I said it, no roads. Translation, riding your trainer! Trainer riding literally get’s no one excited (except that strange dude who just set the record for longest indoor ride….) but, that might be about to change.
I recently discovered the joy of riding indoors with an ANT+ usb stick. These little gems cost about $45 dollars, and transform your PC into an amazingly powerful bike computer. I opted to purchase the Garmin stick since there was some familiarity there, but numerous brands sell the exact same product. Here is a quick guide on what you can do with an ANT+ stick and how to do it.
ANT+ is a basically a wireless communication protocol that allows devices to talk to each other. ANT+ allows your heart rate monitor to transmit data and be displayed on your Garmin Edge for example. The genius behind ANT+ is that every ANT+ device communicates in the same manner so the potential for interoperability is enormous. The secondary genius behind ANT+ is their wealth of developer resources that they make available for free. You can develop custom windows applications, mobile apps, etc. with some basic programming knowledge using the resources published by the ANT+ folks.
What does an ANT+ USB Stick do?
The USB receiver can listen to all of the data broadcast by nearby ANT+ sensors and then transmit the data into your computer. Your computer can then operate software to decode the data and display all sorts of neat metrics. It is especially nice for those of us with a “dumb” trainer (Cycleops Fluid 2 anyone….?) because we can utilize a trainer curve within software to translate our speed into power data. It also allows you to use web based training services that require input from your bike (think Zwift).
How do I get started?
- Go online and buy a stick & make sure it looks like the above picture. There are some older sensors which do not have the functionality of the modern versions. If you are nervous about this, buy it through the Garmin website, it might be more expensive but you know what you are getting.
- When it arrives, plug it into your computer at which point the drivers will be automatically installed. The stick is now ready to receive data. Easy!
- Now it is time to find some software
Maximum Trainer |Recommended for solo riding
This is a wonderful program. It is currently in beta and is free to use. Download it here https://maximumtrainer.com/download-mt .
Why it’s great:
| Set up is a breeze. It connects automatically to your USB stick and will pair your active ANT+ sensors as soon as they start transmitting.
| You can design custom workouts in a really stellar interface. The folks at Garmin Connect could learn a thing or two from MT’s workout editor.
| If you do not want to write your own workouts, there is a standard Tri training plan in the program with a few dozen workouts to use. In talking with the developer of MT it sounds like future training plans will be added.
| When following a workout there is a really neat display concept which plots your current power on a graph also displaying a target power band. It takes all of the guess work out of intervals, and has a game like feel when trying to get your power line within the band.
| There is support for power data for various trainers given you have a speed sensor on your bike. This is the best part about any ANT+ software for biking; you can implement a trainer curve to get power data in lieu of having to purchase a power meter.
| You can open media during a workout so you can nail your intervals while watching a movie or Netflix (MT supports opening a browser window within the workout UI.)
Zwift | Recommended for fun (if you can get into Beta)
We have all heard of Zwift by now, it is web based application that controls a little cyclist avatar of yourself via the data from your bike sensors. You pedal faster, your avatar pedals faster. The program is in beta, and receiving an invite is tricky. It is hard to discuss Zwift having never used it, but the concept sounds fun and there has been some positive feedback amoung the pro peloton. Ted King seems particularly taken by it.
Why It’s Great:
| Power data without a power meter! Again, Zwift can implement a trainer curve using your ANT+ speed sensor data and estimate your power output, this is awesome.
| Zwift looks like a game, which is great because games are fun and riding your trainer is traditionally not fun. The motivating aspect of competing while on your trainer is a slam dunk.
| Zwift can implement any course it wants for you to ride on. This is visually appealing, but lacking feedback to your bike it is not too extraordinary. The cool thing about this is the potential for leaderboards. You can ride segments in a Strava-like fashion and put your stamp on the internet cycling world.
Trainer Road | For the goal minded
TrainerRoad has been getting some good press this winter and for good reason. It is software for your PC or mobile device which allows you to follow structured plans / workouts designed for the indoor trainer. A smart trainer or USB stick is required.
Why It’s Great:
| Live Feedback – similar to Maximum Trainer, TrainerRoad collects data from your bike sensors, crunches some numbers and then sends data to your display device. You also get live visuals telling you what to do during the workout.
| TrainerRoad supports many platforms so you can use it on your phone, on the web or in a desktop application.
| Structured training is TrainerRoad’s niche. They offer a whole library of workouts in addition to training plans.
| TrainerRoad supports media within the workout view (just like maximum trainer) so you can watch your Netflix while you are increasing your VO2max.
So there you have it, a world of sweet – sweet cycling awaits you once you have an ANT+ stick. Enjoy the future my friends!