By Coach Rick Schultz
For those of you who might be getting a little tired of Zwift (and the blatant cheating – riders at 10w/kg for 10 minutes!), there are several high quality training systems that use actual videos that run via your trainer and computer that pretty much simulate a real ride. Most videos are 1080p or 4K and are crystal clear. So sharp and immersive that it feels like you are really there.
Why is this important? In the old days when you just put your bike on a ‘dumb’ trainer and pedaled, 15 minutes seemed like 15 hours. It was so mind-numbingly boring. For those of you that used to train that way, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. But, when watching a real video of a real place of a real ride, I can ride the trainer for 2 hours and it seems like only 30 minutes!
Videos are recorded using equipment ranging from professional grade 4k cameras to smartphones. The recorded videos are then uploaded to the software manufacturer’s website along with latitude/longitude and %grades. When you run the video, your interactive/smart trainer responds to the gradient by automatically increasing or decreasing its resistance so that, for example, a 10% grade feels like climbing a real 10% grade.
Each software manufacturer, in this case, Elite, Tacx, FulGaz, Rouvy and RGT cycling have added feature to differentiate themselves from the others, meaning that any cyclist can look for a unique feature that is most important to them and that is the software to use.
Along with the COVID-19 lockdown, it has also been raining quite a bit in Southern California so no time like the present to test out these packages. Each of these packages are feature rich and I tried to summarize their main feature(s). I also listed several pros and highlighted several cons that were deal-breakers for me.
Most software paired quickly with my Elite Drivo II trainer. So, training and running videos on climbs that I did several years ago (Alpe d’Huez, Col du Telegraph, Col du Galibier and Col d’Izoard) was a lot of fun and brought back a lot of great memories.
Important to note is that several of these software platforms also include real training plans and cycling analysis. Also, I did not include pricing nor time length of free trials since these seem to change by the week.
The results and operability of these software packages were experienced and observed by me so your results may vary. The reason I make this statement is that I know that the first comments I will receive will be “Well, it worked for me.” And my reply is “That’s fine, but it didn’t work for me” and also, “just because it worked for some doesn’t automatically mean that it will work for everyone.”
Some will also ask “Why didn’t you look at BKOOL?” The reason is that BKOOL has one thing that is vastly different than every app listed here and that being BKOOL requires a credit card to test the app. In the past, how many have signed up using a credit card for something “free” only to be charged after you have tried many times to cancel prior to the end of the free trial? It’s happened to me several times in the past and I had decided back then no more.
“Why didn’t you review Kinomap?” My review is for video training programs that run on a PC or Mac. In this case, Kinomap currently runs only on Android or iOS. “What about casting Kinomap to my PC?” In order to cast your smartphone screen to your PC means more expense and complexity. To do this, you need some specialized software and a few hardware bits.
Last disclaimer, physical exercise and especially cycling can be a strenuous sport placing large stresses on the body and cardiovascular system. Before starting an exercise program, please consult your doctor to determine if these exercises are right for you. When participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of injury. If you engage in these exercises or exercise programs, you do so at your own risk.
Now to the review.
Here Are The Software Apps Reviewed (No Particular Order)
ELITE MyETraining / RealVideo / myRealVideo –
Elite software is divided into 5 software modules listed below. The main module is called My ETraining and actually contains the other modules. In this review, I will be looking at only Real Video and My Real Video. Regarding the screen layout shown above, rider metrics are listed along the top row and the course profile and rider location is along the bottom.
- My ETraining – Virtual coaching
- Real Video – Elite’s videos taken with professional equipment. These are priced per video and run normally between $15 and $20 each. One video sample “Tour of the Moon, Colorado” is included with My ETraining.
- My Real Video – Videos of rides you can do. Download the app onto a smartphone or tablet and you can create your own ‘ride’ video as easy as uploading it to their website – download here: https://www.elite-it.com/en/products/app-software/my-real-video. As of 4/1/2020 there are roughly 2,500 videos taken by cyclists. Quite a few of these videos are taken via car or motorcycle – see picture of car hood at the starting line of Alpe d’Huez above. This doesn’t seem to be of any issue, I was just surprised as I was expecting someone on a bicycle to be taking the videos.
- Pedaling Analysis – Like Computrainer Spin Scan, shows your pedaling effectiveness
- Upgrado – An app that updates the firmware of the trainers
- Easy pairing, especially if using an Elite trainer. To get the full benefit, in addition to power, make sure to pair cadence, and use a cadence sensor and a heart rate monitor.
