It’s been a year since Mike Angove left his bike in the garage. A keen cyclist, he’d been racing regularly, commuting daily and spending hours in the saddle each weekend.
Although his bike hasn’t left the garage, Mike says he’s fitter than he’s ever been.
In fact, he still rides daily, regularly for several hours. The difference is that he now cycles around a virtual world called Watopia – or, if the mood takes him, around virtual London, New York or a UCI World Championships course in Innsbruck and Richmond.
Mike is one of a growing number gravitating to indoor cycling, thanks to the evolution of “smart” trainers, which link to a computer, allowing you to ride in a virtual environment.
Using Zwift, a popular platform that has essentially “gamefied” cycling; he now rides and chats with cyclists from around the world.
So why did he go virtual?“Traffic mainly,” says Mike.
“Once upon a time you could get out on a Saturday morning, do a five to six-hour bike ride and see hardly any traffic. But now the roads are just too busy. After
Jason Lowndes was killed and I got knocked off a couple of times, that was it. I decided I’m not going to do this anymore.”
Mike said he started to become unfit and so bought a dumb trainer but it was notoriously boring.
“When I tried Zwift, I was incredibly surprised at how much like riding in the real world it is. The trainer uses your weight and power to calculate the resistance. It talks to the iPad and Zwift tells the trainer how much resistance to apply to reflect pretty close to the real world. The only thing you don’t get is wind.”
The beauty of the trainer is that you can get on any time.
“I race two to three times a week and there’s probably 200 events a day that you can choose from – some races, group social rides or group training rides.
“You have a much more controlled training environment. It’s also fantastic for people who want to lose weight. I met a guy on Zwift who weighed 160kg. He’d bought a bike for the road to lose weight but people laughed at him because he was so big.
“He took it back to the shop to get his money back and the sales guy suggested he try Zwift. He’s lost 25kg since Christmas in the privacy of his home. You don’t have to look like a bike rider to do this.”
You do need to spend a bit on equipment though: apart from the bike and trainer, you need a computer and screen and a subscription to Zwift, at a minimum.
“You can do it modestly,” says Mike. “But if you want an experience that’s as close as possible to real life, you need the setup.”
His includes a grade simulator – a product that moves the front of the bike up and down to simulate climbing or descending – and fans, one of which can be set up to simulate wind resistance (more air on the downhills; less on the way up).
Does he miss cycling in the real world?
“Not so much anymore. It would be nice to have a coffee, but you run into people you’d never meet in the local area – I started chatting with a former pro rider in the UK and we’ve been riding together for a couple of months.”
Because of the time zone Mike mostly rides with people from Australia – even some from Bendigo. All from the comfort of his garage.