Once an activity solely for winter, indoor cycling is fast becoming an year round activity thanks to impressive virtual reality worlds that you can now inhabit from the comfort of your own home.
Gone are the days of had written sessions and only the rhythmic humm of a loud roller and your ever quickening heart rate for company, virtual reality cycling platforms such as Road Grand Tours (RGT) can now transport you all over the globe, and even further with virtual worlds, allow you to meet up with friends for a ride and even train and race complete strangers while still remaining socially isolated in your own dedicated pain cave.
What is Road Grand Tours?
Road Grand Tours is without a doubt developed by experienced gamers who ride bikes.
It's effectively an indoor world simulator that enables you to link your turbo trainer with your computer (PC and Mac), Apple TV, iSO and Android and ride in a virtual environment with supported training hardware.
Users from around the world are able to connect, ride, race and train together in a virtual reality world, which can be either an existing well known cycling destination, or Magic Road, which you can create by uploading your own GPX file.
As well as meeting and competing against others, you can also choose from a list of specific training sessions, such as Endurance, VO2 max and Threshold. There's even the option for virtual coaching with structured training plans, developed by TrainingPeaks coaches Tim Cusick and Taylor Thomas, that can help you achieve your fitness goal, be it a 100 mile sportive, or a crit and CX HIIT Plan.
Is Road Grand Tours Free?
Yes and no. The free option allows you to access features such as real roads, open riding mode, join events and upload your work out to TraininPeaks.
The Premium, £12.99/ $14.99 a month and opens up the entire suite of features such as structured workouts (both downloads and uploads), Magic Road, create an event and customise your on-line avatar.
If your unsure about committing, there's a 14 day free trail to try before you buy- and RGT does have a special, free offer available during the current Covid-19 crisis.
What equipment do I need?
The most obvious thing you need is a turbo trainer. If you want total immersion, then it's worth investing in a Smart trainer that is BLE FTMS and ANT FE-C compatible. It might sound complicated, but the letters just stand for a protocol for fitness equipment - a standard that allows your equipment to talk to on line software. A you need to worry about is if it says either of the above standards on the one you have (there's 99.9% chance it will).
For the total immersive set up, and can afford it, then Wahoo Kickr or Tacx Neo 2T Smart are good options. These turbo trainers generally have a direct drive design, with a built in power meter and variable resistance. These turbos will measure your power output, then send this data to Zwift to power your online avatar.
The variable resistance on these turbos will also allow you to feel as if you’re actually riding in the online world, so when you are going uphill on-screen the resistance will increase, and when you are going downhill it will decrease.
If your not using a smart trainer you can still access Road Grand Tours with a generic power meters with compatible speed and cadence sensors and heart rate. Alternatively you can just use a power meter. It doesn't, however, support just speed and cadence sensors alone.
You probably find you'll also need an ANT+ dongle, which is a small USB stick that you can plug in to your computer to allow it to communicate with your ANT+ speed sensor, power meter or smart turbo trainer.
The only reason you won’t need this is if you are a Mac user with a Bluetooth sensor, in which case your computer will be able to communicate with the sensor without the need for a dongle.
What are the computer requirements for Road Grand Tours?
RGT differs from most indoor cycling apps in that you need two apps to run it. The mobile App and the Screen app.
The mobile app is effectively what powers the system, and what the call your passport to the RGT world. It's in this app that you connect with the platform, start rides, chat with other riders, create and join rides, manage your training and connect with other apps like TrainingPeaks and Strava.
The Screen App does just that, show you the screen.
Of course you can just run the set up on a phone or tablet, but if you've got a fancy powerful computer with a powerful graphics card, you can run RGT on this, then put your virtual world on a separate screen, such as a massive smart TV. A full list of system requirements can be found here.
The dual app set up also allows enables much greater configuration control without having to quit the ride screen, for example you can change your view of the ride from first person, moto camera, drone camera and a race static camera.
The main Road Grand Tours website has some helpful step by step youtube guides should you need them.
How do I set up Road Grand Tours?
Once you've got the right equipment and downloaded the Apps it's time to get going.