- My Real Video is free to download and free to use.
- You are free to use any and all My Real Video’s on the site (all 2,500 of them) but, see below.
- RealVideo – the cost of Elite’s videos is a little too high for me to consider, especially when you need to also factor in the monthly fee for My ETraining. Elite’s competitors (below) include ‘their’ videos as part of the monthly fee.
- MyRealVideo – As with all videos (including those by Elite’s competitors below), they run much better if downloaded to your computer vs streaming. The problem I had was after downloading 10 My Real Videos (as a test), at least half were broken and would not run.
- MyRealVideo – There are quite a few videos listed as ‘sample’ or ‘test’ where a new user will record a 30 second video and upload to test. In my opinion, these clog up the system and I would like to see Elite clean this all up by deleting all broken videos as well as all (test) videos and those under let’s say 20 minutes.
Tacx Desktop Software
Tacx is now a Garmin company so if you experience any issues with a Tacx trainer or with this software, you will need to contact Garmin Support. I called them with several questions, and it appears that Garmin support has not been trained on this software, so they provided no help.
The Tacx desktop training software is divided into 2 applications. Note, these do basically the same thing, but the Tacx Desktop app runs on Windows 10 and Mac, while the Tacx Training app runs on iOS and Android. There is a free download and the free trial period varies but is usually around 15 days.
Also available are training plans, a workout builder, data analysis, performance data Strava export and automatic storing of your activities. All Tacx (Garmin) videos are available to run with a valid subscription.
Videos are crystal clear and every metric you need is easily shown along the right & left columns. The graphic along the bottom shows the profile of the course as well as an icon showing where every other rider is along the course with you. This is about as close to racing as you can get. Watching the column to the right will show you how far someone is in front of you as well as those behind. You can then judge how much harder you need to push to stay in front of those chasing or how long to catch those in front of you. This software has the best presentation of what the rider needs to look at.
One other thing I really did like about Tacx is the color-coded profile. I always knew what kind of gradient was coming up.
Numerous pauses due to Lost Connections and Buffering errors was a deal breaker for me. When streaming, I experienced significant lost connections, connection dropouts and buffering. So significant that the program would pause for 20-40 seconds every couple of minutes, making running of this app unusable. The other option is to download the videos and run them via your computer. I tried this as well but, since this software stays connected to the Garmin servers i.e., ‘phones home,’ I still experienced significant lost connection/buffering errors.
Also, a second deal breaker… unlike others listed in this review that allow you to take your own videos and upload to their websites, Garmin does not allow non-Garmin generated videos to be uploaded to their website. Not only that, but I was told by Garmin support that there was absolutely NO WAY that they would ever open this up for anyone other than Garmin to create videos.
A minor annoyance, this software forces you to warm up for 10 minutes prior to any ride. Others allow you to toggle warmups on/off.
A remarkably similar layout as Tacx except that the profile/progress graphic was on the top instead of the bottom. You also had 2 other buttons available to you on this screen, those being END RIDE and SETTINGS.
Again, with FulGaz, you are not allowed to upload any of your own videos. A recent inquiry to the company explained that they want to ensure the highest quality video and user experience. They said that their videos are taken with professional-grade video cameras with gimbals and video stabilizers. High end equipment.
Fulgaz is video riding only. There is no training or workout modules in this software. Like all others (except Elite), Fulgaz is free to download and try. This software is available for the following devices. Apple TV, Windows 10, iPad, iPhone, and Android.
Once I was able to get the software paired to my trainer, I liked the layout and speed of the videos. For example, on several 1.5-hour rides, I only experienced buffering once. On a 2-hour ride, I experienced 2 short (2-second) buffering. Remember, the 2-key phrase here are “once I was able to get it paired” and “once I got the software running.”
The videos are very realistic and the highest quality. I would often get immersed to the point of 2 hours might pass and it only seems like 15 minutes.
I had 2 real issues with this software.
(a) I had real issues trying to get the software paired to my trainer, I had no real issues with the other software vendors.
(b) For those times that it would pair, after I selected ANT+ or BLU communication (didn’t matter which), the program shut itself down. I would usually end up needing to restart the program numerous times. Now, to be fair, this issue happened more with certain videos than with others. For example, I was never able to run their Mount Ventoux route since the program would crash/quit every time I clicked START. I could run Alpe d’Huez.
