Long before The Bikepacking Dad I was a returning cyclist who had just purchased my first road bike on the bike to work scheme. I was extremely fit at the time, probably the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been, and the bike was going to become part of my fitness routine. I hadn’t planned on falling in love with cycling, but like any kind of love, you tend to find it just happens.
Fast forward a few months and the gym sessions became less as the bike rides became more frequent. I was getting up at 5am in the summer so I could hit the quiet local back roads and do a 50 mile loop before breakfast. I was hooked.
The Hardest Change
However, all of this came at a cost. Where my fitness was improving in one area it was decreasing in others. Let me explain a little bit here. I’m a pretty lean build and for the 5 years prior to me getting my road bike I had been keeping fit through Crossfit. I had ‘bulked’ up to a lean but well built 80kg. I was moving decent amounts of weight on the barbell, I could move my own body weight with ease, and my cardio was very strong. I felt like an all rounder. This took a lot of work though.
I like hard work, I like that grind of working hard for something and getting your rewards at the end. Morning and evening gym sessions alone in my garage were getting a little tiresome though. As great as it was to stay strong I needed to mix it up. This is how the bike idea came around in the first place.
It didn’t take me long to realise that all this cycling I was doing was steadily eating away at the strength and muscle on other parts of my body. This bothered me more than I would have liked. It was hard to see rewards from the last 5 years slowly disappear all because I was enjoying a new fitness hobby. I didn’t have time, or the want, to do both and so in the end I had to sit down and make a decision. Crossfit or cycling.
The Crossfit had been great but now I was training alone I definitely wasn’t enjoying it as much. It didn’t make me happy like it used to. However, being out on the bike and racking up the miles did make me happy. I spoke to my wife about it a few times and it was obvious that ‘being happy’ needed to be the decision maker. I knew the fit, strong, slightly broader 80kg frame would start to disappear but I was putting happiness first. Cycling had won me over.
Not Just Riding – Training!
I have always been an ‘all in’ kind of guy and when I put my mind to something or discover a new passion then that’s where my focus goes. My family and friends will tell you the same. In fact it’s a running joke that when I do find something new I become slightly obsessive about it. I find it funny how when you are ‘passionate’ about something people are very supportive but when you are labelled as ‘obsessed’ people think you are strange and wired up differently. It’s a fine line but I am comfortable with where I sit in relation to it.
Riding my bike was great fun and I was discovering all sorts of great local loops around me. However, there wasn’t any structure and I missed that. I wanted to train properly and for there to be a goal at the end I could chase down. After a little bit of YouTube and the odd Google search I had discovered the virtual world of Watopia. This world was part of Zwift and Zwift was a cycling program where you could choose training programs, races, or just ride along enjoying the virtual view. I liked this. I liked it a lot.
So what did I need to get started on Zwift? Back to YouTube and Google I went and I came up with a list similar to this:
- A bike.
- A turbo trainer (ideally a direct drive one).
- A cadence sensor.
- A heart rate sensor.
- A Zwift subscription.
- A fan.
- My laptop to run Zwift on.
- The relevant apps on my phone to pair the sensors and laptop.
I had the bike, the laptop, and the apps were free. Everything else meant I was going shopping and digging into my savings. Yay!
I set my sights on the Wahoo Kickr and a cadence / heart rate sensor bundle from Wahoo also. I’m not a wealthy man by any means, at least not financially, so the cost made my eyes water for a little while. However, the end goal was health and fitness all whilst enjoying riding a bike. The end goal justified the purchase.
When everything turned up on my doorstep and dragged it all into my garage and closed the door. I unboxed it all, glanced at the instructions, and went to work. About half an hour later the bike was on the trainer, the cadence sensor on the bike, the laptop on and balanced precariously on a make shift table of books, and the apps loaded with everything speaking to each other. I was ready to ride!
I loaded up Zwift and created an account. Within a few minutes I was out on the road… Well it was a virtual road through a desert.
I was about to learn a lesson though. I pedalled hard, threw some sprints in, raced random people who were most likely in their garage also, and soon enough I was paying the price. How easy it was to forget that all of this was sapping energy! Just because I was at home I had completely forgotten to eat or drink anything! I was an hour in and I was done. Legs like jelly, thirsty, and no energy. I got off the bike in a real mess and dragged myself back into the house. My wife just stared at me and I could see was wondering if this purchase had been worth it.
That night I sat down and went through the training blocks the Zwift offers and decided I would do one that would hopefully increase my Functional Threshold Power (FTP). It sounded scientific and like it would push me hard. If you are unaware of what FTP is then here’s a little definition:
“Functional Threshold Power is defined as the highest average power you can sustain for approximately an hour and it is measured in watts.”
