Saturday 9 March 2013

Tour de Basement Revisited: Epic Blue Ridge DVD

In the past I have done reviews of training DVDs under the rubric “Tour de Basement” because, well, I was doing my riding on the trainer in the basement.  That was some time ago and not only have I relocated to a different country (Germany) but I have come out of the basement and up several floors.  The Tour de Basement has become the Tour du Grenier or,  more accurately, Das Rundfahrt auf dem Dachboden—the Tour of the Attic.

Unlike my previous basement, I have a window which overlooks a park.  Generally, and today is no exception, it also a view of continuously drizzling rain or, as wags here refer to it, liquid Dutch sunshine.   Nobody comes to the Rhineland for the weather.   Well, except for Fox News experts who believe that Germany is sunnier than the United States, which explains why all those people from Texas, California and Florida enjoy the German Riviera so much.

But if it rains and you can’t play outside, there is no reason you can’t play inside when you have DVDs as good as the Epic Rides series.  I have enjoyed using the Epic Acadia DVD and the latest in the series,  Epic Blue Ridge, continues to meet the high standards of the previous release.   This is one of the longer DVDs in the series (and also available as a download) at 75 minutes and is rated as “very hard” on the website. 

This is a fair comment.  One of the things I like about Epic Rides is they don’t  go to especially exotic destinations but to places in the United States that offer beautiful  and challenging riding.  In 2009  I did an excellent spring trainingcamp with four friends in North Carolina, based at a ski resort north of Asheville.   So it was with some wistfulness that I relived one of the best rides I have done in the US here in the Dachboden: the ride along the wonderful Blue Ridge Parkway to the top of Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in the Eastern United States.

We did the ride from Little Switzerland, on the Parkway itself, but the group of three riders featured in the DVD began in the opposite direction, departing Hendersonville.  They claim the climb is one of the finest rides in the area and is 2.5 hours of effort and without further ado we have a five-minute warm-up before switching into no less than 50 minutes of climbing intervals.  When you get to the end of that, the road turns and you are on the final summit climb, an additional 20 minutes that brings you to the top of Mt. Mitchell.

Appalachian Spring: the view from Mt. Mitchell
Riding the Blue Ridge is really special.  There is very little traffic most of the time and the quality of the pavement has to be about the best in North America as there is no commercial or winter traffic.  You can see this on the DVD quite clearly.  Gradients are reasonable; in the video the warm-up is at 2%; the intervals at 4% and the final summit climb 5%.  There are superb vistas as you look down into the mountain valleys and the whole area is parkland so it is green and lush.  The downside is that since the Parkway was built during the Depression as a make-work project and does not leave the Ridge and go down into any towns, there is really nothing along the ride where you can enjoy an Eiskaffee or Apfeltasche, as is the case every 5 kms or so in Germany.  But it really is beautiful and I never get tired of the view and you can see this much of the time on the video.

Pretty much my only negative comment on the video is that the ride takes you up to Mt. Mitchell but that portion is in fog, which shrouds the view and is a bit disappointing although the three cyclists reach the altitude sign in the parking lot.

The day we rode up there was no fog!
The positives are similar to the Epic Acadia ride (and, I think, the rest of the series).  There is an excellent dashboard feature at the bottom of the screen that provides really useful information for training.  It shows you the ride profile, where you are on the route, what your heart rate zone should be, the grade and elapsed time on the segment, as well as time elapsing on a climbing section.  The video footage is crystal clear and the accompanying music, which is of course a personal taste, I found to be really tuned to the course.  Epic Rides is unusual in that the DVDs not only have a music soundtrack but an alternate soundtrack can be downloaded and played in sync if you get tired of the first one.  There is no hectic action on the video but you know it is an all-climbing all the time project and it is good training for setting a climbing rhythm.   EpicPlanet uses an instructor who has race experience but also teaches indoor cycling to advise on the training format.

Also on the Epic Ride website you will find a Training Guide for each of the DVDs.  For example, the Blue Ridge Training Guide breaks down the course and offers three variations (Beginner, Intermediate, Race) which seem to vary primarily by cadence.  Another feature is that you can choose to do the complete ride or shorter 45 or 60 minute versions.  This would seem to be ideally suited to spinning classes or other groups.  

A non-cycling friend asked me how training DVDs work when you have a bike set up on a trainer.  She seemed surprised when I explained that as the road gets more difficult you shift into a harder gear on the bike.  I also said that it is important to watch your heart rate to get the proper workout.  This all sounds rather simple, I suppose, but I can honestly say that 75 minutes of climbing the Parkway while watching Epic Blue Ridge will leave you soaked in perspiration and the sweat is not virtual.  Anyway, it is pleasanter than riding outside in the cold rain and the dark!  Recommended, and if you have never ridden up to Mt. Mitchell this should whet your appetite.  Epic Rides’ website even has a downloadable route map for when you get on the road!

Epic Blue Ridge
Produced by EpicPlanet
75 minutes, in 16:9 widescreen format, 2013
DVD is US$29.95 and download is US$19.95, available at


Adam Penny said...

I am the rider in the video with the red shoes. Believe me when I tell you that we were really working hard here. This route is one that our team puts into the training regimen when we've got some of the hardest climbing races coming up. One thing about the fog at the end is that it lets you know that you truly are climbing into the Land of the Sky.

Sprocketboy said...

Well, the three of you looked pretty comfortable so all that climbing training has paid off! I am thinking of putting together a Blue Ride/Skyline Drive End-to-End Ride in Summer 2015 since I think it is one of the world's great cycling routes.

Adam Penny said...

Watch closely towards the end as I attack, then get countered, and subsequently, dropped. Ouch! Luckily, my teammates were kind and let me get back on.