Virtual Bicycle Trainers Guide
What is virtual cycling?
If you've ever been on a trainer, you know it's not as exciting as being on the road. Before you had few options to distract yourself while training. Mostly, you would point your bike and trainer at the TV and watch whatever was on - not fully engaged in the workout.
Recently, the trainer manufacturers have started releasing many new and exciting virtual training options - ways to simulate real rides and get real, meaningful feedback on your tablet, phone, or PC.
This, of course, can be confusing, as there are many different possibilities and a lot of mysterious buzz words you probably aren't familiar with. Hopefully, this guide will make it easier to get started.
What virtual training apps are available?
Most major manufacturers have a training app available.
We'll use the CycleOps software in our examples as it is robust, popular, and has good information available for compatibility questions.
What do I need in order to use a virtual training app?
It's simpler than it sounds.
- You need a supported trainer and your bike
- You need a supported smart-phone, tablet, or PC
- You need transmitters that allow your bike and trainer to talk to the app
- You may need a subscription for the app. These are usually purchased diretly through the manufacturer.
Do I need to buy a new trainer or will my current trainer work?
You may not need to get a new trainer. Most popular trainers are supported - you just need to make sure you get compatible sensors.
You don't neccessarily need to have the same brand of trainer as your virtual training software - CycleOps, for example, will work with most Kurt Kinetic, Minoura, and Tacx trainers as long as you get the proper sensors.
I'm confused by the transmitter choices. What do I need to know?
Don't worry too much about the names. There are really only two - Bluetooth Smart and Ant+.
What you need to know is that your device (tablet, phone, or PC) must support the transmitter you use.
- A Bluetooth Smart transmitter will not work unless your device supports Bluetooth Smart. You can check if your device supports Bluetooth Smart
- If you cannot use Bluetooth Smart, use Ant+. Ant+ requires a transmitter and usually a USB receiver. The Ant+ receiver may not be needed if you have a supported Ant+ device.
- For Ant+ on older Apple devices Wahoo Fitness has a 30-pin Ant+ Receiver
Don't some cycling computer sensors support Ant+ or Bluetooth Smart already?
Yes, some do. You should be able to use those sensors as long as they get their information from the rear wheel. Front wheel sensors will not work on a trainer since the front wheel does not move.
Here are a few cycling computers that would work:
- The Garmin computers with the speed and cadence sensor support Ant+
- The Magellan computers with the speed and cadence sensors support Ant+
What about sensors for Heart Rate and Power?
Yes, they make Ant+ hubs, like the PowerTap G3, which transmit power data. This is considered more accurate than speed and cadence, but comes with a higher price tag.Ant+ Heart Rate sensors and Bluetooth Heart Rate sensors are also available. They are not usually required, but most software applications will track and display heart rate information.
What is controlled resistance?
A handful of trainers are designed specifically for use with software apps. These trainers have integrated sensors and receivers. They provide the best experience because the software not only tracks what you are doing, it also can control the the resistance on the trainer to simulate what is on the screen. In other words, if you are going up a hill in the sofware, it will increase the resistance on your trainer so it feels like you're climbing.
- For the CycleOps line of trainers, they have the powerbeam series and the powersync series.
- Tacx has the Bushido and the Genius Series
How do I view my tablet or phone while on the bike?
For tablets, the best option is the Tacx tablet bracket.
There are many different phone mounts available.