At 70 years-old, Frank Quigg’s dreams of racing his bike in the peloton at the Tour de France are long behind him.
But, he discovered, he can get a flavour of that experience by plugging his indoor trainer into one of several virtual training apps that can plant a cyclist in the midst of a group ride through French countryside, up and down the Dolomite mountains in Italy or around the roads of Central Park in New York City. And now the retired auto importer has turned his winter training regime into the Lower Mainland’s first virtual cycling studio in a loft area above a fitness gym on Port Moody’s Spring Street.
Quigg’s endeavour, Zwift Cycling Club, features four Tacx Neo 2 smart trainers that are each paired with a virtual training app by Zwift and connected to individual 40-inch monitors. Each station even has a remote-controlled fan that simulates a cooling breeze out on the road.
Cyclists can bring their own bike to mount on the trainer, or use one of the Specialized bikes Quigg has available.
Quigg took up cycling when he was 59 to improve his health and fitness and now logs more than 8,000 kms on the road a year. He said the virtual riding experience is a leap ahead from the mental drudgery of grinding out hours of spinning parked in front of a TV watching Vancouver Canucks’ hockey games or binging on episodes of House of Cards on Netflix.
Instead, the app can plop him on one of several fictional courses in a mystical land called Watopia, where the roads are always closed to car traffic, or other routes modelled after the 2012 Olympic circuit in London, England, the 2015 world championship course in Richmond, West Virginia, or even the weekend warrior mayhem of New York’s Central Park.
Other apps like Sufferfest incorporate workouts into licensed footage from famous cycling stage races like the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and one-day events like Milan-San Remo or Paris-Roubaix.
Quigg said Zwift’s virtual world is like bringing his bike into a computerized video game where he can just ride to explore the course and scenery, or elevate his heart rate by racing for personal training goals or against other cyclists hooked into the program from all over the world. The trainer alters the pedalling resistance according to the terrain on the screen, so it gets harder to climb hills and easier to glide down the other side, while the monitor tracks his effort and gives him an idea of how he’s doing compared to the other virtual cyclists on the course.
Quigg, who suffered a bad crash two years ago while riding in a pack along Marine Drive in Vancouver, said virtual training apps also offer a safe environment for riding in a group without the fear of touching wheels with a neighbouring cyclist or crashing into obstacles like barriers and signs that can be hard to spot when in the midst of a fast-moving peloton. Even the social aspect of group rides is preserved, as cyclists signed into the app can communicate with others on the digital road, set up challenges like sprints or organize events like races with their friends.
About the only thing missing is the traditional mid-ride coffee stop, although Port Moody’s Brewery Row is only a short coast away.
Quigg said while indoor riding is usually a winter activity cyclists use to maintain their conditioning, he anticipates his stations will be kept busy during the summer months by riders following a structured training regime to prepare for a specific event like a race, gran fondo or triathlon, groups of friends challenging each other in a social setting and other athletes looking to build their stamina who may not have the time, inclination or equipment to get out on the open road. And while it’s possible to get that virtual experience at home, a proper station can cost more than $3,000 — not including the bike — plus the space to leave it set up.
“You get to live out some of your Walter Mitty fantasies,” Quigg said, adding several European and North American pros like Roman Bardet, Mark Cavendish, Mike Woods and Evelyn Stevens have been known to sign in to a Zwift ride.
• Zwift Cycling Club is located at 3082 Spring St., Port Moody. For more information, go to www.zwiftcyclingclub.com/
4/15: An earlier version had the incorrect name for Zwift's virtual world