This summer I climbed over 8848 metres in a single month and now I have just completed the Zwift Everest challenge as well. This challenge, on Zwift, is much easier than in the real world because you are not carrying water, the weight of your bike, dealing with keeping yourself balanced on your bike or traffic.
Using a Fluid Trainer.
I don’t use a smart trainer. I use an Elite Qubo Fluid trainer and to climb I use information on speed to decide how hard to work. If I feel lazy I can pedal at 100 watts for a long period of time to get to the top but that isn’t in my nature. I like to push myself. I push until I get tired and then I recover, and then I push again. I also loe to sprint to the end and try to beat my previous time. Yesterday I rode up at a relatively lazy pace. When I got to within 1.5 kilometres of the top I really put out a lot of energy and when I reached the summit I was spent.
I put out an average power of 291 watts for an effort of 2 minutes 29 with a peak at 612 watts and a cadence of between 100 and 121 pedal strokes a minute. It might seem strange to put out such a lot of energy on a bike indoors but the feeling of accomplishment is the same as if you had done it in the real world.
I like climbing challenges because I live in a mountaineous landscape therefore reaching long ride distances is more challenging. It’s not that I don’t have the ability to ride for four or five hours but that if I ride four to five hours I travel one hundred kilometres because I have to climb cols if I want an interesting GPS track.
Stamina and technique
Stamina and technique do improve as you get used to climbing. You might be in the easiest gear going just above “stalling” speed but you endure up that hill until you get to the top. On Zwift you ride your bike in the physical world but a top of the range frame and wheels in the virtual realm. This means that you’re achieving times that you could never reach in the physical world with your current bike setup.
With a dumb trainer like mine, in contrast to a smart trainer with force feedback, you only see that you’re climbing because A) your speed decreases and B)The gradient indicator tells you that you’re on a hill. With a smart trainer it does get harder and you may want to switch to an easier gear Some people even add a gradient machine at the front to tilt the bike.
With what I describe above there are two things that you do not get with virtual climbing. The first of these is a sensation of altitude as the air gets thinner and colder and secondly you do not get that fantastic ride down. On an indoor trainer whether you’re going up or down you still need to keep pedalling. In the real world when you’re going downhill you rest and recover unless you’re one of the top descenders of the Tour De France or other cycling races.
I haven’t tried a smart trainer so my experiences and opinions on virtual climbing are based on theory rather than practice. I have used recumbent bikes but they give you a power to achieve rather than a sensation of climbing. Virtual climbing, as I have experienced it, is easier than climbing in the real world because if you go to slowly you don’t fall, and you don’t have the sudden very steep gradients that you sometimes experience in the physical world. Most indoor trainers are blocked at 12 percent if my memory serves me well. In the real world they can reach 23 percent or more.