EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors

Dopers! Dopers, the lot of you! EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.

I stepped on a landmine yesterday. I got a notice that there was a comment posted to the Zwift Club discussion page on Strava. It brought up a point I had not considered before and which even when I read it did not take very seriously. Then the shrapnel started flying!

It would appear that the person commenting was not a Zwift user and was upset about people using Zwift using elevation data in Strava — specifically for climbing challenges. Here, I’ll let you read it for yourself.

Using this Club to add elevation is just wrong, you’re not out really riding and don’t tell me the trainer is just as hard as real climbing. I was just out in a blizzard climbing real hills with a real headwind. Trainers are an essential piece of training equipment, to use them to cheat on elevation is weak. Post your rides as what they are, trainer miles and nothing more. I use a trainer but have 0 miles posted. You are not riding a bike, your front wheel is not moving, spare me the BS roller riders as you never left your cozy house or wherever it is that makes you feel warm & fuzzy. Cheaters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 11.07.13 AMFor fun I responded with the following line, “Dopers! Dopers, the lot of you! EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.” I thought that would be the end of it, but is seems that lots of other people wanted to also make their own smart alec remarks. Then, as these things often do, it turned kind of nasty.

However, I’m not here to dwell on that. I actually began to wonder what really is the difference.

First, let me point out that folks using Zwift cannot simply mark the ride as a trainer ride. If they do that, it removes all the GPS data and basically destroys any record of what you did on Jarvis Island. So, that is not an option.

So, let’s turn our attention to “climbing” on Zwift’s Jarvis Island and riding uphill in the “real world.” Obviously, riding a trainer in your basement is not the same experience as riding out on the road. While it might not be like comparing apples to oranges, it can be more like comparing oranges to grapefruit. They look very similar, but are different. At the same time, eating an orange doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat a grapefruit.

I went out Tuesday and rode for 2.5 hours covering 33.5 miles and climbed 4,386 feet. Earlier in the month I had joined the Strava Climbing Challenge not because I thought I would accomplish it, but because I like to see how close I can get to meeting the goal. I was somewhat surprised when that ride put me over the bar and I earned my little virtual badge.

As it turns out, I made up the majority (though not all) of the remaining 9,052 feet on my trainer riding the virtual road and climbs of Jarvis Island. Wow, that is a lot! It took me by surprise.

So, how long did it take me to do that? In an attempt to find out, I went to my century ride completed earlier this month. I rode the trainer for 5 hours and 40 minutes. I covered 100 Zwift miles and climbed a total of 5,203 feet. This effort was accomplished on a dumb trainer.

Each lap on Jarvis Island is 155 feet when going counterclockwise and 157 feet when going clockwise. This means I would need to complete 59 laps to amass over 9000 feet on the trainer. Averaging 10 minutes a lap would mean I would need to ride nearly 10 hours on the trainer. To be honest, giving myself 10 minutes on average is kind of generous.

Compare that to repeats on Paris Mountain’s Altamont Road. Each repeat would net me 850 feet (to the towers). It would take me on average 18 minutes per climb up with 5 minutes down. So, basically 11 repeats would have me in the saddle for under 4 hours and 30 minutes.

I’m not here to pass judgement on which of those two options is the harder feat. Having done both, I can say it is a draw. Each has its own pain, but in different ways. If I had to make a choice of which I would prefer to use to gain the elevation, it would be Altamont. Mentally, that is definitely the easier option.

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Now, throw in the option to use the Wahoo Kickr with Zwift and the grapefruit starts looking and tasting a lot more like an orange! When using the dumb trainer to climb on Zwift, the only thing that really changes is the time it takes to “climb.” Yes, you could get your elevation by spinning along at 75 watts. However, it would take you absolutely forever!

With the Kickr you will come to a standstill if you try that. Why? Because just as the real road combined with gravity creates a greater resistance when you climb, the Kickr begins to build resistance into the trainer according to the “virtual” grade data sent to it from Zwift.

So, in this case, if you were to put a virtual Paris Mountain in Zwift, you would find that it would basically take the same wattage to overcome the resistance on the trainer as it would on the road. Granted, it could not be exact because of environmental differences. I’m convinced though that it would be close.

My conclusion? I probably will not join a Strava climbing challenge in the future if I know that the majority of my time will be spent on Zwift. At the same time, I am not going to sweat it out if I happen to join a challenge and have a few Zwift rides sprinkled among the efforts.

I love the road. A virtual world can never replace that. I love to climb. Caesars Head, Sassafras, Skyuka, Paris Mountain, and other grades in my beloved Upstate will always call me with a stronger voice than a virtual island. If there is one thing I don’t like about Zwift it is the fact that it does not have a Paris Mountain type climb on it.

At the same time, do not call trainer rides — especially those using technology such as Zwift and trainers such as the Wahoo Kickr — pansy rides. I’d even go so far as to say you cannot call it cheating. The effort is the same and the surrounding environment is not germane. If you are riding in a blizzard to get your elevation and someone else is climbing in South America, do the people in the lower hemisphere not get to count their feet?