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Coronavirus has changed so much of our lives in general, and our cycling habit in particular. Since shifting to ‘shelter at home’ here in Colorado in mid-March, I’ve been loving three cycling-specific apps — Zwift Companion, Epic Ride Weather, and Strava — and one gamer app, Discord. Here’s why.
Epic Ride Weather
I bought this one a couple of years ago because it does something no other app does: It gives you detailed weather information for every point on your ride based on when you leave and your estimated speed.
Instead of just looking at a simple forecast for one location, this app tells you not only temperature at each point of the ride, but also wind speed, wind gusts, and wind direction, the latter one helpfully overlaid with arrows onto your route.
David Green built this app on DarkSky data in 2016 as a way to have fun on his long commute, but it has since become a tactical tool for the likes of Jumbo-Visma, who contacted Green in 2018, and has been using the app ever since.
I don’t use the app for race tactics; I just use it to surf the wind — or at least avoid all-you-can-eat headwind buffets. Now that all my rides outside are done alone, I am more interested than ever in putting together a loop where I’m riding with the wind instead of into it as much as possible.
And, of course, seeing the temperature along the route is helpful, too.
Selecting a route is easy, if you already use Strava or another ride app like Ride With GPS. Once paired, Epic Ride Weather brings up all your past rides, created routes, and favorites. You just click one, and then select time-of-departure and estimated speed. Then, voila – the best cycling forecast on the planet, personalized for your ride.
Zwift has two apps: Zwift the game, and then the Zwift Companion App, which does double duty as an event planner and a communication tool.
Granted, you have to be on Zwift for this to be useful, but if the numbers I regularly see on my Companion App are any indication, a whole lot of us are these days.
Zwift Events go off every 15 minutes or less — group rides, races, and group workouts. You can get into them directly on Zwift, but the Companion is the easiest way to see what is coming up when, along with which of your friends are signed up. Scrolling through the Event feed you can read descriptions of each, along with distance/duration, intensity, route, and more. Then you just click the + icon to join, and when you get into the game, you’re already cued up for the event.
The Companion app also works as an in-game communication tool, where you can text or use talk-to-text to chat with other riders.
This one is old-hat for gamers, but a new revelation for many cyclists who suddenly find themselves doing group rides while alone inside.
Discord is a group chat app that works on your phone or on a computer. It lets groups of homebound riders all easily chat at once, with simple options like muting yourself (or others) the way you may already do now in Google Hangouts or Zoom calls.
I’ve found it’s best for groups of 25 or less, but it certainly can be used as a one-way communication system for huge groups. A few Boulder group rides that I enjoyed outside now take place on Zwift with Discord. Whether heckling each other, encouraging each other through intervals, or just shooting the breeze to pass the time, being able to talk to each other while pedaling inside is a game-changer.
So here’s the thing: I don’t really use personal social media. For me, Facebook and Twitter are strictly work things. Instagram is something I dabble with. But Strava? Man, I use that orange app on the daily.
For me, Strava has two main benefits. One, it’s an easy way to keep track of your own rides. Not only the how far and how fast, but the where and with whom. For me, the journal style record is valuable, and I enjoy looking back on past rides. And two, it’s an easy way to see what your friends and other folks are up to. I especially enjoy the photos, whether that’s friends’ kids or foreign landscapes.
I’m not super interested in your 7th place this year on a segment I’ve never heard of, but I am interested in bite-size vicarious living of where you rode today.
As parts of Europe are under strict lockdown, a lot of the where-you-rode has been on Zwift. But in the U.S., folks are still getting out, either alone or with family and housemates. And as I haven’t seen nearly all of them in person in a while, I am especially enjoying seeing their goofy cellphone snaps recently.
And yes, one could see these types of photos on Facebook or elsewhere — but I prefer to avoid all the other mental clutter that comes with those apps.
You can find me at strava.com/athletes/ben-delaney.