Happy New Year readers! Hope your 2016 ended on a positive note (oh how I want to put a jab in at Mariah Carey here…..but I won’t) – and – your 2017 is off to a great start!
It’s been a few weeks since I got my Wahoo KICKR Snap Trainer, and I can say I am really liking the virtual riding with a smart trainer. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been alternating between Zwift and the BKOOL Cycling Simulator – and – each has its own merits. However, I find myself heading over to BKOOL more often than going to Zwift.
First, let me tell you a little bit about Zwift. Keep in mind that I’m a new user – so – my perceptions and experience may be skewed until I learn more; however, I’m pretty sure my experience would be similar to anyone else just venturing into the online smart trainer ecosystem.
Zwift has 3 main riding locations – scheduled for different days of the week:
- Watopia – a fictional island paradise
- London – that place “across the pond” from me in the USA
- Richmond, VA – not too far away from my PA address
Each of these locations have 5 or 6 routes that you can choose from the beginning. All are loops in their respective locations. While you have the opportunity to make turns and “choose-your-own-path,” you ultimately have very similar loops in those locations. Quite honestly, it’s not too different from real riding around me. I choose very similar loops from my home – and – change it up with different turns to keep things interesting.
In that way, Zwift does mimic real road riding, and it definitely has a place in my indoor winter riding/training. My only problem is that I get bored of 3 locations – and – I need to wait until the location I want is scheduled by Zwift for riding. For example, if I want to ride Richmond in January, I need to make sure to login and ride on either the 11th or the 25th (I’ve seen a workaround online by changing the date on your computer – but – I don’t know if that really works, and it seems like a lot of effort). I keep a photo of the schedule on my phone so I can check before I prepare to ride.
Which is Why I am leaning more towards BKOOL
BKOOL is, I believe, a Spanish-based company that sells a line of smart trainers and has the Cycling Simulator (that works with several brands of smart trainers). In my search for a smart trainer, I strongly considered the BKOOL Smart Pro – but – ultimately settled on the Wahoo KICKR Snap when I read that the Smart Pro was a little easier to tip over (though I have read the newer version solves that issue).
I mention the fact that BKOOL is Spanish-based only because some of the wording in the Simulator is a bit different than U.S. based apps/games/simulators. It’s nothing too earth-shattering. It just takes a little bit of paying attention before you click some things to make sure you’re clicking the correct place.
Here are the things I really like about the BKOOL Cycling Simulator – and – why I think it’s worthy of checking out:
- A Multitude of Routes – BKOOL advertises “hundreds of thousands” of routes. I don’t know if there are truly that many, but I can bet there could be.
- Fewer Riders – Sure Zwift has more users (and is probably better funded), but you’ll find a smaller community of riders in the BKOOL Simulator. I find it nice to be on a route with only 3-4 other people (because of so many routes from #1). Perhaps – more accurately – it’s just a lot of riders spread out over a lot of different routes. It just makes it more intimate (and, many times, more competitive).
- Live Ride Choice – Because of their many routes, any time I log in I can find several “live rides” happening in which I can join. I haven’t figured out how to look at all of them at any one time, and I’m not sure how they pick which ones I see, but there’s always a good choice from the rides offered up. AND – if you just click on “Join a Live Ride,” the system will choose one at random to consider joining. I like the fact that you can see the length and difficulty level of any ride and choose based on those facts. Just like riding outside in real life, I can have a good idea of how long and how hard I’ll ride for the day. Zwift lets you challenge yourself with certain loops and/or turns during the ride – but – there’s no real end until you decide you’re done. So, I’ve found that it’s easier to call it a ride in Zwift and not ride as much (or as hard) as a route with a definite beginning and end selected in the BKOOL Simulator.
- Start from the Start or Back of the Pack – When you join a live ride, you get to see how far along the riders are in that particular ride. BKOOL gives you the option of starting at the beginning of that ride (giving you incentive to catch up to the group OR ride at your own pace) – OR – you can be dropped in at the back of the pack and be instantly riding with the others. I’m not sure if I figured out proper etiquette for this, so I always choose to start from the beginning of the ride (as I would hate to be riding hard on a ride myself to have someone drop in right behind me with fresh legs ready to take me down). By starting from the beginning, I do like to see how close I can come to any of the riders who have started before me.
- Structured Workouts and Velodrome Options – I’m just going to list these right now, because I haven’t tried either one. I like variety in my rides – so riding around an oval in a Velodrome doesn’t appeal to me. And I don’t know that I’m a serious-enough rider to do structured workouts. I may need to try these one day. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find that I really enjoy both of these, too.
