Since I bought the Wahoo KICKR, I have been exploring the available software for it. Although I appreciate the simplicity of the Wahoo Fitness app, I miss having structured workouts. Ouf of the software programs I have tried, CycleOps VirtualTraining has become my tool of choice for training with the Wahoo KICKR.
With my first trainer, the Elite Qubo Power Fluid, I was happily using Golden Cheetah for real-time indoor riding, as well as post-ride analytics. GC is a fantastic program, and I still use it post-ride to do all the training analytics, but the current lack of support for the KICKR meant I had to look for an alternative for controlling the trainer during the workouts.
The natural route should have probably been to switch TrainerRoad for riding. Like GC, TR provides structured training, through an extensive library of thousands of workouts, with and without video – just like GC does, with ErgDB–. The TR user interface is really well done, very slick and well thought out in terms of the cadence/power information being shown. You can just drag and drop a Sufferfest video into the workout file and start riding.
While evaluating TR, I came across Cycleops VirtualTraining by accident. I thought initially it would only support Cycleops trainers, but they also support the KICKR and like TR or GC, they have a “virtual powermeter” concept that maps wheel speed onto watts, based on each trainer’s powercurve. The second thing I had read is that it was a Windows-only program, which would not work either. But in fact have an iPad version.
Digging into VT, the software seemed to provide everything I wanted and more, at similar subscription price as TR:
- support for structured workouts, including the Sufferfest videos,
- virtual video routes,
- freeride mode,
- online competitions, and,
- support for the iPad.
The only thing missing in VT against the competitors’s products, like Tacx Cycling App or BKOOL Simulator, is 3D rides. However, I think 3D rides are still a bit of a gimmick (although I look forward to testing Zwift, based on my previous trials with BKOOL I remain skeptical of 3D training software). Only time will tell …
Routes are the core of the program, and I guess where the name of the software “virtual” comes from. Essentially, routes re-create an outdoor ride indoors. The routes are loaded from recorded GPS data and an optional video file which is somewhat kept in-sync with your ride pace. VT adjusts electronically the resistance on the trainer based on the virtual slope (grade) that comes out of the GPS track. VT then uses the power measurement from the KICKR to infer the (virtual) speed and movement on the course. Like its competitor software programs, VT also works without a power meter and for non-electronically controlled trainers. There it uses the speed curve to infer power. As a side note, my limited experimentation with VT and my Elite Qubo fluid trainer gave me very, very, strange virtual speed values, but for whatever is worth, so did Elite’s own application.
To train using “profile training”, one starts by searching for a route. Here you can filter by distance, slope, whether it has video, etc.
Once you search, it’s possible to filter the results:
and look at your saved (favorite) routes:
With a route selected, we go on to select a bike and an optional virtual partner. Virtual bikes are a way to save configurations for speed ratio, weights, etc. (you can only configure the bike gear/ratio on the web interface):
as well as the sensors connected to the iPad. In my case, I am using a Wahoo ANT+ dongle for the iPad2, to which I connect the Garmin GSC10 (only the cadence data is used), the KICKR and the Mio Fuse.
It’s worth mentioning that the optional virtual partner is a really, really, cool feature. Essentially, you can ride against another VT user that has already ridden the route. I find this is a great feature to motivate you while training, and I usually look for somebody that has the target power I am looking for in the training session. This allows me to train a route in Z2, Z3, etc. I just need to find the right partner.
Once you have route, bike and partner, it’s time to ride. VT offers two modes: training and racing. The difference between them is that with racing your ride becomes public and you compete in the leaderboard for the route, whereas in routes your ride does not come up in the public leaderboards (although your ride is still public).
As once gets riding, VT shows a terrain map alongside a summary of the key metrics, with instant values and averages for power, cadence, and heart rate. I would love to see Intensity Factor (IF) and Training Stress Score (TSS) like GC or Wahoo Fitness, but that’s currently missing. A nice tough is that we constantly see in the map the position of our virtual competitor as well as their position ahead of behind us.
We can switch to the video view, which remains synchronized with the map:
It’s worth mentioning that VT supports AirPlay, so we can send the video stream to an AppleTV and keep the metrics view in the iPad. I prefer to mirror the display and see the cadence and power metrics all the time.
Once we complete the ride, VT uploads and shares automatically the ride onto multiple sites, e.g. Strava, and you can also get it to send a .FIT file with the ride data, which will include the GPS track. VT posts activities to Strava as private, so if you want to show them you have to make them public and decide whether to keep or remote the GPS track, i.e. appear on the segment leaderboards.
VT does some basic analytics and charts/reports, which I don’t quite care for since I use GC, but they might be useful for some:
Overall the virtual route functionality is well finished. There are a few rough points though:
- Some of the routes have not been smoothed out, and there are too many frequent changes of slope / resistance that make riding on the KICKR quite a pain.
- Another issue that I have found is that not all videos are equally “smooth”. Essentially, it depends at which speed the video was taken, whether it was closer to car speed or cycle speed.
- A couple of times, the downloaded video has gotten “stuck”, and I am not sure why that is, nor whether this is also a problem with the stream.
- I’ve also seen sometimes significant mismatch and gaps between the map and the video, sometimes even upto 30 seconds (it’s easy to see this in changes of slope or when taking turns).
- Once every couple of rides, VT stops collecting data and disconnects from the KICKR for a few seconds, when no cadence, power or heart rate is collected. I have not been able to diagnose whether it’s the KICKR, the iPad, the Wahoo ANT+ dongle or VT having the problem.
But in all, the features in the virtual ride make my current subscription worth it, especially since the program also allows me to follow structured workouts (like I would do in GC).
The structured workout functionality in VT is quite standard. Pick the
workout, pick the media / video file, and get going. For some of the
workouts, the video is automatically selected based on the “original”
file name, e.g. if the you have Sufferfest video on the iPad, VT will
find it and use it. The video and the resistance changes are supposed
to be in sync, so that when the Sufferfest says GO at 7.5/10.0 RPE, VT
should adjust the power to 100% of FTP, or 3.0/10.0 at 56% FTP. However,
even for the official workouts (from the user
vtap), I have seen that
the video and the resistance changes can be upto 30 seconds off, which
renders it unusable.
With workouts with video, all you really get is the video and power (target % of FTP and actual % of FTP). I would hope to see cadence, TSS, IF, like we do in the routes, but I guess it may come in a future release:
In workouts without videos we get more data and a nice chart:
Like in the routes, once we complete, we get a summary page:
and a similar analytics chart to the one we had in the virtual routes:
The last ride mode of VT is freeride. This is a basic mode where we can set the target power and VT adjusts the resistance to our cadence, so that the power generation is constant.
And like in workout, we can select some media and watch it while we ride.
I prefer however to do the ride without video so that I can see the heart rate, power and cadence metrics.
Freeride also allows us to set the grade (slope) and then it basically behaves like a fluid trainer, where the power we generate depends on our cadence.
CycleOps VirtualTraining for iPad provides a good solution for riding with the Wahoo KICKR. At $5.99/month subscription, it’s a good deal, very competitive with competing solutions. I would like to see some of the issues I have experienced addressed, e.g. video-route syncing, power drop-outs, etc. but overall, it’s a good program and I am happy to use it.
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