By James S
Part of the love-hate relationship many have with road cycling is the amount of kit, and increasingly technology, available to ‘improve’ one’s cycling experience. As is often the case, technology can cause frustration, both in understanding the vast array of what’s available and also identifying what’s actually useful, versus simply a novelty that adds extra weight to your stealthy steed. Then there’s a case of identifying which manufacturer or model works well from a vast array of options available, most of which only online from cycling specialists.
Technology is my background & day job and applying it to sport (rugby, skiing, diving, sailing and now cycling) is one of my side-interests – optimising the sport experience through judicious use of technology. I’ve also had many requests for recommendations from the team for various items, so this post not only aims to document the bike-related software and gear that many of us are using to train for the challenge, but hopefully also to help others who are trying to see the wood through the trees of the cycling technology world. Caveat: these are obviously my own opinions that others may agree or disagree with – there are obviously plenty of independent review sites out there to cross-reference these recommendations with!
I’ve provided some detail on each item, but have also provided links to further product details online for further exploration. Please note that in all cases I’ve recommended what I feel is the optimum product, regardless of budget, but several of these do have lower cost alternatives that I mention where appropriate.
Online Services & Apps
All of these services have apps for Android and iOS as well as premium subscriptions, but they all also have either trial periods or indefinitely free plans to try them out.
Often copied, but as-yet-unmatched in terms of usability and accuracy, this site and app allows you to plan your rides (or view and share others’ rides) in the comfort of your own home and then download them (using a GPX file) to your Garmin Edge bike computer (see below) to provide you turn-by-turn navigation whilst riding. This allows you to explore areas you never explored before, re-live others’ previous rides and plan your training to take in the optimum distance, duration or elevation you’d like to achieve on each ride.
Well-known in the cycling (and running) community, Strava is the online repository where we upload our ride data. Some simply use it to analyse their training, others to compete (with their own or others’ PBs) but many, including our team, to share our training efforts to allow mutual encouragement and motivation in preparation for our mountain challenge.
Taking the exercise world by storm for both cycling and now running, Zwift is the social exercise phenomena that brings the ability to train and compete with athletes all over the world from the comfort of your own home, garage or shed, depending on your level of obsession and screen size. Zwift creates an imaginary world in virtual reality comprising mountain, city and competition courses on a weekly rota within which you participate using your bike attached to a smart trainer (e.g. Tacx Neo below) that Zwift controls wirelessly to simulate changes in elevation, road feel, etc. In addition to simply riding or joining organised events, Zwift also provides many workout options that may be used for winter training, FTP tests, etc.
For the hardware items I’ve linked to the manufacturer’s product information, but you’ll almost always find them more competitvely priced at your favourite online or retail cycling store e.g. Hargroves, Wiggle, Sigma, Evans, etc.
Garmin Edge 1000 Bike Computer
The ‘Daddy’ of all bike computers, this unit will provide turn-by-turn navigation whilst riding (planned using RWGPS above), track all your ride data for subsequent upload to Strava (see above) and provide real-time data to you whilst training and cycling events (speed, distance, cadence, power, heart rate, destination eta and many more). Other models of the Garmin Edge are also available to suit different budgets but all will provide navigation and data capture, with the key differences being screen size and more advanced features.
Garmin Varia Rear Radar Light
A very simple idea, perfectly executed. This rear LED cycle light has the usual feature of various flashing sequences, but the trick up its sleeve manifests when paired with a Garmin Edge bike computer above. This powerful combination then provides audible and visual warning of cars approaching from behind, including automatic change of the rear flashing sequence to alert the approaching driver. Many don’t feel the need for this feature on a bike and feel this product is aimed at beginners who don’t feel confident on the road, but I know many experienced cyclists who have now tried the Varia Rear Radar and have found the additional freedom now associated with using the full width of quiet roads, riding two or three abreast, relaxing on noisy descents/pushing into headwinds or having greater confidence moving across the road to turn right (although never as substitute to looking too!). They are now more confident in the knowledge that they will not be surprised but indeed alerted to cars approaching from behind many hundred metres beforehand, allowing them to re-position and prepare accordingly. I’ve found it especially effective on the quieter roads of the South Downs where cars are relatively infrequent, so warning of their approach provides for a more relaxing riding experience.
Specialized Stix Comp Lights
These extremely lightweight, simple to use LED lights (front and rear versions) may be easily attached to the front bars, the seat post or indeed helmets or backpacks to increase visibility and awareness to drivers. More useful for daytime use where it’s more about being seen (e.g. through dark woods) than seeing the road ahead, they’re a low-cost addition to the bike armoury that are quick and easy to charge from any USB socket and carry with you on every daytime ride. I personally use a white light on the front and a red light on my helmet to complement the Garmin Varia Rear Radar light above.
Tacx Neo Smart Trainer
This high-tech indoor trainer is attached to your bike instead of the rear wheel which allows either your Garmin bike computer or Zwift (see above) to control the resistance (based on elevation) or road feel (based on surface e.g. cobbles) to create a highly realistic virtual and social indoor cycling experience using the same bike you train on outdoors. There are also many lower cost alternative smart trainers that are compatible with Zwift, but the Neo is currently the optimum partnership.
Aftershokz Trekz Titanium
Many like to listen to music whilst cycling but it’s important to still hear the world around you, including your fellow team mates, cars and other dangers. The bone conduction technology pioneered by Aftershokz has now been combined with a very lightweight titanium frame that also doesn’t interfere with glasses or helmets providing a very comfortable listening experience whilst still being able to hear the outside world. Combine this with handsfree mobile phone functionality via Bluetooth and you can also now answer those urgent calls whilst riding!
RavPower 6 port USB Charger
Many of the items above require charging and almost all use USB charging, so a compact 6 port USB charger such as this provides efficient use of one’s power sockets at home as well as ease of overnight charging when travelling.
I hope the above provides a useful reference to our recommendations and experience researching and testing some of the best cycling technology available in preparation for our challenge – please get in touch should you have any questions on purchasing, setting up or using any of the above and I’ll do my best to help.
Ride on – and don’t forget to charge everything overnight!