Thursday 5 February 2009

The Compleat Tour de Basement: Life is a Highway (Part 1)

Tantalus Drive, Oahu
photo by Indichick7, Creative Commons

I read that East German coaches forced their cyclists to do their daily four hours of indoor training on rollers facing a plain brick wall, with no music or any diversion at all. This was supposed to focus their concentration and toughen them up. Perhaps this might have been acceptable for a regime that actually walled in its citizens to prevent them from leaving, but it sounds pretty nasty to me. Riding in the Tour de Basement is hard enough without being reminded you are actually in the basement. As I move into my February training program, the workouts are going to get harder and longer so having a diversion to take my mind off the pain and, yes, boredom, is vital.

Luckily, capitalism has provided an answer. Recognizing a growing market as cyclists most everywhere try to improve their performance, entrepreneurs understand that not all of us can zip off to California or Tucson or Lake Como for a training camp in the sun and have provided us with training DVDs that we can watch at home and turn the Tour de Basement into a virtual Tour de Somewhere. Of course, there are dedicated computer programs such as those from CompuRide and Tacx but these are complex and not inexpensive. For most of us our training system is a lot simpler: a trainer (or rollers) and a bike, with access to music or a television screen to drown out the noise of the bike and that giant fan blowing a headwind at us.

Training DVDs have been around for quite a while and for the most part they have consisted of video of people on trainers, sweating and straining as a cool and relaxed coach in a polo shirt urges them on. But most of us we can see sweating and straining cyclists simply by putting up a mirror: the only thing more boring than your own Tour de Basement is watching someone else’s. So some of us watch classic bike races on video, over and over, and pretend we are in the peloton, battling up Mt. Ventoux. But these are really sportscasts and not specifically meant for training so it is hard to sync your workout to them. So the idea to show scenery has now blossomed and an impressive range of videos has appeared in the last year that promise to make those training hours fly by as you sweat and strain in an exotic location. I wanted to share my experience and rate some of the DVDs now on the market. I still have around three months of indoor cycling to get through so I consider the DVDs an important training aid.

Global Ride Productions: StenDurance in Hawaii

Global Ride, the New Kid on the Training DVD Block, began as a spinning, pilates and yoga club in Pennsylvania. There was a realization that cyclists used to the road found indoor workouts barely tolerable, while many in the spinning community had no interest in going outside and facing the perils of traffic. The goal of bringing these two groups together has resulted in a series of DVDs that attempt to link interesting scenery and music with appropriate modern coaching and additional off-bike workouts. How successful is this?

The first series of DVDs covers rides in Hawaii and the one that I received, “StrenDurance,” is a compilation of three segments, featuring a long climb up Tantalus on Oahu, followed by a flattish stretch of coastal ride on Maui and ending with a series of charming rollers, also on Maui. The series begins with a segment of still images as you do your warm-up prior to the actual training. My first impression was that this was a bit long but I quickly realized that a) it allowed me to set my own warm-up rhythm and b) as I spun in my unfinished basement with the temperature at -29C outside I found that I was mesmerized by photos of lush, green Hawaii and actually looking forward to the rest of the DVD!

The Tantalus component, in which you are accompanying another cyclist, is a steady but not too steep climb that takes you above the city of Honolulu up the extinct cinder cone of this now-deceased volcano. Honolulu is actually built on the ashes of Tantalus. You continue up the steady climb, with occasional views of Diamond Head, until you approach the summit at 634 m (2014 feet) ASL. Coupled with the previous warm-up, this is a good start to the program.

The next section, which is coastal highway from Laihana, is actually not quite as interesting as not only is it flat but to your left is heavy traffic and on the right the sea so there is not a great deal to look at. But at least it feels warm (apparently the word “Laihana” is the Hawaiian phrase meaning “merciless sun!”) and the segment allows you to do some steady state/tempo riding. There are a few rollers at the end as you approach the next segment.

