I love exercising outside. It leaves me feeling refreshed and alive in a way that indoor training just doesn’t. But I need to face the fact that training outside in the Icelandic winter will sometimes be very difficult and possibly dangerous. So I’ve spent some time thinking about how I’m going to keep myself fit when we’re living in Iceland without joining an expensive gym. So here we go.
Have you heard of Zwift? If you use the training tracker Strava you MUST have seen someone on your feed using it. It’s an online cycling trainer that allows you to train indoors and virtually cycle on famous courses around the world. All you need is a laptop, a bike, a turbo trainer, and a cadence sensor.
If you haven’t heard of it, and my description isn’t selling it to you, its like World of Warcraft but for people in tight pants.
I use a TacX turbo trainer, lenovo gaming laptop and Garmin speed and cadence sensors to track my ride on a Boardman road bike.
I loved Zwift from the first time I tried it. I hooked my bike up, put my old Garmin 310x on the handlebars and started churning up the miles cycling around a course in london. It became a bit of an addiction, and I would often sneak off for an hour to potter around a virtual island course.
I’d thoroughly recommend a Zwift subscription to anyone with a home-gym situation (or a corner of the living room where you put your bike) – it’s a really brilliant way to get some miles in without leaving the house. I think that as a new parent this has helped me feel like I was making progress despite being physically unable to leave the house because my kid was asleep.
My Zwift pros and cons:
• Its properly social. As I was cycling around on the courses I would hit bits that were really difficult, and would require me to try and grind out a faster pace out of the saddle – say when I was climbing a hill. I noticed people that were passing me or coming down the other way had large ‘thumbs up’ emojis over their heads, and realised that they were saying well done and keep going. There were people I’d never met, virtually trying to motivate me to put in my best effort. I love that. At a time where my wife and I were struggling to get out of the house with a new baby I could jump on Zwift and have a chat while racing with virtual pals.
• The races. There are set race times that are sponsored by different companies and organisations, just like on Strava. So for example you might ride in a 100k race, but if you finish you can purchase a discounted limited edition cycling top to wear in real life. And when you join a race you see all of the other people around you, cycling too. And although I’m sat on a static bike, it feels like I’m actually participating in something with real people.
• The mobile app. I use the app to join races that are coming up, for example like this weekend. I set an alarm for the race, and it reminds me to get myself ready and on the bike. It stops me making vague plans about training, because there is a set race time that I’m joining – I can’t be late or I wont be able to join in.
• Seamless link to Strava. It was incredibly easy to link my Zwift account to Strava, and to check out my relative effort (using my heart rate monitor), along with mileage, gradient increases, speed, distance. It even displays the map of the ride you took, just like a normal road session.
• It’s never raining inside. The UK can be temperamental with weather, and while I LOVE training in the rain (it cools me down naturally, its quieter, I feel like I’m in the Army or something) it’s sometimes a bit dangerous to take the bike out – drivers are less likely to see you, the potholes are harder to spot, and manhole covers and grids become like mini-ice rinks. In Iceland it would be even worse… on Zwift, it’s always clement.
• If you use a normal (cheap) turbo trainer it will destroy your rear tyre. I found that after a month of using Zwift fairly regularly my rear tyre was fucked. When I looked closely I could see little tiny balls of rubber that had flung themselves off my rear tyre and stuck to the wall. When I asked a mate who rides hundreds of miles a week if it would make any difference, he said it would puncture on the road, 100%. He then told me a story about getting a puncture fifteen miles from home when he’d forgotten to take his phone with him. So, either use Zwift sparingly, or buy a more expensive turbo trainer and rear gear set to use it year-round.
• Cost. Zwift is a bit expensive. Sort of. Its £12.99 which is less than the cost of a round at the bar, but if you find yourself not using it, or maybe once every now and then – it’s money wasted. Also to purchase all the bits isn’t cheap either – cadence sensors (good ones) will set you back between £30-£50, the computer/laptop if you don’t already have one is a massive expense, and the opportunity cost of not using your bike when the suns out for fear of a puncture? Priceless.
• Network issues. Like all virtual communities, it will go down sometimes. I have a particularly annoying example, when I was 45km into a 90km training ride and it just froze and restarted me back somewhere else on the map. I lost all my progress and was severely pissed off. It only happened once to me in about 6 months, but fair warning, it happens.
In Iceland I can see Zwift as being a vital addition to my fitness programme – and I urge you to give it a gry!