PEZ in the Pain Cave: Indoor Riding with Open Road

The virtual Open Road

The world of indoor training is filled with brutal competition, not only amongst those e-racers who are driven to cheating, but also between the various providers of simulation apps. The scale of this is revealed by the most recent financing round by Zwift, where something in the order of US$450 million was brought to the table. With 300,000 daily activities, each averaging over an hour, this is the Big Kahuna of apps. There are different approaches, with some software like Rouvy eschewing Zwift’s video game-like look for real scenery but also offering opportunities for racing and training plans, while The Sufferfest uses race footage in support of its over-arching training function.

Some of us – no, most of us – can be pretty obsessive over our numbers and getting the results into Strava and filling that Trophy Case is really important. But there are alternatives worth examining and one of these is Open Road, an attractive proposition that simply aims to replicate the real life experience of cycling in beautiful surroundings.

The Sufferfest includes a number of workouts that are without video so you can watch something—a race or a movie—while still getting this numbers recorded. I discovered beautiful videos on YouTube from Bike the World, high-definition and superbly shot, that I began to use to accompany my workouts. These videos, launched in 2016, can be found here:

Henrik, the Danish founder of Bike the World, felt that too little emphasis was being placed on the visual pleasure of cycling and the natural follow up was the Open Road app, launched this past February. The app, which currently requires a Windows PC, takes the videos and provides a way of capturing the ride, with a trainer providing the kind of feedback that is beyond watching a video. So while you are enjoying the scenery you are aware that you are going uphill—no slacking!

In a world of ever-increasing complexity, Open Road provides an entertaining experience without the need for high-power computing equipment and with an interface that is attractive, simple and works very well. Here is how you make you way through Open Road’s virtual world after downloading the software.

The Main Menu is where you begin and looking at this one is impressed with the clear thinking behind it. Everything is pretty obvious. “General Settings” covers your personal information; the Cloud Library is the list of rides, from 17.65 to 93.31 kms in length, to choose from, with the videos featuring rides primarily in Europe, with an emphasis on France and Switzerland, but also including some other interesting roads in Japan and New Zealand; My Rides are the courses you have downloaded, while Bike Now is the one of those that you select to ride now. Very simple.

I proceeded to link my smart trainer to the app through the set-up screen and was amazed at how easily it went, recognizing the ANT+ signals from my trainer, heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor immediately. Saving these settings, I then entered my personal information and prepared to download some rides.

The Cloud Library has all the rides available and you can rearrange the table in alphabetical order of the ride, name of the country, distance, elevation gain, and effort. This arrangement works very well; as you can see here I have shown some of the rides in France only. Click on the ride and then download it, which takes only a few minutes, and you are set to ride by then going into My Rides, click on the ride and get started.

I chose to try out some roads I have actually ridden and the first was the (so far) only one in Germany—the Romantic Road. The screen for this is really attractive and provides basic information, such as distance, vertical meters gained or lost, grades, and elevation. There is a small map showing where the route is actually located, along with a short narrative. It is possible to compare the various routes by using the Fiets Score, which calculates how hard the climbing is, the Ice Cream Score, for energy expended, overall effort needed, and if the climbs are categorized in the Tour de France method.

As you turn your pedals, here is the kind of image that will appear as you begin, although admittedly it is not the most scenic of what is on offer. The emphasis is clearly on the visual aspect of the ride but the information we all want—speed, wattage, distance, heart rate, and so forth—is found in unobtrusive boxes, while a white line indicates gradient and distance travelled.

At the conclusion of the ride, you are presented with a summary of your activity, again clearly set out. This can be saved as a .fit file by uploading it with a click on the box on the lower right side. You would then be able to upload this to other applications, such Training Peaks, but there is an automatic function for this for Strava if you link to it.

Finally, if you want you can have the results kept in a training diary on Open Road itself or on a leaderboard.

After trying the Romantic Road, I then went on to look at three other rides. I have ridden up the Grand Ballon in Alsace, as well as the Alsatian Wine Route, but the Odedalen ride along a fjord in Norway was new to me. The high-definition video is really excellent and, particularly if you have the opportunity to use a big screen, really immersive. Enough that I think I want to ride in Norway now! Your focus is really on the road ahead and the lack of clutter is striking compared to so many other ride simulation apps. The website promises “cinematic film quality” and it delivers fully.

Grand Ballon, Alsace France

Alsace Wine Route

Odedal in Norway

There are clever features I have not seen elsewhere, such as the ability to start the ride anywhere along the route rather than have to ride from start to finish, and the ability to adjust speed and gearing to complement your trainer. It also offers something unique: the route of the entire 790 km Raid Pyrenean in nine segments, which one member of Open Road rode straight through as a charity fundraiser.

Unlike Zwift or Rouvy there is no social element to Open Road, meaning you won’t be racing anyone or riding with friends or chasing an avatar, although you can get onto the leaderboard if you are really competitive. Instead you will be enjoying spectacular scenery beautifully presented with plenty of opportunities for some hard climbing. Open Road is extremely user-friendly and it is also kind to your wallet as an annual subscription is 3.99 Euros/month (47.88 Euros billed once) or 6.99 Euros per month. I calculate this to be around US$57 per year, which seems very competitive. There is a 14 day free trial available that does not require you to provide payment information and has full functionality.

When something was overdone or too complicated, my German friends would derisively say it was all “schnick-schnack.” Open Road is certainly not schnick-schnack but is exactly as its name suggests and is all about the ride experience.

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