Kahakuloa Point, Maui
photo by Mastery of Maps, Creative Commons

This last segment, Maui Cliff Climbs, is simply fantastic. For those of us who believe that the only point to riding a bicycle is climbing, this is nothing less than paradise. You ride a whole series of hard hills, with amazingly varied scenery, along a beautifully-maintained asphalt road that is completely devoid of any other traffic. When this segment came to the end, I went straight back to the beginning of the chapter and rode it all over again. And yet again. One of my only complaints about this DVD is that at around 50 minutes for the cycling section it is short for those of us who have 90 to 120 minute workouts scheduled. Some of the other DVDs I have are of a similar length. On the other hand, you can just use the remote to extend things.

But, as they used to say on those frentic TV ads, Wait! There’s more! One of the very cool features of this DVD is that you can ride while listening to a coach–and not one coach, but you have a selection of three! You can choose Sally Edwards (representing the USA), Massimiliano Zambiasi (Italy) and Nicci Heath (Australia). These are all experienced coaches and on the voice tracks they are breathing pretty heavily so it is like they are suffering there with you. So on each ride you can pick which coach you want for that day. A nice feature.

And after the cycling segment there is a cooldown one where you can look at upcoming DVDs from Global Production (ah–Italia!) and this segment is then followed by something unique for a scenery DVD–you have to get off the bike and do a 30 minute strength training program with lightweight dumbells. This is led by a distressingly fit-looking coach who takes you through a rather challenging circuit. I think the addition of a cross-training segment is an excellent idea.

The music chosen for most of this DVD is by Andy Hunter, a British DJ, and is in the techno/trance mode, and is well-suited to the rhythms of the ride. It is commercial music and reflects well on the professionalism of the Global Ride producers. The other thing I was impressed by was that the screen is not cluttered up with many distractions, allowing you to enjoy the scenery as you pedal. And the pace of camera work is not far off of a racing bike’s speed. Well, perhaps faster than me...

As you can tell, I enjoyed the DVD very much. I think it is has terrific scenery, good music and excellent special features. I have already ordered the other two DVDs in the Hawaii series, which are extended versions of the coastal ride and more on Maui. After watching “StrenDurance” I am all set to pack my bags and ride those Maui cliff climbs, which is probably as good a recommendation as one can give!

The company promoted its product by taking it around to spinning studios and doing product demos. I have suggested that my local fitness club get the DVDs since our spinning room has black walls and nothing to look at. At least nobody is making me work out for four hours there...

To give you a sense of the DVD, here is a sample from the DVD showing some of the most challenging sections:

Global Ride Productions
"StrenDurance in Hawaii"
available directly from and other outlets
Price: $29.95 (or a boxed set of three DVDs for $74.99)


Unknown said...

The trance part sounds the best. Hey, how about a guest post in my newsletter. Leslie's top 5 spring training tips. I can add a link to your blog for more....

Gonna be 6o deg F here (Arlington VA)over weekend...

Ron George said...

Sprocket :

Good post. I joke about training indoors with my friends. I says, the training effect of riding indoors is a nice upward curve but a simultaneous downward curve of boredom soon intersects with the first curve and brings the whole curve crashing down. I remember the days when I thought more was better and sat on the trainer for 4 hours at a stretch. Not going to do that anymore for sure.

I had a related tongue in cheek post on training indoors on my blog. Check it out.

Ron George said...

Also discovered Andy Hunter, thanks to you.

Groover said...

Glad I was a swimmer back then and not a cyclist ... :-) Makes me feel very sympathetic with Jan U.

I will revisit your complete Tour de Basement recommendations in a few months time. I used the Tacx Tour of Lombardy scenery DVD last winter and liked it a lot but I still don't know how many cyclists I overtook. I always lost count halfway through.

Will said...

I guess the other peace of equipment is a huge TV so that Hawaii is right there.

KUDOS for your committment to indoor training.

When on a trainer, I try and find some sort of action movie with subtitles and no commercials