Warminsterwobble – Technology has been a driving force behind the evolution of training for the past few decades. The last four decades have seen a huge shift in the amount of technology available to cyclists, transforming the way they train and race. Gone are the days of measuring things by relative effort or hours spent in the saddle.
The advent, accessibility and affordability of heart rate monitors, GPS computers, power meters and turbo trainers leave even an amateur rider with a plethora of data and insight at their fingertips, allowing them to follow a training plan to lab-level accuracy or track their efforts in the heat of competition – both on the road and the virtual world.
Here, we’ll look at how technology has revolutionised training and created a whole new space of communities and competitors.
Forty years of continuous innovation
The shift started in earnest in the 1980s. While training techniques had already moved away from a combination of long and low-intensity base miles interspersed with lung-busting racing to drills that resembled something similar to tempo or high intensity interval training sessions, it wasn’t until portable heart rate monitors became readily available that guesswork was slowly taken out of the equation.
Previously the preserve of laboratory settings, heart rate monitors allowed cyclists to use their heart’s beats per minute to create training zones – the higher the BPM, the higher the intensity – when out on the road.
Over the course of a training plan, they could see how their cardiovascular fitness was adapting, as high intensity efforts could either be held for longer or they could push themselves even harder. Today’s heart rate monitors are far more accurate and affordable than their early forebears, and can be the cheapest way to start tracking your body’s response to training.
Power meters followed hot on the heels of heart rate monitors in the 1990s and moved the dial once more. Unlike heart rate monitors, which can suffer from lags or be impacted by external influences such as the weather or the wearer’s health, power meters provide live, instant feedback on efforts.
If that wasn’t enough, they showed how the training load of a workout would impact the cyclist’s overall fitness before a session was done, bringing scientific precision to training plans and stopping overtraining in its tracks. When combined with heart rate data, cyclists could get an extremely clear picture of their abilities and strengths, as well as weaknesses that they need to work on.
If the end of the last millennium was when measuring physiological data was transformed, then the start of the 2000s was when the core ride statistics of distance, speed and elevation had their moment in the spotlight.
That was, in part, thanks to the evolution of the head unit. The first cyclometer originated in the late 1800s and tracked distance by multiplying the front wheel’s circumference by the number of rotations it made during a ride.
Just over a century later, cycling computers started to use GPS instead, providing riders with pin-point accuracy for their metrics during each ride. What’s more, the use of ANT+ and Bluetooth allowed the head units to speak to the likes of power meters and heart rate monitors, leaving club cyclists with the ability to get live feedback on their ride with a simple glance at their handlebars.
Outdoor training sorted, the 2010s was the decade that indoor training would be brought into the 21st century. While turbo trainers and rollers are by no means a new invention, it was the introduction of smart direct drive models that turned indoor training from a pursuit of masochists into something enjoyable for the masses.
The emergence of training platforms like Zwift created virtual worlds where riders could train and compete that were as much fun and engaging as a club ride. They also made riding so convenient that turbo sessions became a year-round pursuit rather than something to do when the weather wasn’t playing ball or it was too cold to ride outside.
A new world of communities and competitors
This increase in cycling technology has not only changed how cyclists train – it’s changed how they socialise, interact and, in the case of Zwift, compete.
Cycling clubs have been at the heart of the biking community for more than a century. Rather than replacing what has gone before it, the introduction of cycling-specific social platforms have added a virtual element to established institutions, while also providing new spaces for like-minded people to chat, congratulate and ride that isn’t tied to a location or time zone.
It’s not limited to cycling’s social side, either. Through Zwift, competing with riders of a similar ability – whether you’re just starting out or an elite-level professional – has become even more accessible. From its regular training plans like the Zwift Academy or Tour de Zwift, to its community-run race leagues and teams, riding virtually has never been more fun.
Just the beginning
It’s fair to say that technology has had a profound impact on how cyclists train and compete, and the ability for any cyclist to reach their goals has never been easier or more accessible.
Tools and techniques are unrecognisable from just four decades ago, and as virtual training platforms such as Zwift continue to grow, improve and offer even more features, there seems to be no end in sight to the training revolution.