It's a familiar time of year for triathletes and cyclists in the Northern Hemisphere...
The clocks have gone back, the evenings are getting shorter, the main racing season is long gone, and many of us are thinking about starting our 'pain cave' training in preparation for 2020.
It's indoor training season!
This, most definitely, will not be the first or last article you'll read on this subject, but what I'm not going to do is talk about the effectiveness of indoor training or the types of sessions you should or shouldn't be doing. Neither am I going to talk about indoor trainers/turbo's. There's DC Rainmaker for that.
What I thought I'd do is provide my subjective view of the 5 'best' indoor training platforms on the market...
If you ride a bike and haven't heard of Zwift then Strava kudos to you. In a very short period of time they've gone from a wacky new entrant to, arguably, the top slot of the current options. Having US$120M of venture capital funding has certainly helped.
It works on just about every platform, while their support and FAQ's are very good. For setup I'll give it a 4/5.
But what's it like as a training platform? I'm giving it a 3/5. I think it's a fun and exciting racing environment (let's leave aside the issue of 'digital doping' which they really need to deal with going forward), and it boasts a strong social platform. But for me there are just too many distractions to make it a solid training platform.
Cost: USD $14.99
Overall Rating: Overall I give them a 3.5 out of 5.
The very first online indoor training platform I used back in 2010. I have to admit to a soft spot for TrainerRoad, not least because Andy appeared on their 'Ask A Cycling Coach' podcast...
I'm very comfortable with the way it works and it's a very solid platform for structured indoor training.
If you're starting out with structured training then I recommend TrainerRoad highly. It's one I use regularly and I love the simplicity of it. One of the best components is the ability to move the workout to the bottom of the TV screen and overlay any Netflix or BBC iPlayer video on top and just crack on.
Like Zwift their setup is simple, straightforward and very well documented. For that they get a solid 4/5.
One area where TrainerRoad has come on strong - partly influenced by the need to differentiate from Zwift and other platforms - is their ancillary training information. Their blog and podcast are both excellent training resources.
Cost: USD $19.95/Month
Overall Rating: Overall I give them a 4 out of 5.
Recently acquired by Wahoo, The Sufferfest has been around nearly as long as TrainerRoad. I wrote a detailed blog piece about The Sufferfest earlier this year so I won't go into too much detail here.
Suffice it to say I much prefer the 2019 version of The Sufferfest to the 2011 version. They've come a long way and are much closer to TrainerRoad, but set themselves apart by using their own methodology (which they call 4DP™) for threshold testing. I think it's a superior method to the standard FTP test.
Their setup is simple, straightforward and very well documented. For that they get a 4/5 and overall I'll give them a 4.5 out of 5 for the whole experience. The extra half point over TrainerRoad is solely because of the US$7/month lower cost.
Cost: USD $12.99/Month
Overall Rating: 4.5 (top rated)
For me Xert is the most interesting training platform of the current crop. They grabbed my attention when I heard that Stephen Cheung, PhD joined them as an advisor. Stephen is a Sports Scientist for whom I have enormous respect and his book Cycling Science is well worth a read.
Their USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is that you never need to take an FTP test again. Their system is adaptive and adjusts your 'threshold' based on your recent history and overall training load. That methodology struck a chord with me because I've long believed that 'threshold' is a dynamic metric, not something fixed to be tested every 6 weeks or so.
I used Xert last summer in preparation for the Canadian National Triathlon Championships. I had very limited time for training, every workout was demanding and very specific. It seemed to work though - I won my age group!
The downside is the setup and operation is quite technical and can be frustrating at times, which means they only get a 2/5 in this area. Having said that, they have a good online forum and they respond well to any questions you might have.
They get bonus points for their pricing and coupled with a very novel training environment, I'm giving them a respectable 4 out of 5 for the whole experience.
Cost: USD $9.99/Month
Overall Rating: 4/5
Of all the platforms included in this review I have the least experience with FulGaz. When I have used it I must say I've enjoyed it. For a 'virtual' ride experience I actually prefer it to Zwift. Their tagline is 'Less virtual... More reality'. I think they've got that spot on.
Their USP is the hundreds of high quality (UHD/4K) videos they have of just about every major climb in the world. Everything from the Stelvio to Alpe d'Huez to Old la Honda to Box Hill to Old Willunga Hill. The best bit is the community involvement. Any member can film and upload their own favourite local climbs, that's a fantastic resource.
It isn't a structured training platform as such but when I've used it I know I've done a decent workout on a tough climb. And if you're training for an upcoming climbing adventure then it's a superb training environment for that level of specificity.
You'll need some good stable bandwidth in your pain cave to ensure you get the best experience. Two or three times when I've used it I've had problems which can be frustrating so I'm giving them a 3/5 for technical. The price is good and the overall experience is solid so for me they edge out Zwift and get a 4 out of 5.
Cost: USD $13.10/Month
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
In 2019 indoor cycling training is most definitely 'a thing'. Dedicated, regular and experienced cyclists tend to use one of the platforms I've reviewed and each one has its own tribe. There are also hundreds of local indoor cycling and spinning studios and the mega brands such as Soul Cycle and Peloton which cater to the general fitness demographic.
Variety in training is always positive so I encourage you to take a vacation from your current 'tribe' and give another platform a go to see if the change is beneficial.
Enjoy your winter in your pain cave... I'm off to Australia!