Off season blues and winter doldrums are a thing of the past, cycling trainers have gotten “Smart” and virtual.  Say, “good bye” to the days of trying to push against a trainer as you watch a movie, hopefully of an inspirational ride, or trying not to fall off rollers. In the end it still feels like you are staring at a wall.  Most, if not all trainers & rollers are compatible with these new virtual worlds, with a speed/cadence sensor compatible with Ant+ or Bluetooth.  If you want to be able to experience riding your bike indoors while feeling like you are in a different time and place, it will require both a smart trainer and a simulator.  Bkool trainers are one of the most affordable ways to get started.

My first experience with Smart Trainers was an event with the simulator Zwift.  Here was the first time I was on a trainer and did not want to get off.  Never had I experienced anything like it before, except riding on the actual road.  As the simulator showed me going uphill the trainer automatically added the required resistance to mimic the slope of the hill, just like in real life.  Combine that with other riders from around the world on the course, giving plenty of motivation to chase down riders in front or prevent others from passing, I was hooked.  The main two Smart Trainer Simulators are Bkool and Zwift. These can be demoed at Mikes Bike Shop.  Both are amazing fun, but to get the full riding experience of these simulators, a smart trainer is necessary.

Bkool is both a smart trainer and a simulator, combining everything into one package while also being compatible with the Zwift simulator. Bkool the simulator offers rides on real routes all over the world.  This ability to ride real routes with real-time conditions is surely the best part about Bkool.  Ride original famous Tour de France climbs such as Alpe d’Huez without actually having to travel to France. Train on Ironman routes, or ride local routes, Bkool provides tons of amazing options.  Bkool allows .gpx files from a GPS unit to be uploaded, creating an ever growing database of routes to ride. Garmin and Strava ride data can also be uploaded automatically after each ride.

What makes Bkool stand out is that with other riders on the course, you can choose to ride with them and even chat to them through the speaker/microphone.  Not only do you ride real routes with Bkool, but you are also able to ride these routes in real weather conditions.  If it’s currently night and snowy in your ride location, the simulator shows night time with the appearance of falling snow, the virtual rider will even have lights on.  Bkool simulates all conditions including wind, fog, snow, clouds, and even lightning storms. It is not just what is on the screen, it can even be felt through the trainer.  Bkool allows the weather simulation to be toggled on and off, so if riding into a 20mph headwind becomes a little difficult, it can be turned off so you can still experience a great ride, but with a little more ease. Since Bkool routes are uploaded GPS files, some routes have the Virtual 3D world and an actual recording of the route.  This is very nice, especially when riding somewhere in the mountains it allows views of the route to be taken in.  You can upload routes to the simulator, and ride your normal route without having to go outside in less than ideal conditions.  With so many routes on Bkool, it can get a little bit lonely on the roads.  The Velodrome feature is a fun way to push or race others.  You can set up rides, invite friends and add virtual riders like bots or ghosts to stay motivated and keep the pace up.  With the millions of different routes Bkool offers, there is no shortage of choices. There are ride series or workouts to discover that help keep things fresh during the winter months. The disadvantages of Bkool are once you set your route, you cannot change it without quitting. With millions of routes to choose from, you may not be able to discover them all.  You have the choice to keep your ride public so others can join the trip. However, setting bots or ghosts to ride with may be a better way to stay motivated.

Zwift is the simpler of the two, just jump in and enjoy the ride. Since it is 100% virtual based, there are not tons of courses, but enough to provide the fun and stable type of ride that you want.  The plus side is these courses have better virtual scenery while riding.  Another difference is while riding you can make different turns in Zwift’s world and change the route, like in real life.  If mid ride you don’t want to ride a flat course anymore, you can turn off and do some hills.  One thing about Zwift is there are always hundreds of people on course.  This helps give extra motivation to chase others down or find others to draft.  The other part that makes Zwift more motivating is the expansion of levels, achievements, and power-ups like many modern day video games.  Hit 30 mph on a downhill unlocks hidden jerseys, bikes or power-ups.  These power-ups can give small advantages, like making you lighter or draft behind a truck, which helps make the ride just a little easier when it is needed.

Zwift has its advantages in its polished video game feel. There are always hundreds of riders if not more on the course with you at all times, and you can change your course mid ride.  Its disadvantages might be the lack of courses as they could get a little stale after awhile and its price being $15 a month or $180 for a yearly subscription.  Bkool has advantages as well.  Coming in at $10 per month or $100 a year, or if you buy a Bkool Smart Trainer you get 3 months to a year subscription for free depending on trainer, it is more affordable than Zwift.  Bkool also provides millions of real routes from all over the world and allows you to upload your own, providing no shortage of routes to discover.