REVIEW: The Wattbike
I certainly think it is a worthwhile investment and can’t imagine training without one now.
For most of us, the mere mention of training with power conjures up images of elite professional cyclists and expensive power meters well beyond the reach of your everyday sportive rider. Throw in analysing pedalling technique and structured training programmes and you are into the realms of having a full time coach.
Not so with The Wattbike, which was created in conjunction with British Cycling to provide an affordable indoor bike for training and testing, that accurately measures your power output, your pedalling technique and heart rate.
Aimed at anyone wanting to improve fitness from school children through to Olympic Gold Medallists, Wattbikes can now be found at a variety of locations around the country (http://wattbike.com/uk/company/find_a_wattbike) and judging by the 6-8 week lead time due to exceptionally high demand are proving very popular.
I’ve taken a much more structured approach to my training in 2012 with regular fitness tests and a structured training program based on power and heart rate, which has helped me achieve my main goal for the year - of riding a respectable time in The Marmotte. To help achieve this structure I’ve been using a Wattbike for the last few months, this has been the key to the improvements I have made this year.
I could hardly contain my excitement taking delivery of the Wattbike and despite seeing numerous pictures was still impressed by the size and sturdiness of the bike. I can also confirm after helping the deliveryman carry it up five flights of stairs that it is fairly weighty. Thankfully once on the flat, it is easy to manoeuvre around the place on its fixed wheels.
Like a kid with a new toy at Christmas the temptation is to jump straight on and start pedalling, which I duly did, instantly relaying information about speed, cadence, power and any other one of the 39 measurements it captures without really knowing what any of it meant.
What Does It All Mean?
However to really get the most out of the Wattbike experience it is worth investing some time in reading and digesting the overwhelming amount of information which is present on the excellent Wattbike website - the majority of which can also be downloaded, or the training guide which comes with the bike. This includes a step-by-step guide of how to get up and running along with some useful information which explains in layman’s terms why power is so important.
One of the key concepts behind the Wattbike is that it has been carefully designed to feel like riding a regular road bike. Although the Wattbike comes with reversible SPD and toe-cage pedals it is a simple task to fit your own pedals and saddle to further replicate the feel or your own bike. I also believe wearing the same shoes all round maximises the time invested in analysing and homing your pedalling technique.
Next up was to sort my position out, a fairly straightforward affair thanks to the step-by-step guide in the User Manual. Now I was truly ready to jump on and ride. I followed this with a few ‘unscientific’ sessions just to get the feel of the bike which definitely felt like a real bike and much more stable than using a regular turbo trainer.
I also began to get to grips with the Performance Computer (http://wattbike.com/uk/wattbike/performance_computer) and its basic usage along with the Polar View (http://wattbike.com/uk/guide/using_the_wattbike/polar_view) which illustrates the force applied to the pedals and the position of the pedals when applying this force giving you the ability to monitor your cycling technique as you ride. Immediately it was interesting to see that my right leg was slightly stronger than my left.
Before embarking on a long term structured training plan it is important to do the three-minute "test" pedalling at a sustainable level. This is the key to establishing a baseline for your training and sets your Heart Rate and Power Training Zones.
Although it can be frustrating at times, I’ve finally understood the importance of a good warm up and cool down in order to prepare the body for the rigours of testing and general training. Wattbike advise you to do a nice 20 minute cadence-based warm-up which brings your heart-rate up ready to do the 3 minute test -http://wattbike.com/uk/guide/getting_started/warm_up_and_cool_down
Again all the information you need to conduct the 3 min test is in the training guide or can be found at -http://wattbike.com/uk/guide/cycling_tests/3_minute_aerobic_test
The last step of the process is to plug your results into the online calculator to establish your personal zones at -http://wattbike.com/uk/guide/getting_started/training_zones_calculator
Despite all the good information, if you’ve never done any kind of high intensity test it can be tricky to gage the correct levels to use and what pace to set off at. In fact it might take you a few goes to get used to the test. Having said that and as previously mentioned, I’ve been having regular tests and am quite well drilled in power to weight measurements and also what my 5 minute and 60 minute thresholds are. Wattbike’s Matt Moran was always on hand to advise on any of these points.
Once the baseline and zones are established, Wattbike provides a number of training plans depending on your goals. For example, they have plans specifically tailored for Sportive riders, and even as fine grained as training for the Wiggle Dragon Ride which comprises eight weeks worth of training. There are also plans for triathletes as well as general weight management plans, again emphasising the point that the Wattbike isn’t just for serious cyclists.