Augmented [Reality] Routes. Virtual Routes, Structured Workouts (via website portal), Online Races, Data Sync & Analysis, this program does a lot! Once you download, signup and log in, you can select from workouts, on-line races, challenges, augmented reality routes, Tour de Swiss (currently), Ironman, climbs, flat, long distances, short distances, time trials, grand tours, triathlons, famous up hills, Pyrenees, Alps, sprints, MTB trails, and hand bikes.
TIP: If you look at the first 2 photos in this section, you will notice that the top one is a full video while the bottom one is a route map. When selecting a ride (see photo 3 above), you will notice that some rides have a generic thumbnail while others have an actual photo. If you select “Provence20: Mont Ventoux” you will get a route map only, i.e., no actual video. If you select “Provence Mont Ventoux 3” you will be able to play a video like in the first photo above. This is how to tell the difference between viewing a video and viewing a route map. Believe me, the videos are a much better choice.
Before testing the next app, I did my last ride, actually a training ride, KEY WORD TRAINING on Rouvy. I have no issue with Rouvy, but with several other riders, especially one guy.
I created 8 bots and did a fairly flat 16.5-mile TT training course. Bots were riding at 250w FTP. There were many other real cyclists on this course as well. My plan was to space out the bots and push hard between each bot then grab a quick breather once I caught the next bot. Well, some guy comes flying by. I looked at his numbers, he was at 300% FTP. The issue I had, he held 300% of 250w for the entire 16.5 miles! That’s 750w for 16.5 miles.
My question is why would you cheat on a training ride, aren’t you only cheating yourself?
Rouvy allows you to create and upload your own routes with video (see https://rouvy.com/en/download ). You can use this program to upload GPS data, sync video content and then upload to Rouvy. Directions are here.
Out of all of the software packages tested, Rouvy seemed to be closest in feel to actual power you would experience on the road.
Also, during several 2-hour rides, I never experienced any pauses caused by lost connections or buffering. A rock-solid application!
I also really liked Rouvy’s implementation of the color-coded profile bar. Showed me exactly what gradient was coming up so I could adjust level of effort.
Compared to Tacx or Fulgaz, Rouvy displays less rider metrics. Default w/kg is listed but you can change that to %FTP in the settings. By default, PWR, CAD, %GRADE, W/KG, RUN TIME and Course Profile are listed.
Riding a route wasn’t much fun. It was still better than staring at a blank wall while spinning on a trainer and, in my opinion, videos are where its at.
Going through their ‘library’, there seems to be a lot of route maps. And, much like Elite, there are samples and test routes and videos that really need to be deleted.
2 Bonus App Solutions
Although not real video, this is an “virtual reality” program with immersive Computer-Generated Graphics (CGI). The reason I included this program is that there is a FREE version that includes most features that a cyclist would need. Features Real Training with Structured Workouts and Training Plans designed by top level coaches, Real Roads to ride and train on (currently Cap de Formentor, Borrego Springs, Pienza, Canary Wharf, the 8Bar Crit, Mont Ventoux, Passo dello Stelvio, Paterberg, and I’m sure more will be added), Real Events and Races where you can join an RGT cycling even such as a competitive race, group rides, training sessions, or create your own races or group rides, and Magic Roads where you can upload any good quality GPX file and RGT creates the virtual graphics for you (premium only).
*NOTE: You will need to download the companion smartphone app that controls the main program running on the PC. You use your smartphone to configure and set all user settings. The PC is used to display the ride and graphics.
The two main settings in the smartphone app are CAM and GUI. With CAM, you can set where the camera is on the ride. The settings are First Person, Third Person, Moto, Drone, Race, and Look Behind. You can change any of these anytime during your ride, so keep your smartphone close. GUI toggles the main PC programs interface elements. These elements can too be modified during the ride. You can also select from a dozen kits as well as choose a bike, helmet, and sunglasses. A lot of great features for a free program!
It appears to me that RGT is placing themselves in between CVRCADE and full video software (like above) so that as they grow, they will add features like braking, drafting and turning for collision avoidance so that, for example, races would be more like real life – except you don’t get hurt.
You need to have an interactive/smart trainer or on-bike power meter. Unlike some other apps, you cannot just run a non-smart trainer plus on-bike speed sensor.
Offers Free and Premium subscriptions. With Free, even though you do not get any of the structured workout functionality, magic roads nor able to create any events, you can do everything else such as having access to riding ‘real’ roads. With free, you can also join events as well as upload your data to your training peaks account.
With the paid subscription you have access to every function and feature listed here: https://www.rgtcycling.com/pricing/.
