on the weekend that britain transitioned from greenwich mean time to british summertime, the weather on islay has paid no attention whatsoever. saturday morning brought the very galeforce winds that had caused caledonian macbrayne to cancel the morning ferries in both directions almost twenty-four hours previously, sunday, on the other hand, pretended to be the advent of summer, but in reality simply a one hour change to bring britain momentarily in line with mainland europe, offering temperatures only marginally above freezing and accompanied by remarkably persistent and heavy rain.
always mindful of rules five and nine, i was out on my bike on both days of the weekend. if you spend the bulk of the week sat in even a comfy chair positioned in front of a computer, the weekend offers grateful solace from such stupor. therefore the weekend roads, no matter the climate that is inflicted upon them, are greeted with open arms and joyfully trammelled from the saddle, before monday morning dawns once more (one hour earlier) and relative inactivity once more casts its blanket over proceedings.
for in truth, what alternative is there to soul-destroying headwinds, low temperatures and seemingly perpetual precipitation?
well, though depicted by velopress author jamie smith as an instrument of torture akin to the rack, thumbscrew and all other forms of mediaeval pain infliction, the turbo trainer is always a legitimate alternative. i must, however, at this juncture, point out that i have nothing but scorn and hatred for such indoor devices, though for the purpose of fulfilling the demands of my career as a famous cycling journalist, i have embraced the magnet.
fox online cycling is a self-styled and as far as i know, unique setup that offers live training sessions of between 45 minutes and an hour that can be adopted in the comfort of your own home. 'tis but a simple matter to choose your time-zone from those displayed on the fox cycling website to learn of the session timings for any given day. there are sessions available for complete newcomers (pretty much where i started), progressive for those on the portable road to fitness and advanced for those who struggle to make their heart-rate monitors display the larger numbers.
each online session costs a nominal £3.99, payment for which can be made by credit card or paypal and offering instant access.
this is sort of where i hit (metaphorically speaking), my first online obstacle. the bulk of the live sessions on offer in the mornings, take place mostly between the hours of 8am until around 10:30. if your household is anything like mine, that is the very time when breakfast and preparation for work is taking place. and even if that's not a problem personally, i'm willing to bet that your significant other might be less than impressed by a bicycle and turbo trainer in the middle of the kitchen or living room. if it's in the shed or garage, you're definitely one step ahead of me.
the evening sessions tend to agglomerate around the 18:00 - 20:00 part of the day, again perhaps not the ideal timing if home from work and involved in the evening meal routine. however, as a colleague pointed out, making time at either end of the day may well be an entirely necessary factor to display commitment to the cause. as long as that's acceptable to the rest of the family i shouldn't wonder.
the sessions themselves are carried out on the small screen (or on the telly if you have one of those excellent devices that allows you to broadcast your computer screen to the tv) under the auspices of differing instructors. fox online have at their behest, several, more than qualified instructors to lead you through each session. the screen shows the instructor aboard a duke magnetic heavy duty exercise bike which, as you would expect, allows the instructor to set the profile of the session displayed atop the screen.
each slice of training offers a workout tailored to specific requirements, but on all the sessions i joined, they scarily resembled the inside of a shark's jaw. sat in the saddle at home, bicycle clamped into a turbo trainer without variable resistance, i cannot deny that there's a certain degree of ingenuity required to replicate the on-screen training demands. use of a heart-rate monitor, though not compulsory, does make a considerable difference, and no doubt a cadence monitor would be every bit as helpful. a cursor travels along the shark's teeth to indicate which portion of this purgatory is in force at any given time.
for those devoid of heart-rate numbers, there's a figure indicating the perceived rate of exertion, but i tend to think this might be just a revolution too far for the beginners' class. there are several other displayed numbers the reason for which i never did discover, and nor did i hear any reference to what they might mean from the instructors. however, since they seemed to make no difference to the effectiveness of the sessions, i simply ignored them.
