Watt Bike? Watt’s all the hype?

After a big tumble, publisher SHAYNE DOWLING enrolled at Sport Science’s Endurance Studio where he was introduced to a Watt Bike. Check out his experiences after he tried it for a couple of months.

Image Credits: Rob Rayner

Ok, so I have no scientific knowledge to back up my experience of training on a watt bike. I had absolutely no experience of using these bikes, the closest was sitting in the garage on my magnetic bike trainer – trusting my heart rate and PTE (Perceived Training Effectiveness – geek speak for how much you’re hurting). I certainly had no expectations with regards to my performance or cycling results. To be honest, I had smashed my shoulder and saw it as a controlled environment where I could train. So, I walked into Sports Science Institute of South Africa and headed up to the Endurance studio and saddled up. “Not so fast,” said Ayden Smith, Biokineticist and the guy who was going to ensure we used the studio optimally and bring on the pain. “We need a base to work from, so we’re going to do an MMP (Maximum Minute Power test)” – three minutes of pushing yourself to the limit to give you a baseline in watts from which you can start.

As part of the Endurance Studio membership you get access to the Training Peaks App. This allows your program to be uploaded by the coach/instructor and along with the Wattbike App which syncs with the watt bike, makes following a program and keeping a track record simple. Your loaded Training Peaks program is based on either a goal, part of your training lifestyle or an event you are training for. Having it on your phone also means your personalized workout is with you no matter where you find yourself – you just need to have access to a watt bike.

Sports Science is a gym/laboratory/rehab and professional training environment – it isn’t however in any way exclusive, but I would say is set up for folk who are serious about their health and well-being more so than posing and posturing or sweating to be seen … you go there to graft. I started in winter so it was great to be able to train hard, with purpose and not having to worry about the elements. Improvement was remarkable and relatively quick. I had done pretty much no training and had been sprung with an entry to W2W’s with three months to go – besides weekend rides I pretty much did all my training on the Watt bike – my strength increase was incredible. Where I struggled or found certain climbs a challenge within a couple of months, I got to the top with no hassle at all – climbs are never easy but damn, it was good not to be completely poked on every summit. Recovery was a major improvement, my heart rate stabilized so much quicker and when riding I could go back to the watt bike and remind myself or Rich, my cycle partner, that we had pushed x number of watts for so long and that we could do it … so the mental aspect was an added bonus.

There are some challenges, and this purely as a novice: distance and time in the saddle is not something that you can do on the stationery bike – well not easily. You still need to get out there and do the long miles and you need to get your butt used to the long times in the saddle – particularly for long stage rides. Sitting in a gym (no matter the eye candy) becomes boring … Zwift gives some options but not always possible in the group surrounding, we have watched every Red Bull TV show and replays but it still can get boring … having a mate do it with you, makes it a lot easier and of course seeing results is a huge motivator.

I suspect most of us are results driven, whether it’ losing weight, chasing Strava, smashing an event or how we feel after our usual coffee ride, when we see improvement it’s easy to justify the cost, pain and sacrifices. In the last five months I have not only seen improvement in my own and Rich’s performance (he has not only increased his power output generally and is holding his own without any additional training on our favourite mountain bike trails) but also among some of the guys and girls in the studio who are beaming about their improvement: Garth Arendse is a big guy who did mostly gym work turned to road riding a year ago and has been on the watt bike for four months and did his first DC in a very respectable 07H30mins: “I would never have achieved my times without the watt bike – it’s a game changer!” I met our new columnist, sleep guru, Dr Dale Rae on the watt bike, she was coming back from a back-op and comfortably did W2W this year. My own improvement has been phenomenal, coupled with losing some weight and only doing the watt bike training along with weekend rides I had my most comfortable W2W ride, my power has not only improved but my sustained outage has gone up considerably. I’m a grinder: I find a comfortable gear and grind it out. I’m not too comfortable on spinning up a hill for ages, I would rather have a slow cadence and push through. The watt bike has allowed me to tackle gradients and hills I would never have believed possible before. I’m hooked and highly recommend it as part of your general riding regime and definitely as part of a training program! Watt you waiting for?

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