Tested: CycleOps VirtualTraining Software
Find out why this software-trainer package now occupies the place of honor in our field tester's living room.April 25, 2013
If you’re anything like me, you have limited space at home to ride your bike trainer. It’s either holed up in a garage or small second bedroom – leaving that space virtually unusable – or it’s a conspicuous eyesore in the living room. If it’s the latter, that probably means frequent packing and unpacking when guests come over.
The CycleOps PowerBeam Pro trainer has made that process significantly easier, especially if you are used to the unsightly array of wires that come with a CompuTrainer setup. Outside of a power chord, the PowerBeam Pro trainer is completely wireless. It is incredibly easy to unbox and install, too. Whereas I needed my local bike shop mechanic to come over and help me install my CompuTrainer – even he had trouble with that process – I was riding on my PowerBeam Pro within 20 minutes. And that included putting away the cardboard boxes.
That ease-of-use factor permeates CycleOps’ training software in general, which is critical for someone constantly on the go like me. In a videogames-inspired age where users are accustomed to more intuitive software that makes complicated analysis and comparison easy, CycleOps VirtualTraining software stands above CompuTrainer even with its included RacerMate One software upgrade. To be fair, the updated CompuTrainer software package has made it easier to read and analyze ride data than before, allows for more ways to slice and dice existing courses (a long-standing complaint of mine), offers some nifty rider pacing options, and fresh screen layouts bring the visuals into the PlayStation 2 era. And of course, CompuTrainer is still awesome if you are able to link your trainers with more than one cyclist – the new power and pacing options are killer.
On the hardware side, CompuTrainer now has an optical scanner called the Puck that allows for a non-mount solution to reading cadence and SpinScan. However, if you bought your CompuTrainer before June 2012 like me, then you’ll end up paying close to $400 for the Puck and rebuilding your handlebar controller to read the data. I’ve already had to send my CompuTrainer back to RacerMate once for a faulty cadence meter, which is a pesky packing job on its own. Therefore, I opted not to purchase the Puck and go through the process again.
After playing with both trainers and their respective software programs, my CycleOps occupies a place of honor next to the living room TV. My wife doesn’t mind its daily presence now, since she knows how easy it is to move around and that it doesn’t look like a Frankenstein experiment. The CompuTrainer sits in my office as a backup. Here’s why. I really appreciate the more well-rounded system that CycleOps offers, meaning how easy it is to record an outdoor ride on CycleOps’ Joule GPS unit, upload it with any ANT+ compatible device (I use my Garmin 910XT) and analyze all the power data via CycleOps’ PowerAgent software, and then transfer that ride to the PowerBeam Pro trainer using the VirtualTraining software. One of my favorite things about PowerAgent is that I can automatically upload my workouts to multiple sites such as Training Peaks and Strava.
VirtualTraining feels like it’s a cyclist-driven social media portal with the competitive goodness of a site like Strava. On the social side, you can download tons of free videos that users have uploaded to the site – no more one-off purchased Ironman route DVDs for me or ERGvideo equivalents for CompuTrainer. And they’re rated by users along with a portal administrator so you know you’re getting a quality route. Of course, you can upload your own videos too, though I had a hard time – not because of the training software, but rather the fragmented, start-stop nature of my rides and lack of GoPro camera recording skills. The CycleOps VirtualTraining videos also feature Google Earth data showing you where you’re at on the course – you can even swap screen views depending on what you’d prefer to see (pure data, video, Google Earth info). The cherry on top for me is that CycleOps has incorporated videogame style leaderboard features based on how well you ride certain uploaded courses or how well your friends ride yours. There’s even a just-released update of new features that allow riders to automatically duel each other in online races, set up a virtual training partner based on another rider’s past uploaded performances, and an option to include points of interest like an audio interactive route guide in your ride.
The total CycleOps indoor training package is just too strong to deny. And CycleOps is dedicated to treating its VirtualTraining software as an ongoing service, with consistent upgrades and fixes. This allows CycleOps to stay a little more nimble than the venerable CompuTrainer.
The CycleOps PowerBeam Pro trainer retails for $1,300 and includes VirtualTraining and Power Agent Software. VirtualTraining costs $350 on its own.