There was a look of madness from my housemates at the large red-and-white striped bike which now adorns my bedroom, and particularly at my excitement when I pronounced that I now have a bike which I can wire up to the computer to analyse my pedalling technique. This can be achieved by linking the performance computer to your PC through The Wattbike expert software. This lets you monitor in real time your workout as well as store your data for further analysis and I have to say it is pretty cool seeing your stats displayed on a big screen while riding.
As previously mentioned the Wattbike's Polar View illustrates the force applied to the pedals throughout the entire stroke in real-time, allowing a rider to identify and improve upon pedalling technique. Now I’m capturing all this information about my pedal stroke the next step is to try to interpret what it actually means.
The polar view explained:
A. Both pedals are in a vertical line - left leg is at top of pedal stroke; right leg is at bottom of stroke
B. Both pedals are horizontal - the left leg on the drive phase – the right leg on the recovery phase
C. Both pedals are vertical - left leg is at bottom of pedal stroke; right leg is at top of stroke
D. Both pedals are horizontal - the right leg on the drive phase – the left leg on the recovery phase
The Figure Of Eight - Beginner
An untrained rider with a strong drive but poor recovery, essentially stomping down on the pedals. There is a power dead-spot at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. Improvement of technique should happen quickly and will have a great impact on speed. Being properly attached in the toe cages or using cycling shoes and clipless pedals will help you to pull up during the recovery phase.
The Peanut - Intermediate
A committed cyclist with a strong drive and improving recovery phase. The rider is using their hamstrings to draw back the leg at the bottom of the stroke before pushing down with the opposite leg. Further speed and endurance gains can be made.
I’ve never really considered my pedalling technique and it isn’t often something you can concentrate on when group riding outdoors or racing. Through this analysis and monitoring you get a real feel of the action of your pedal stroke and can really concentrate during sessions on improving this without having to worry about any external factors. The key in moving to a more peanut-like shape is imagining scraping mud off the bottom of your shoes to help extend the leg drive and improve the transitions, which has definitely helped me.
The Sausage - Elite
The shape illustrated by World and Olympic Champions as the rider scrapes through the bottom of the pedal stroke, engaging both the hamstrings and calf muscles. Power lost between leg transitions is at a minimum.
Try to remember that pedalling is a double-action, focus on getting the power on early at the top of the pedal stroke in addition to pulling through at the bottom of the stroke to maintain momentum.
My housemates have now become accustomed to the quiet whirring coming from my room on a regular basis and me appearing an hour or so later drenched with sweat, in fact one of my top tips would be to cover the surrounding area with as many towels as you can spare, I can honestly say I’ve never sweated so much whilst riding a Wattbike.
My Polar View with Wattbike Expert
The Wattbike has without doubt helped me achieve my target of a gold medal time on The Marmotte at my first attempt which I was delighted with, and has become a key part of my training regime. What I really like is it allows A Rider to purely focus on the target of the individual training session without worrying about any external factors that might interfere like snow or ice. It also lets you continually target a desired zone which for higher intensity workouts just aren’t possible when out on the road where you are waiting for other people or stopping at junctions. With the Wattbike I have been able to complete long structured rides sustaining a given output for longer.
I also find that following one of the training plans gives me much more of a focus, I know exactly what I need to do everyday, and it is quite satisfying and rewarding working through the sessions each week. I also believe it adds some variety to a training program and it is certainly great on those wet days when you don’t want to venture outside.
I also really like the social presence that Wattbike have on Twitter and Facebook, meaning you are never far from hearing about the results of other rider’s workouts which has made riding one become worryingly addictive, and it is particularly interesting hearing from the likes of Jessica Ennis, Jenny Meadows and Jenson Button about how they are using Wattbikes. There is also a healthy array of interesting blogs on the website to read through about people’s experiences.
One small gripe I have with the expert software is that I would like to be able to download my data straight in WKO+, the software from Training Peaks. At present this is only possible if you have a premium Training Peaks account although I hear there might a solution just around the corner to this and it is a minor point.
Finally Matt Moran and the other guys down at Wattbike are a really friendly bunch and have always been on hand to answer any questions and offer advice. I get the impression that as well as endorsing a great product they are also equally as keen just to see people with a range of abilities improve their overall fitness.
Some people might be put off by the price tag, to combat this it is possible to take out a monthly payment plan and they're becoming more common in gyms. I certainly think it is a worthwhile investment and can’t imagine training without one now.
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