However, before I could start the training block Zwift needed to know what my current FTP was. FTP test here I come! I had read up on how hard these tests were supposed to feel so I had taken a rest day prior to having a go. It starts out with a warm up of varying intensity and all of this leads you towards a 20 minute block where it’s just you and the bike. Hold as high an average power as you can for 20 minutes. Sounds easy right? Don’t be fooled!
Go out too fast and fade at the end, go out too slow and you don’t fully empty the tank. You need to find a power and cadence that is as close to your limit as you dare and try and sit there for 20 minutes. Make sure you have fluids, make sure you have some inspiring music on, and make sure your head game is 100% committed to giving your all.
The result – 160 watts (2.0 watts per kilo). I felt I worked hard but now the real work was about to begin. This number was going to increase, I was going to get lighter, stronger, and more efficient on the bike.
Side Exit or No Escape? The Choice Is Yours!
On real roads I would tailor my energy output so that I could make it home safely. On virtual roads I would frequently empty the tank and lie on the floor until I could feel my legs again and then climb in the shower. This is the difference.
On Zwift, on the turbo trainer, it is as hard as you decide to make it. If you’re feeling tired then just spin the legs, if you’re feeling fresh and want a test then join an online race. I was committed to a training program though. Numerous different workouts over 8 weeks that pushed you in all sorts of different areas. Power, cadence, distance, and time. When the workouts were really tough I knew I could just stop and no one would ever know… I would know though! My stubbornness isn’t always a positive attribute but when it comes to pushing myself through uncomfortable situations it is my greatest strength. These tough workouts were the ones that would increase my power and overall fitness on the bike.
Like many fitness journeys, or goals you might have in life, the simple fact is this – you get out what you put in. Commit to the process and you’ll improve and succeed. Dance around the edges of the tough situations and you’ll find that you plateau pretty quickly.
My Not So Dizzying Heights…
At my peak bike fitness, at the start of fatherhood, my numbers were as follows (don’t get too excited here!):
- FTP @ 254 watts (3.43 watts per kilo)
- Weight @ 74kg
- Max Power @ 1255w (16.96 watts per kilo)
Will I be at that level now? I highly doubt it. Fatherhood and family priorities have rightly stolen me away from sweaty turbo sessions in the garage. What has been left behind is a great level of fitness that allows me to jump on my bike and go wherever I want to whenever I get the opportunity. The legs still feel good but they may be lacking the strength I once had.
As you can see – if you put the work in the results will come. I lost 6kgs in weight and only became stronger on the bike. I was never going pro but I was going to steal a basket full of local Strava KOM’s.
What’s important to remember here is that all of this was possible, and facilitated by, a static piece of equipment that can live in your garage or house! The Wahoo Kickr is an impressive piece of kit. Many reviews will tell you the same. It provides accurate power readings, simulates gradients, and allows you to sit at changing resistances / powers so you can work towards your specific goals.
When you couple this with a training program like Zwift then you have a combination that, if you work hard, will only improve your fitness and strength on the bike. There’s no hiding from it.
Should You Invest In A Wahoo Kickr & Zwift?
If you have the time, the dedication, and the desire to improve your cycling strength and fitness then I would 100% recommend getting a set up similar to what I have discussed here. It’s that simple.
If you want to get fitter but don’t have specific goals on the bike then there are slightly cheaper Wahoo products you could get that would work better for you. Such as the Wahoo Kickr Core.
If you’re a casual cyclist who rides on the weekend with friends and the goal is a coffee shop then this set up probably isn’t required. Let me just take a second here to say that I am a big fan of the coffee shop ride just in case you thought I was being mean! However, if these rides tail off when the bad weather arrives a cheaper set up would keep you spinning the legs through the winter. When the sun comes around again you’ll just get to that coffee shop a little bit quicker!
Products like this are quite expensive but let me put my spin on it (no pun intended…). If you use them regularly, whether for specific training goals or casual fitness, they are an investment in your health and mental wellbeing. Sitting in front of a screen is something we all do way too much these days but at least with Zwift and a Wahoo trainer you’re getting fit at the same time.
My fitness goals changed. A self inflicted change but a change nonetheless. I prioritised enjoyment and happiness over strength and aesthetics.
Do I miss the strength I once had? Sometimes. Do I occasionally get a comment about how much weight I’ve lost and how my arms always show my veins? Yes. Does this bother me? No.
The older I get the more I realise that being true to yourself and your loved ones is what is most important. Trying to live a life to impress others is time wasted. It’s hard these days to explain this to people because all everyone does is post the best bits of their lives to social media. It’s important to remember that these glimpses people show you are hand selected by them. Don’t hold yourself to anyone else’s standards but your own and work for you, not for an Instagram or Facebook post.
Do what makes you happy and let everyone else worry about what they are doing. Your future self will thank you!
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