Not that really big of a negative, but some might not like that you need 2 apps to run this program. The MOBILE APP (Android and iOS) is used to (a) connect your devices (trainers, HRM, Power Meters) to the virtual world, (b) select rides & routes, (c) chat with other riders on RGT, (d) create and join group rides and races, (e) manage your training and (f) connect to other apps like TrainingPeaks / Strava. SCREEN APP (MacOS, AppleTV, iPad, Win10 PC) only displays the virtual world. For direct access to your smart phone, I recommend either installing a handlebar phone mount on your bike or use a stand or table within reach of your bike.
Being a newer app, the number of REAL ROADS is limited. But this should grow as the userbase grows.
Currently in Beta, CVRcade is a free-to-play virtual cycling platform that was built upon the foundation of the successful CVR World Cup https://cvrworldcup.com/.
Its main feature is a physics engine that puts everyone at the same effort as you.
Here are a few of CVRcade’s features:
- Realistic Physics – steering, braking, cornering, crashing, drafting (including realistic pack dynamics), wind, and even different road surfaces all lead to a much more realistic experience.
- Physical Equalization™ – you can ride and race alongside anyone.
- This means increased power alone won’t help you because it gets normalized, so, unlike other platforms, tweaking your power source, or even adding a motor or doping won’t help you, in fact it will make it more difficult for you.
- Your weight and height don’t matter with Physical Equalization
- If you try and sandbag or incrementally improve your power with each race, the data analytics picks that up
- Users caught cheating are immediately banned
- Therefore, you know the person you are riding/racing with is putting out the same effort as you
- Three Themes – So you won’t get bored, you can choose to ride on Road, Mountain, or Sci-Fi tracks
- Optimal Coaching Platform – With equalization and non-physical play you can always ride with your “coach” in groups or solo.
- Physical Replay™ – If you miss an activity, or you want to do it again, you can ride/race activities again through Physical Replay™. All you need to do is click on the activity in the replay list and start pedaling.
- In-game Audio and Video – Comm and in-game video are great features.
- Esports for Everyone™ – Exciting to watch esports
- High production quality broadcast
- In-game streaming
- Watch the streams, including interacting with the chat, right in the game
- Stream into the broadcast with one-click streaming from inside the game
One of the main attractions of CVRcade is the CVRcade World Cup. Riders from across the world of different ages, genders, and backgrounds race on a fair and level playing field for large prize purses. Season 1 of the CVRcade World Cup had a total prize purse of $25,000. 1st place through 33rd place all won prize money. The CVRcade World Cup was streamed to thousands of viewers on the rapidly growing streaming platform Mixer.
CVRcade is currently hosting group rides on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Anyone is welcome to join the social and fun environment where riders ride (and race) together in a variety of events.
Once I familiarized myself with the controls, I tried one of these group rides. There were about 15 of us ‘beginners’ plus 2 CVRcade moderators/coaches, Beth and Kayla, who led us through 5 events. They told us what to look out for, how to control the bike’s path, which corners to slow down on (yes, you can skid off the road and crash) and were a big help in guiding us through. I really had a lot of fun. And, since raw power is not really a factor in CVRcade’s engine, anyone is capable of crossing the finish line first. But, if you end up getting really dropped, there are powerups to help you get caught back up to the group.
Group rides usually begin with a casual warm-up where we practice pace lining and optimizing drafts, then transition to faster-paced lap challenges concluding with a set of races such as last-cyclist-out elimination. What’s great about CVRcade is that anyone can join for free. For those interested, I highly recommend downloading the app, click on Events, select one and ride! There is also a great beginner section with several short videos to help get you started.
Rouvy does everything well. Most of the controls, workout creation, video uploads, etc., are accessed through your web portal on https;//my.rouvy.com. After you log in, you can do everything you need.
Training program creation is much like Elite’s except Elite’s portal is the MyETraining app. Although Elite has a comparably good system to Rouvy, I give the nod to Rouvy since you can use ALL videos, including Rouvy-created as part of your monthly fee. Elite charges you a steep price (€14.99-€19.99 or $16-$22) to use any of their videos. As for the rest of MyETraining, it’s a great and rock-solid program. But, due to the additional video charges on top of the monthly MyETraining fee, I have to give Elite a second place. A close second.
As for the BONUS applications listed above (RGT, CVRcade), they are completely different. CVRcade is ZWIFT on steroids! RGT is a CGI version of a high-quality video training system such as Rouvy with some of the functionality of CVRcade. Both apps run flawlessly. Both are free and I highly recommend you download and try them both.
Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.