The winter season is rapidly approaching, which means many of us are starting to think about indoor cycling and how we’re going to stay motivated through the cooler months. Let's take a look at one of the latest augmented-reality indoor cycling apps, Rouvy, and see how the routes compare to riding outside.
For me, nothing beats the feeling of getting out on the bike and smashing my mates up climbs, but the short days and bad weather of the looming British winter make getting out on the bike that little bit harder.
However, I know that I have to do something if I want to stand a chance next spring, so it's almost inevitable that I’m going to be living it up in my garage trying to find a way of making staring at a wall more interesting!
Not everyone wants to combine their training with gaming, as some of us prefer a more realistic experience. Rouvy promises to do just that with, over 1,000 real routes from around the globe including 57 from right here in the UK. That totals more than 15,000 km of augmented routes, which will certainly keep me occupied for some time!
I had a look through the routes and selected one of my favourite climbs from when I was at university in Swansea, and gave it a go inside on the turbo as well as outside on the road to see how it compared.
Let's find out how realistic these routes are, how my times compare and if the climb was any easier or harder in the virtual world...
I’m someone who has traditionally hated riding indoors, but the last decade has seen a complete revolution in indoor cycling which certainly makes it a much less mind-numbing affair.
The route of choice is the Bwlch climb located in the Welsh valleys, which is very scenic when it’s not raining. It’s just over 7.5km long with an average gradient of around 5% and a maximum gradient of 14%, which comes pretty near the start. This is followed by a short break, and then a long steady climb to the end.
When it comes to Rouvy, all you need is a device to run the application. This could be a phone, computer or tablet, and of course, you'll need a turbo trainer. This can be a top-of-the-range smart trainer or a 'dumb' trainer combined with a speed sensor.
For the most realistic ride feel I’d recommend a smart trainer, because when you ride, the resistance changes to make the climbs feel like the real deal. This means you get that road-like experience right from your home.
Rouvy can also sync with various cycling sensors, such as power meters or heart rate monitors, to provide accurate performance data during your rides.
On the many routes, you have the option to choose either ‘just ride’, which is a free ride at your own pace, or a time trial which allows you to race against the clock and against others, while seeing live Strava segments.
So, like going for the KOM on Strava, there are route records for each route, which helps to give an incentive and adds to that sense of achievement when you reach the summit.
If you’re really keen, Rouvy has workouts, challenges, group rides and races, providing you with the opportunity to get competitive which might make you a faster and stronger rider.
Rouvy uses real-life video footage from actual routes, which enhances the visual experience and does really help make you feel like you’re there. The video quality is great, and the footage is combined with elevation data. Despite it being harder to get the same visual perspective of the climb through a video, when combined with the automatic resistance from a smart turbo, it really is just as hard with realistic climbing sensations.
You can race through the French Alps or tackle the famous Sa Calobra climb in Majorca, giving you an immersive experience of riding in different locations and the same picturesque views as if you were riding outside.
You can also make use of ERG mode to set a specific target power output, meaning a smart turbo will automatically adjust the resistance to maintain this power level.
This is particularly good for structured training and interval sessions and means you can zone out, not having to worry about traffic. You can just focus on the effort while taking in the scenery as you go up the climb.
While Rouvy provides realistic gradient simulation based on the virtual route you’re riding, it's difficult to create a truly accurate wind simulation indoors. This means, of course, that there's no headwind or tailwind on the turbo, which could be for better or for worse. You can always stick a fan on high to feel a bit of a breeze in your face.
When you've finished a ride you can upload it straight to Training Peaks and Strava for more analysis of those all-important stats.
Now, to see how my time compares outside... fortunately I picked a nice day, but if you’re a fair weather cyclist like me, outdoor rides are subject to the weather conditions. Even if you start in the dry, the weather could take a turn for the worse at any point.
Going up the Blwch outside, I was on my own with the company of the occasional sheep at the roadside. If I was inside on Rouvy, there are overlays of virtual riders that you can draft, which adds both a social and competitive aspect to indoor training.
You can also ride on Rouvy at the same time as your mates if you choose the same route.
Since Rouvy effectively recreates the routes, it may be useful as preparation for a future sportive or Gran Fondo to become familiar with the terrain, elevation changes and key features so that you can practise your pacing and strategy.
Although it might be more comfortable moving around on your bike outside on the road for some of you, setting your bike up properly and optimising your training space indoors will mean you can get the most out of Rouvy.
So, as expected I was slightly slower out on the road actually riding up the Bwlch. This is probably down to the added wind resistance, traffic and varying road surfaces. In a controlled indoor environment, it’s much easier to maintain that consistent effort.
I lost most of my time on the long drag in the middle, which wasn't because of the headwind, rather there wasn't much to motivate me. On Rouvy, you can set up a pacing partner and see the elevation that's coming, which helps to keep you motivated. In the real world, it's more difficult to know where you are on the climb.
Also, even on a weekday, there was still quite a lot of traffic and there were indeed a few close passes on my way up, which I wouldn't get indoors on the turbo.
And finally, one thing that pushes me the most is racing other people. On Rouvy I can do that.
At the moment, you can try before you buy with a 14-day free trial before deciding which length of subscription you want. We’ve been told there are some exciting new updates expected soon!
Where are your favourite places to ride, and which ones will you be trying out on Rouvy? Let us know in the comments section below...
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...