Intro to Cycling Blog #6 – Virtual Racing and Cycling Canada’s Virtual Races

By: Justin Lethbridge, Communication and Event Coordinator

In our last blog we spoke with Dan Marshall from Substance Projects and Brendan Gorman the organizer of the Eastern Canada Gravel Cup about gravel cycling. As the weather has gotten colder we are looking at ways that anyone from the newest cyclist to high-end athletes can continue to enjoy the benefits of cycling while indoors. We also spoke with Josh Peacock from Cycling Canada about the focus behind their virtual racing events. 

Virtual cycling has taken off in the past year with a multitude of platforms available for people to get their cycling fix from the comfort of their own home. Taking part in a virtual race can be a great way to train, keep up your fitness or to help build up the confidence of a newer cyclist. There are no hazards to maneuver around or traffic to worry about, it’s all about getting a good workout on your bike.

But what’s the difference between doing a 30-minute ride on a virtual cycling platform and hopping on a stationary bike to do a 30-minute workout in your basement?

Photo taken from the Ontario Cycling Association Indoor Road Race Series held on Zwift

The difference is in the experience. A virtual cycling app takes you to an online course where you can compete with friends, family and strangers. These courses can be real world courses that have been converted to a virtual experience or courses created in scenic locations such as jungles, beaches even underwater. While you can’t feel the sun on your face or the wind in your hair (unless you have a fan set-up), you can enjoy the scenery of the course you’re on and contend with the effects of ascending, descending and drafting.

While some may look at virtual cycling and shrug it off as a video game, it’s more of an exercise platform that takes elements of video games to deliver a fun, cycling alternative. Cycling Canada has recently announced their slate of virtual racing activities with the aim to keep its members active during the winter months.

“In the off-season it’s a way to build up fitness and confidence on your bike” Events and Partnership Manager at Cycling Canada Josh Peacock said about virtual racing. “By running our programming throughout the winter, we are giving our members the whole off-season to participate and stay active.”

Photo Courtesy of Cycling Canada

Josh Peacock has been involved in planning and creating Cycling Canada’s virtual racing activities on Zwift, FulGaz and RGT Virtual Cycling App. He said that the idea behind Cycling Canada’s virtual programming is to create something that maintains a community and one of the ways they are doing that is through the Discord chat application.

“Having a way to chat makes people feel connected with other riders.” Josh Peacock said of the Cycling Canada Discord server. “During one of our rides we were chatting with people from Nova Scotia. It was great, we were talking the weather there compared to what we were experiencing. It really brought  a personal connection to the ride…we want to add to the connection aspect by allowing racers to chat with some great ride leaders including Canadian cycling athletes. ”

Just like how cycling applications can mimic the feel of road racing, applications like Discord can mimic the feeling of being on a group ride with your buddies. It adds to the social aspect of virtual racing by allowing groups of people, say a bunch of friends from the same cycling club, to get together in a voice chat. By entering a Discord server with their friends during an online race, a rider can heckle their buddies as they breeze by them on a descent or talk about what their family has been up too in recent weeks.

Josh Peacock said that Cycling Canada wanted not only to give Canadians a chance to race together, they wanted to create something that riders can take ownership of and develop social circles outside of their local region.

“We look at the chat as a community builder,” Josh said, “it’s a way to connect people who don’t travel to events, with other cyclists from across Canada. Every day riders from across the country get to connect with people who have similar interests to themselves which can start friendships and keep people social during the winter months.”

Photo Courtesy of Cycling Canada

To start off their virtual programming, Cycling Canada is running tune-up races every Monday at 8:00pm and women’s-only tune-ups on Tuesdays at 8:00pm on Zwift. These are medium-paced, social rides with different ride leaders each week. They are also hosting the Wednesday Night Race Series every Wednesday on Zwift with races aimed at being as inclusive as possible.

“For our Wednesday races, we built them to cater to every ability level. Even if you’re slower, we have categories set up as low as 1.2 watts/kg, we tried to make it so that there is no intimidation factor. In addition to the categories, if your falling behind you can just pull out without any worry about penalties. There’s no obligation to finish a race, if you feel you can’t keep up you can drop out and do some training, like joining our rides on Monday and Tuesday, for a few weeks and then try again. Our tune-ups and Wednesday Night Race Series take place on the same course each week so you can pre-ride a course to decide if you want to join on Wednesday.”

While putting their online series together, Josh Peacock said that they noticed that there weren’t as many races that catered to women on Zwift.

“There seemed to be an intimidation factor for women, the categories were dominated by men. We decided to do some women specific programming because the heart of our plan was that it is a community experience and women are an important part of the cycling community. It is a start but there’s still work to be done to get women involved and we are prepared to continue to make changes as necessary to be more inclusive.”

The series started at the beginning of November and Cycling Canada has already made adjustments to promote inclusivity by adding a second, women’s-only race on Wednesday night’s. It all goes back to what virtual racing can be: A fun, cycling experience that is open to everyone and can be enjoyed anywhere you can set up a bike, trainer and internet connection.

Photo taken from the Ontario Cycling Association Indoor Road Race Series held on Zwift

In order to experience an online race, however, you need a few things: A bike, some kind of bike trainer, a smartphone or computer to run the application, an internet connection and a space to set everything up. There are several different types of bike trainers but they all work in a similar way, which is to connect to your bike allowing you to remain stationary while riding. Smart trainers even keep track of your cadence and speed while transmitting that information to your cycling app. Less advanced trainers require you to purchase extra devices to track that information. (For some details on the type of equipment needed to participate in Zwift races: https://www.zwift.com/ca/get-zwifting#how-to-run)

With the snow starting to arrive in parts of Ontario, it’s a perfect time to bring the bike inside and give virtual cycling a try. Between the various virtual platforms there are a plethora of races running every hour of every day allowing for options for any type of workout you’re looking for.

 

For Details on the Ontario Cycling Association’s Virtual Racing Events: CLICK HERE
For Information on Virtual Races Hosted by OCA Clubs/Teams and the OCA: CLICK HERE
For Details on Cycling Canada’s Virtual Races: CLICK HERE