it's pretty clear from the live stream that there are other participating riders in the studio, though we never get to see them, and are really only aware of their existence from the perhaps overly familar bonhomie as the instructor says hi to each in turn at the beginning of the session. while i wouldn't detract from the quality of the training sessions themselves, in these modern technological times, i would dearly have loved to be able to turn off the awful music that accompanies the frantic pedalling. i'm sure it's meant to be inspirational, but i just found it dreadful. and on one or two occasions, the music threatened to drown out the instructor's words, communicated via a headset microphone.
there appear to be only two cameras, one which provides an overhead profile shot of the instructor and the other a head-on view. disappointingly, the seemingly random switching between them results in a few seconds of black screen. it is surely not outwith the bounds of installing a vision mixer that could fade or seamlessly switch between the two? and while the black backdrop is peppered with sponsors' logos, it would have been nicer and visually brighter to use one of those large-format images of the stelvio, ventoux or some other inspirational climb from the world of cycling. maybe a berg or muur given our current immersion in the classics.
i have no doubt that my criticisms above pertain mostly to the window dressing, as surely the principal reason behind accessing these live streams is to improve your cycling fitness as part of a crafted programme of lessons? and assuming specific times are not a problem, it would be a simple matter of mixing and matching depending on specific needs, though sadly the actual content of each session is not flagged up in advance to allow discrete tailoring of any perceived requirements. i'm sure they'd welcome suggestions if you have any.
i'm generally not one for training; i like my cycling too much to impose regimes upon it (and i'm lazy). however, even joining only a few online sessions a week makes perfect sense if you have limited time to get out on the bike and need to train for specific events. however, i can't help feeling that the whole edifice would be immeasurably improved if the people at fox recorded each session and made them available 24/7, allowing more folks to access their excellent content. perhaps that's yet to come.
however, with no disrespect to the folks at fox online, personally i'd rather go out on my bike and get blown from one side of the island to the other, while being dumped on by any amount of rain you care to mention. the turbo trainer (about which more tomorrow) is on its way back to paligap.
in order to clear up one or two inaccuracies in my review above, it seems only right and proper that i publish comments from angela reed-fox, marketing director of the company.
"£3.99 is the price of 24 hr access, not one single session as mentioned. In 24 hours, if you were nutty enough you'd be able to attend up to five classes. (Big difference from £3.99 per session!)
"Our morning classes start with commuter ones at 7am and the later morning classes are around the 9:30 mark.
"Our evening classes range between a 5:15 start (or 4:30 if you consider that the evening) and the latest ones start at 8:30pm
Although excellent, the BH bikes do not yet come with the facility to design and broadcast heartrate profiles. This is provided by our iQniter software which is compatible with Suunto watches and straps; therefore the software can be used in a variety of settings independent of studio cycling.
"The additional metrics on the screen are explained on our website here: We have very clear guidelines for each category of class that we run. Instructors tend to mention the lesser metrics in passing as they're not integral to the workout, but just provide additional information. Naturally if they went through the whole screen every time, our veterans would probably find that a bit tiresome. And beanbags may be thrown in the studio.
"We do have developments in the pipeline, in response to feedback received, these are:
"Our first step is to make the stream more accessible by installing it on Facebook. Close behind is recording a library of sessions, so if you particularly like m'Julie, you can exclusively use her sessions. These will be indexed not only with category and instructor, but also with style, content and identifying features so you can easily remember which ones you've done. We are unable to catalogue live sessions in this manner because instructors are coming up with new profiles all the time; they're encouraged to do so to keep it interesting for our riders. If they only finish designing 30 mins before they go live, it doesn't give us enough time to update all eight timetables. But with recorded sessions, if you want to pick your session, you'll be able to do that. We had considered having a photographic backdrop, but ultimately we will be switching to a green screen showing different tours. It was felt that having a moving instructor in front of a static backdrop might at best make people queasy and at worst make it look like something out of Charlie Chaplin."
monday 30 march 2015 (updated 1 april)..........................................................................................................................................................................................................