How to get into the world of virtual cycling without a power meter or smart trainer

The low-cost shortcut to using Zwift, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest and more

April 16th, 2020 by | Posted in Gear Reviews, Training | Tags: , , , , , ,

Powermeters and smart trainers aren’t cheap, but indoor training can be a massively beneficial activity for your physical and mental health. Fortunately, there is a way to join in on virtual group rides and training sessions without breaking the bank.

Virtual Power

Zwift and TrainerRoad call it ‘virtual power’, Sufferfest calls it ‘virtual watts’ and Bkool calls it ‘virtual speed’. However your training program of choice refers to it, there is a way to estimate your power without using actual power data. You’ll only need three items to get training indoors.

Trainer

Most ‘non-smart’ trainers are compatible with virtual training programs. A fluid trainer will be a reliable bet, but friction trainers, which supply fluid or magnetic-resistance to the rear wheel via a small roller, are also an option. Even rollers can be used for virtual training. Find a trainer within your budget and get it shipped to you.
Tip: Call or check your local bike shop’s webpage, local delivery or pickup is much faster than Canada Post right now.

photo:Garmin

Speed sensor and cadence sensor

This is what your training program will use to estimate your power. Often sold in a bundle, these sensors go on your wheel and your crank arm. Using information on how fast you’re pedaling, how quickly the wheel is moving and the specific trainer model you use, programs like Zwift will estimate your power allowing your to train and race virtually.

The Garmin speed and cadence sensors are generally quite reliable. They use replaceable CR2032 batteries that typically won’t need to be replaced more than once or twice a season.

A note about Bluetooth and ANT+

If your computer is older there’s a chance the training program might have some issues connecting with your speed and cadence sensor via Bluetooth. If this is the case, the easiest solution is to buy an ANT+ dongle, which will be able to process all the data from your sensors. It’s a good idea to buy a USB extender with the dongle to get the sensor as close to your bike as possible.

Once you have your trainer, speed and cadence sensors (and possibly and ANT+ dongle), you’ll be ready to create an account on the indoor training program of your choice. Be sure to read the guidelines the program gives for your specific trainer (e.g. maintain a consistent tire pressure, adjust the barrel the same every time, etc.). It’s important to keep your trainer setup consistent so your estimated power remains accurate.