- Upload Past Personal Rides – This is probably my favorite feature of the BKOOL Cycling Simulator and what puts it ahead of Zwift in my book. I downloaded some of my favorite Summer rides from MapMyRide (my former go-to app for recording rides). Once downloaded to my computer, I was able to upload these to BKOOL – allowing me to ride my favorite rides virtually on the Simulator. Note that – at this time – I don’t see exactly what I do when I’m really riding (maybe a future connection to Google Earth would be a good update) – BUT – BKOOL can create a virtual 3D world based on the gradients of the ride. So, I get to ride the same climbs and routes with progressing scenery. There’s also a way I could videotape my ride and upload it – but – I’ve not done that (yet).
- To be fair, I did have some initial problems uploading my routes. I had the correct file format, but I continued to get a File Error message when trying to upload. I think it was because I was using the standard name used by MapMyRide’s download – that included spaces in the name, etc. When I renamed the file to something more simple, it seemed to work.
- Once you upload your ride and want to ride it, you need to be logged into the main BKOOL site to look up “Sessions” filtered down to ones you created. Once you find the uploaded route, simply click “Schedule” and it’ll be on your main screen after logging in to the App. Simply choose the route and start to ride!
- Vertical Integration with Strava – I hadn’t really used Strava much before riding with the smart trainer. MapMyRide was always my go-to app. However, both Zwift and BKOOL tie in to Strava – so – it looks like I might transition over to it. BKOOL does something really interesting with Strava – and it took me a little bit to figure out what was going on. Not only does BKOOL upload the routes done in its Simulator TO Strava, it downloads activity FROM Strava to create personal routes to re-ride in the future.
- I was receiving emails from BKOOL telling me that “Your Route Has Not Been Approved” – OR – “Your Route Has Been Approved.” I wasn’t really sure why I was receiving this email, except I figured the Non-approved routes were the ones in which I had an error uploading.
- Then, I noticed some routes in the Sessions section of the website (when I filtered to show only routes created by me). I saw some routes created by me on the “Temotu Province / Solomon Islands” and had no idea how they got there. I have certainly never been to this area – nor – did I create or upload a route from there. It was only after some time that I realized that BKOOL had pulled a route down that I rode in Zwift (Watopia Route). I figured this out once I saw the Richmond ride show up on my Sessions.
- At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked that, but now I don’t need to download a route and upload it back into BKOOL. Through the use of Strava, my routes automatically get added in. Super easy (though I will have many of the same basic routes over time and that may be overkill). I guess that’s how they get so many routes uploaded from their users.
- Real-time Weather and Daylight Factors – Both real-time weather and time-of-day factors change the ride. This morning, I did a quick 10-mile ride in snowy nighttime Finland. How cool is that!?!
- Compete With Bots – I’m still learning a bit about this feature, so my report here may be a bit fuzzy. As far as I can tell, Bots (simulated cyclists) are created by people who have previously completed the route you’re riding. I’m not sure how the quantity gets determined. I do believe that the two Bots that were on one of the routes I had personally updated represented earlier rides by ME. So – essentially – I’m riding the route with my former self (selves). Quite honestly, riding against myself is a little unnerving (especially when my former self is kicking my current self’s butt). It is certainly motivation to keep going – but – there are times when I might want to just go out for a ride and do the loop without needing to worry whether or not I’m keeping up with my former self. Perhaps there are options to turn off the Bots. I just haven’t explored that yet.
- Apps for iPad and iPhone – Just like Zwift (well, actually, even before Zwift had them), BKOOL has apps directly on the iPad and the iPhone (not sure about Android). I really haven’t used these though (right now I connect through my Microsoft Surface and an MS Display Adapter to a large screen), so I can’t really rate these. However, I do know that you get a warning on the iPhone that the app may slow down your phone (time to update your programming, BKOOL). I tried opening it up once or twice – only to have the app close out on its own. I didn’t get the same warning on the iPad, but I haven’t used it since I don’t have my AppleTV set up on this screen (and my Surface is working fine).
- You can literally talk to others in this Simulator – Though I haven’t tried it, BKOOL has the option of talking to other riders in your vicinity simply by talking through your microphone. This is a setting that you have to allow. I haven’t done this – only because I’m afraid I’ll forget it’s on and others will hear me asking my wife to order a big fattening pizza while riding OR they’ll hear me huffing and puffing so loud, I won’t be able to talk anyway. Might be interesting, though….
- Groups, Leagues and Friends – BKOOL is also working on the “community” aspect of the software. You can choose to join Groups, Leagues and have Friends like Zwift. Again, I haven’t really used this aspect yet – but – I’m hoping to research and join up with some folks in the future.
This is probably enough for now. I really do think that while Zwift may get more media attention (and have more users), BKOOL is a definite solid choice in online smart training. I’ll be eager to watch them develop and add new features in the future (hopefully a Google Earth integration to make the rides even more real without the need for video upload). While I’ll continue to explore both BKOOL and Zwift, I do think I’ll continue to login to BKOOL more often.
How about you? Have you tried both BKOOL and Zwift? Do you have a preference?