What's Cool In Road Cycling

ZWIFT Gets Personal At Toronto Shop

ZWIFT cycling has become ‘The Big Thing’ in the indoor training world. Like Strava and your favorite video game rolled into one super experience. Jeff Green made a visit to La Bicicletta in Toronto to get the lowdown from shop owner Henry Erlichman about the on-line training phenomenon and ride a short time trial on Zwift’s always sunny Watopia island.

– By Jeff Green –

In 1985, Toronto still had regular winters, long, and with no shortage of snow. Global warming wasn’t on the radar and as one of the local few who donned the lyrca in the summer, winter training options were rollers, or rollers. My set were Italian made, orange plastic, with a shiny foldable metal frame, driven by a thin black rubber belt. My training partner was my best friend, Domenic, who lived across the street. He’d walk over in his winter boots, Coppi bike on one shoulder and identical orange rollers on the other. For the next hour we’d race one another in the confines of my basement as we pretended it was a hot summer day in July, and the last week of Le Tour.

Flash forward 30 years and while Toronto winters pale in comparison to their distant cousins, the past three seasons have witnessed a revolution in indoor training. The Zwift juggernaut has taken over and has become synonymous with off-season, and on-season, indoor training. Mass participation gaming technology bringing the outdoor cycling experience indoors.

La Bicicletta Toronto, one of the country’s eldest bicycle shops, going strong at 22 years, has seen record numbers of trainer sales in 2016, and 2017 promises to be even more impressive. Chief cycling aficionado and shop owner, Henry Erlichman, can’t deny the impact Zwift has had on the indoor training landscape saying: “it’s given new life to home training”. And this season Henry expects more of the same with the new trainers flying out the door faster than he can bring them in. Henry, a bit skeptical at first, is now fully on board the Zwift express given the obvious benefits to his business and his customers. La Bicicletta has seen sales and revenue increase significantly “certainly to a magnitude of double or triple and also were talking a dollar value too before home trainers were $300-$400, now we’re seeing north of $1000 to get into anything decent”.

Henry’s lieutenant, and bike fit expert for the past 2 years, is newly retired Italian pro Davide Frattini who has taken a strong interest in all things Zwift. On October 30th, Davide, staff from the Zwift HQ in Long Beach in SoCal, and 70 lucky Zwift obsessed Torontonian’s raced one another in a short time trial on Zwift’s always sunny Watopia island. This was the 2nd annual Zwift Toronto event with the kick-off 2016 show being a huge success for La Bicicletta and Zwift alike.

Davide’s last year as a pro was his first year on Zwift “Right away I noticed that I can do the workout like a professional and at the same time connect with people”. Being a busy husband and father of two young girls, Davide finds Zwift a blessing “I’m not racing anymore so I use Zwift because I can squeeze a 1/2 -1 hr ride before work”. A top member of United Health Care for 5 seasons, and a pro for 14 years, Davide is impressed with the huge world wide audience that Zwift has attracted.

Davide shares that Mrs. Frattini has also become a Zwift fan, but in a different way, “I have a set up for my wife, she likes running, and with the same account, no extra charges, you have a treadmill, put on a footboard to track your strike, and you can squeeze in a ride or a run”.

Being in Toronto it’s no surprise that hockey plays in into the conversation. One of La Bicicletta’s newest clients is a Toronto Maple Leaf who was immediately impressed with the Zwift display at the shop. Davide adds, “He liked the idea, and professional athletes coming from others sports are cross training. They have a family so they want to be efficient, they have a treadmill, trainer station, weights, I showed him he was able to do a good workout”.

As long time La Bicicletta customer, Elisa Mesiti finds that being able to ride in the comfort of her own home is a considerable benefit “I was contemplating doing one of those indoor cycling studios but I thought it would be more convenient to have the trainer in the basement”. When asked, Elisa offered some product feedback knowing that Zwift continually seeks the input of it’s riders, “I would like if we can make more changes to our avatars, they don’t give many options for women’s hair, for the clothing, for the bike, and making it more custom”.

Toronto Hustle is an elite amateur racing team that showed up in full force for the Zwift event and joined in the Zwift fun. Veteran Ontario racer, Anton Varabei, a senior member of the Hustle team, who is used to racing long and hard with some of North America’s best racers, immediately sees the benefit of Zwift “If you’re alone on a trainer it’s boring as hell, not a lot of people are motivated to drill intervals staring at the power numbers, they just want to have fun”. Anton adds, “I can just jump into a race with a lot of people and its always more motivating to ride when you have someone to chase, you have that little extra 10% to go deeper”.

Yuri Hrycaj, Varabei’s teammate has fallen hard for Zwift “I would pay anybody that kind of money day in and day out to get the kind of motivational gain I get from Zwift”. “I can go on a group ride twice a day every day, I can’t find that kind of benefit anywhere else, it’s incredible”. Yuri also sees an additional benefit to Zwift “To a serious cyclist or someone who’s very passionate it almost having a private motor pacing session where the guy ahead of you is a motorocycle crushing 6 w/kg and you’re doing whatever to try to stay on his wheel”. Often racing in multi-day events, Yuri has found a unique way to get the most from his Zwift workouts… “What I do to simulate a race, I’ll chain events and leave myself a 5 minute buffer time, 3 events to give myself a 2.5 or 3 hr workout and that will simulate almost being at a road race, every workout I go to you have people with fresh legs and they will just obliterate you”. Yuri summarizes what many believe and adds “it’s a great product they’ve given to the world”.

Here’s a quick look at how the evening went down in video:

Always a warm welcome in La Bicicletta

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