The process of downloading the RGT mobile app will require you to register, and once you've done this you can then down load the screen app, do this download the screen app from your device store, open it, then follow the on screen prompts and put in a pin code to link the two devices.
Next it's time to connect your training equipment. To do this open the main RGT app, select real roads and then click ride. Once the ride starts, click the power symbol and select power, cadence, heart rate and gradient simulator icons to connect your equipment. You only need to do this once, as the next time you log on, it will do this automatically.
Once the faff stage is sorted it's time to do the fun stuff, such as selected your on line avatar and kit them out accordingly as well as choosing your bike of choice.
Where can I ride Road Grand Tours?
There are currently eight incredibly realistic road rides to choose from; 8Bar Crit course, Borrego Springs, Canary Wharf, Cap de Formetor, Mont Ventoux, Paterberg, Pienza and Stelvio Pass.
RGT also has a huge USP in that you can also upload a good quality GPX file of any route less than 100km and ride it, with the RGT software building a realistic ride for you. The possibilities here are brilliant, allowing you to commute to train on the days when you work from home, ride you local chain gang when it's snowing, and even pre-ride a race course. You can even run events and races on your Magic Roads, where mates can join you or you can add up to 99 'bots' to ride with or compete against.
Add to this the RGT focus on graphics and real physics, where you can't take corners at 70kph, and your rider will stop pedalling (with your on-line bot even reaching for the brake levers). Strava segments are also available too, giving as close to real world riding as possible.
This real physics feature is also somewhat future proofing upcoming hardware technology, where smart trainers will soon feature braking abilities, taking the virtual reality feature to the next level.
Can I use Road Grand Tours for structured training?
Certainly. Premium membership allows you to access plans and workouts, either your own or with the help of virtual coaches.
Fully compatible with TrainingPeaks gives you endless training sessions, and design your own with a free account, and even sync's with your Workout of the Day library.
The free membership does allow you to upload your training data to TrainingPeaks though.
You can choose to dip in to an existing stock workout which include recovery, endurance, threshold, Vo2 Max and anaerobic.
There are also eight structured training plans, created by qualified coaches to help you achiev your training and fitness goals. Choose from six to twelve week plans for goals such as 100 and 50 mile sportives, road race training and time trial/ triathlon based plans, plus many more.
Can I race on Road Grand Tours?
Very much so. This is where RGT stands out from other on-line cycling apps as features such as braking, simulated collision avoidance and real life drafting , which RGT is as close to real life drafting as possible, meaning that races play out much closer to real life.
This means that tactics and positioning in the virtual races are much more important, with on line graphics highlighting the benefit in watts.
As the physics happen on the RGT cloud server, all the 'players have the same view on their screens making it as realistic as possible.
Can I just go for a group ride?
Events are also set to be an exciting part of RGT Cycling. All users, including those with a Freemium Subscription, can take part in official RGT Cycling events, join public group rides and even join a private event organized by friends or coaches.
Premium users have the option to organise their own races and group rides and host them on RGT’s real roads and Magic Roads.
All the options are easily accessible via the main RGT App, with on screen prompts as to how to host, invite and join events.
Can I up load my Road Grand Tour Ride to other training software?
Yes, and down load too.
Again the app has easy to follow on screen prompts to follow. Scheduled training plans from TrainingPeaks will automatically show up in the workout section too, and then it's just a matter of tapping on it to start the workout.
Hannah Bussey is Cycling Weekly’s longest serving Tech writer, having started with the Magazine back in 2011.
She's specialises on the technical side of all things cycling, including Pro Peloton Team kit having covered multiple seasons of the Spring Classics, and Grand Tours for both print and websites. Prior to joining Cycling Weekly, Hannah was a successful road and track racer, competing in UCI races across the world, and has raced in most of Europe, China, Pakistan and New Zealand. For fun, she's ridden LEJoG unaided, a lap of Majorca in a day, win 24 hour mountain bike race and tackle famous mountain passes in the French Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites and Himalayas. She lives just outside the Peak District National Park near Manchester UK with her partner, daughter and a small but beautifully formed bike collection.
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