Friday 13 February 2009

The Compleat Tour de Basement: Life is a Highway (Part 2)

It is still winter in Ottawa (no surprises there) but this week has been exceptionally mild so on Monday I took BlackAdder outside and we rolled off to work, a feat I have been able to duplicate each day so far until now. Of course with my commute only being around 9 kms return it will take a long time for the miles to add up! But the streets are still wet and there is a lot of slush (and even some ice) around so no opportunity for real on-the-road training. So the Tour de Basement continues...

In my ongoing efforts to bring you the best in training entertainment, here are three DVDs from VITA Digital Productions in North Carolina. The company specializes in filming foreign locations and providing stock footage. It has an impressively long list of DVDs, featuring scenery in many parts of the world. Some of these have a specific purpose: virtual walks in places such as the Cotswolds; treadmill and jogging programs; and, of greatest interest to followers of this blog, scenery for cycling.

At the moment the company offers four DVDs for cyclists and I have three of them.

1. Virtual Bike Ride in Maine’s Acadia National Park/Mt. Desert Island

Acadia National Park, established under the Administration of President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, is comprised of three islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. The largest island, Mt. Desert Island, is 47 sq. miles and the town of Bar Harbor is located on the northeast corner of the island. This is the landscape featured in VITA Production’s DVD. Once the playground of the Rockefellers, who built miles of carriageways in the park, much of the region looks much the way it did when Samuel de Champlain saw it in 1604.

The View from Cadillac Mountain
photo by AudeVivere, Creative Commons

The ride begins at the peak of Cadillac Mountain (altitude 1528 feet (466 m) ASL). This mountain is the highest one within 25 miles of the coast of the Eastern United States and was once the site of a nice hotel, reached by cog railway. After the hotel burned down in 1895, the cog railway ended up at the celebrated Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. But you don’t need a cog railway since the road slopes down and you can enjoy a 15 minute descent. No matter how fast you are riding in the Tour de Basement, the group of cyclists on the DVD are still going to pass you on the downhill. No matter; the road looks very good and the scenery is splendid,
with wild, rocky vistas and water everywhere.

The next stretch of road takes the cyclist onto the park’s 26 mile (41 km) loop road. Sections of this road reminded me very much of the area I ride in, with dense green forest. There are pleasant sunny sections and some climbing and descending. Before you realize it you are pulling up to the carriage house at the park headquarters and your 60 minute ride is over.

One of the features I liked on this DVD (and on the other two) is that you move at a reasonable speed, apparently around 20 km/h (12 mph). This is a bit on the slow side but at least you don’t get the impression you are riding a motorcycle, and you have lots of time to look at the scenery. If you want to warm-up beforehand–or cool down afterwards--there is an additional 14 minute segment of Maine scenery. Like the remainder of the DVD this was originally shot in high-definition and the pictures are all very clear. There is some New Age music used for the extra segment but otherwise the DVD has no music, no soundtrack, no coaching. This is fine if you have your own program to follow and you can use your own music as well.

In summary, you have very nice scenery, an exceptionally clear image and an appropriate impression of speed. On the downside, at 60 minutes it is a bit short for a long workout, although the adding the additional 14 minutes at either (or both) ends of the ride adds some time. And it is all balanced nicely by the fact that it is one of the least expensive training DVDs I have found.

To see what the Mt. Desert Island ride looks like, you can see a sample here.

2. Connemara, Ireland

The second DVD from VITA that I have is a ride along in Connemara, an area of County Galway in Ireland, surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic. The ride begins with you cruising alongside Lough Corrib, the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland and a major tourism and fishing destination. It looks quite nice in the Tour de Basement but sometimes a virtual tour is better than the real one as the lake was severely contaminated in 2007 and residents of Galway had to boil all their water. Anyway, this is no factor for us and the ride continues gently along, through the green May scenery. There are birds singing. In fact, they sing an awful lot and while I like birds this is a bit grating eventually. I suspect a loop is being used since I recognized some of the songs! The road is quite fun as it appears to have been built by leprechauns–diving and turning and very, very narrow. After riding for about 10 minutes to the small town of Clifden, where everyone is going about their normal routine and you hear the murmur of voices around you. The Irish, incidentally, seem to park like the French and put their cars in any direction where they will fit.

Clifden town centre
Photo by Kevin Danks, Creative Commons

Clifden, founded only in the 19th Century, has two historic events to its credit: it was here that Marconi conducted his experiments in trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy and also was the town closest to Alcock and Brown’s rather sudden landing in a bog after their 1919 flight, the first non-stop trans-Atlantic one.

After passing the Clifden Town Hall, you get out of town on the Sky Road, which runs along the inlet of Clifden Bay and offers some excellent climbing and truly wonderful views. The scenery around the 43 minute mark is quite spectacular, and then there is a gentle ride back to Clifden.

Again, the photographic quality is excellent. The birds are a bit much, and sometimes it sounds as if the Irish are driving jet-propelled cars but at 62 minutes this is the longest of the three DVDs, and again priced at the same rate as the others.

Check out the Connemara DVD here.

3. Loch Etive, Scotland

Staying with the loch theme, this is a 59 minute ride along Loch Etive in western Scotland. It is springtime, and not only do we have birds again but there are some relentless sheep sounds too. This is a bit strange as in the DVD I did not actually notice all that many herds of sheep. The scenery is not dramatic, but very green and there are many wildflowers.

Loch Etive
photo by Jamie Campbell, Creative Commons

The Loch is 19 miles (31 kms) long and only just over a mile wide. Interestingly, it is home to a small colony of seals! We don’t see them, or any Lock Etive Monster for that matter, but just enjoy a pleasant and relaxing country ride. This DVD includes an 8 minute section of still photos and I must admit that Wayne Jacobs is an excellent photographer as many of these shots are truly beautiful

The Loch Etive DVD does not have the dramatic scenery of the other two and the cycling pace is definitely on the slower side. I would recommend it more for days when doing a recovery ride or perhaps easy spinning.

You can see an extract of the DVD here.

The VITA Digital Production DVDs are modest in nature as they do not promise to make you a better cyclist or offer a lot of extra features. It is up to you to make the most of them as they deliver exactly what they promise: beautiful scenery professionally filmed along the kinds of roads you would seek out if you were really there, and at bargain prices. And you can always turn down the virtual sheep noises.

VITA Digital Productions Virtual Bike Rides can ordered from their website here or from their E-Bay store. There is a fourth cycling DVD devoted to the Hollywood Hills in California but I am considering getting some of the walking or scenery DVDs of Italy simply because they look so nice!


Anonymous said...

I am a fellow OCC club member and enjoyed reading your insightful reviews on the cycling DVD's. Have you had any experience with the Spinerval series. They seem to be quite popular at the bike shops in the GTA.

Sprocketboy said...

I am glad you enjoyed the DVD reviews. I have reviewed two of the DVDs by Coach Troy Jacobson, who is the Spinervals man, here:

These are reviews of two of his three outdoor ride DVDs. I have six or seven of the Spinervals series, which are training indoors and they are quite good. I will probably do some reviews of these, along with the ones by Chris Carmichael of CTS Training.