential for the following spring.
We followed one such traditional club member Greg Phitidis, from his initial disinterest at the perceived boredom of indoor training, through to fully embracing the digital worlds of Watopia.
Prior to Zwift, what did your winter cycling look like?
On typical single-digit temperature days; mudguards, snood, double gloves, long sleeve baselayer under a long sleeve winter jersey, and to finish off, neoprene shoe covers. Add a rain jacket for the rainy days.
I’d only stay in if it was blowing a gale and absolutely tipping it down, otherwise I’d ride outside!
How did you feel about indoor cycling before zwift?
I thought it looked boring. I’d tried a dumb trainer previously without any training software and that didn’t last very long because it WAS boring! I had actually considered trying a smart trainer and getting onto Zwift, but I just wasn’t convinced it would be any better.
What made you change your mind enough on indoor training to give it a try?
I knew a bunch of club members would ride together on Zwift when the weather was iffy – and some would use it instead of riding outdoors over winter.
They seemed to really enjoy it, and come early Spring when they came back out on the road, I was always amazed at how fit they were. So, I knew it would be beneficial, but still I resisted. The set-up costs seemed high for something I wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy. …But curiosity finally got the better of me this year.
What set up did you need to get started?
I like to keep an eye on Ebay for cycling bargains. There are quite a few post lockdown smart trainers out there at the moment. I spotted a Kickr Snap wheel-on trainer with a mat, trainer wheel and a stand going for a song. It was too good a deal not to give it a go.
The variable resistance makes such a huge difference, it becomes a far more immersive experience when you feel the hill gradients change.
Will you be upgrading your original set up?
I’ve only had it a few weeks, but I’d like to upgrade to a direct drive trainer. I’ve borrowed one and they’re quite a bit quieter and smoother. Ideally, I’d also pick up another bike frame and build a trainer-dedicated bike with bits I’ve got knocking around.
What does your winter cycling plan look like now? How will you be using zwift?
I’m still new to it but my plan for winter is to get my base fitness up. So, as well as the social rides when the weather is unwelcoming, I’ll be doing mid-week zone 2 workouts and I’d also like to complete the FTP Builder program.
What have been the biggest revelations about this experience for you?
I’ve really enjoyed the social rides using the Discord app so we can chat as a group. I’m not much of a gamer, but I can see how the gamification element of training can add something. I’ll admit I got a little thrill when I unlocked new socks.
ERG mode is really clever during a workout. It means you stay in the same gear and Zwift changes the resistance of the trainer, so you simply concentrate on cadence and watts during the intervals. That kind of structured workout you can’t really achieve on the road with rolling terrain and traffic.
What do you love about the Zwift experience?
It’s a super efficient way to get a good workout done, similar to going for a run, you can get a really good workout in whatever time you have available.
Who else do you think Zwift could benefit?
Any rider, at any level, who wants to improve their fitness and strength. It could be the extra bit of training you do that can get you to feel confident in moving up to the next speed group on the club rides.
Do you have any tips for other members who’ve not tried Zwift?
I’m too much of noob to have any Zwifting tips yet! Check back with me in the Spring. But if you have the opportunity to try a smart trainer and Zwift set up, you might just be surprised by it!
Will you still be riding outside this winter too?
Definitely, for me, there’s nothing better than outdoor cycling with the club, but it’s great to supplement that with Zwift for easy mid-week rides and as an alternative to outdoor riding on the weekends when the weather is too grim!
Whilst Greg is keen to continue braving the elements outside this winter alongside his Zwift training, some riders are understandably planning to spend a far greater proportion of their cycling time inside on the turbo trainer. EGCC Club Member Bob Shelley will be using Zwift to recover from injury. “I have been riding on Zwift for a couple of years and love it for a number of reasons. One of these is that, while I am currently recovering from the injuries following a recent accident, it offers me the chance to do the rehab work in a safe, warm environment. I can choose from a wide variety of routes, as well as exactly the level of difficulty I can cope with as I improve. The data collection offered by the smart trainer also means I can measure my progress precisely.”
EGCC Membership Secretary Angela Dyson thinks one of the biggest benefits to Zwift is it’s indoor group ride option. “I absolutely love that we can still ride together indoors when the weather is particularly bad using Zwifts meet up function. The elastic effect keeps the group together on the road regardless of ability, even allowing some members to do a structured workout as they join. We pair this with Discord too, so we can talk as we go which also keeps the Social element.”
Not everyone is completely sold on Zwift however, Steve Dennis for example, EGCC Time Trial Secretary and long term club member, who had a formidable Time Trial racing career, so knows a thing or two about serious training says; “I don’t use Zwift as I Haven’t got a laptop and can’t warrant the expense of signing up for something I would probably use infrequently. That said, I can see huge benefits of using a platform like Zwift, especially over the winter. It’s certainly introduced some very good cyclists recently, probably more than would have come up via the traditional route of club runs and bashing out the miles on the road. It’s undoubtedly safer as there is no traffic, crashes or ice to content with, but I know of people who ONLY ride indoors and who would probably be a little scared to ride on the road again, so it’s important in my opinion to mix both. Mainly to not loose the ‘feel’ of the road, bike handling skills and have the confidence to ride in a real group.
Whilst there is clearly still a place for riding outside over winter, we are all aware how quickly winter can grind away at precious drive-chain components. Indoor training will greatly reduce the wear and tear to your bicycle parts but some may worry how much wear occurs on the turbo trainer. Chris Pope, member of EGCC and long term Zwift rider advises, “As long as you cover your handle bars and headset with a towel to protect them from sweat, regularly lubricate your chain, and wipe down your frame after each use, the wear and tear will be minimal. It’s comparable to summer riding without the winter road paste grinding at your gears and brakes.”
However savings are not the only benefit, Cai Marle-Garcia, EGCC member and Personal Trainers & Master Trainer at WithU, believes there are gains to be made too. “Zwift’s mix of structured workouts, races and challenging free rides makes it the perfect tool for not only maintaining your cycling fitness over the winter months, but also vastly improving both endurance and power, ready for the return of Spring.”
As well as social rides and structured workouts Zwift also has an incredibly popular aspect which many overlook: Zwift racing! The Road Races are category segmented to try and even the playing field. They start fast and really push you to your limits which is a great HIIT workout! Zwift also have Time Trial events, just like the real thing riders set off at intervals and manage their own pace over the distance. Just like entering a real race and pinning on a number, these races really do get you motivated to fully commit to the effort. East Grinstead Club member Paul Pearson is a huge fan of this competitive aspect. “I’d love to race outdoors, but the thought of crashing really puts me off. Racing in Zwift keeps me motivated to keep cycling. I usually race 3-4 x a week, from 30 minute rides to 3 hours. Fun is fast for me!”
Finally, those mud guards won’t be required indoors, an aesthetic benefit that may finally seal the deal for all but the most stubborn traditionalist!
So, should we Zwift indoors or ride outside over winter?
For each individual rider this answer will differ. It is nice to have an alternative option when the weather is at its worst. An entertaining option where you can stay out the rain, stay safe, save money on bike component wear, really focus on your training goals for next season and don’t have to miss out on the Social aspect of Cycling.
We also can’t neglect some, at least occasional work on our bike handling skills. So we think when the British winter weather is …’passable’, the weekend club ride will always have a place. …I mean, No one’s stopping for cake on a Zwift ride are they!
For members who would like to be added to our indoor cycling WhatsApp group, or for cyclist interested in joining EGCC, please contact EGCCmembership@gmail.com