Don’t worry, this isn’t just a bike blog now.
With the weather outside being rainy and a bit chilly this winter, I’m happy to get to ride indoors a bit. After buying spandex and clipless shoes the next step was obviously getting a Wahoo Kickr Core and signing up for the terrible video game Zwift.
This first week of riding inside, I’ve learned very quickly how hot it can get in my house unless I have fans on full blast, and how much laundry I’m going to need to do regularly.
Riding inside is brutal! It’s very different than outdoor riding since I can’t coast much, and don’t have the regular landmarks I count on quite yet to depend on. However, it’s lovely to not need to stop for stop signs, or worry about cars or a helmet. I’ve got snacks inside, and a load of water bottles. Hell, I can even take a bio break upstairs on a real toilet instead of awkwardly stripping my entire bib off.
Starting off with my rides, a friend informed me I should “figure out my FTP”, which first meant learning what “FTP” even was. This video does a good job of talking about how FTP is used for training, and how variances in style and weight can really change how FTP shows up for folks.
Inside of Zwift there are a few different sorts of FTP tests, but that same friend suggested a ramp test, which essentially starts you at a 120w spin after a warmup and encourages you to hold that at 80-90rpm as it increases by 20w every minute. Eventually, your legs literally stop working, and you give out, and at that time your FTP is calculated based on your FTP demonstrated during the past few minutes.
My FTP was 198W on week one. I think I made it to 260W before my legs said “no” after a few seconds of trying to pedal. It hurt.
I’m told doing this test is a good thing to continue during training every few weeks to see your progress. I decided I would need more fans and towels.
With my FTP calculated, I could now figure out various target zones for training, so that I could to a certain degree estimate how much effort I could do on a ride before I got exhausted. Part of parcelling this effort out, it seemed, would also include learning how to spin instead of grind.
As a former fixed-gear rider, I tend to try to climb any hill in a high gear, with a lower RPM and a LOT of power on the pedal, but for knee reasons, and a desire to not become more lactic acid than person, pros and smart amateur road cyclists tend to keep their RPM around 80-100 even on a hill, shifting higher to spin right up any big hill. With the exciting addition of 10 tooth cogs to some new chain rings, there’s even more possibility of some wild gear ratios. It’s kind of nice not needing to ride everywhere on a 48/16 gear ratio like I did on my old Panasonic fixie.
When I rode fixed gears, I was smoking cigarettes all the time, and drinking pretty often. I was also using my bike as my primary form of transportation bc my car usually didn’t start, and my friends were also broke cyclists. Those days riding 10-20 miles a day while bumping around to see pals, or buy beer, or just goof off was normal. My fear of cars and mortality was much lower, and I was an old hand at replacing my tubes on a ride.
These days, my body is much older, and my desire to be alive is much higher, so going on longer rides outside often feels tricky. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, as riding outside brings an even further risk of contracting a debilitating illness. No thanks!
Indoors though, other than heat, sweat, and exhaustion I can ride indefinitely. No matter how far I go in an hour, I don’t have to turn around to come home either, because unclipping and stumbling upstairs leads me to my shower, or a snack. I’m unlikely to be a big distance rider any time soon, but in my first week I managed 100 miles of riding with a few 10 mile rides, and one 14 mile ride outdoors over the weekend, as I was buoyed by my indoor training.
During a work day, I’ve found I can do a 30-40 minute ride with plenty of time for a shower, or a 20-30 minute ride with a shower and a bit of cooking. It’s nice to get a few miles under my belt before the sun sets, and then have a few hours to eat food and work before doing something else on the bike or off in the evening.
There are a few events I’ve checked-out on Zwift as well, even though outdoors I wouldn’t really want to ride in a tight group with strangers.
Women’s-only events happen almost daily, with everything from races, to recovery and exploration rides. I love a competition, so I’ll check more of these out as I train.
At the end of week one of Zwifting I decided to sign up for a group D (0-2.5w/kg) race around Central Park in NYC. I watched a few videos to prepare, and even read race notes for the various sections of the course.
I learned that Zwift races often start with a sprint, but usually settle down to a tempo pace or higher afterwards, so I dutifully cranked out of my saddle as the countdown to racing hit 0. I held on to first place for the first quarter mile, but then got overtaken by a much stronger rider.
I was firmly in second or third until we hit the Harlem hill that sent my heart up to 189bpm and left me utterly destroyed. Carrying my 128kg frame up a 10% grade means putting down a serious amount of power at almost any speed.
At the end of the race, I came in 4th out of five racers, but averaged 221w of power over the 20 minutes on the course, meaning I had the highest raw power output out of the group, despite having a comparatively low power-to-weight ratio. The first place racer in my group put out 2.5w/kg of power throughout the course, to finish at 16 minutes. To put this in perspective, I would’ve had to put out 320w for the entire race on average to keep up with her. I think it’ll be a few more months before I get anywhere near that, but at least now I know what the gap looks like.
The other way to increase my power is to lose a few kg, but currently I’m in the “eat everything in sight” stage of daily cycling, so we’ll see if getting down to race weight ever becomes a consideration. I think it’ll be much easier for this lady to just convert more of those kilos to muscle mass so that I become just one huge walking quad. Time will tell.
More to come
I’m writing this now in my second week of indoor riding, and I still love it. I took a rest day on Monday, to give my legs some time to chill out a little. I’m quickly realizing how much my body will need yoga and other types of stretching in addition to water and protein, so I’m also trying to incorporate a lot more of both into my life. I’m still loving Apple Fitness+ for everything that isn’t cycling, and this feels like it dovetails really well with my love of core and strength training as well.
Please let me know if you have questions about indoor biking, or want to add me on Zwift so we can ride together. One day, maybe I’ll even try riding Mount Diablo or something excitingly adventurous outside too. Perhaps once I learn how to spin up that hill.