Friday, November 18, 2011

Le Tour de France Spinner Bike – An Initial Review

It is 18 degrees outside this morning as I begin to put finger to keyboard. I’ve been off of my normal writing schedule this week due to numerous commitments in different areas of my life. I did, however, get to spend some time on my recently received Le Tour de France spinner bike from ProForm.

Le Tour de France Spinner Bike

(Shown here in its 99% unpacked and ready to go state!)

I’ve written about the delayed receipt of this product elsewhere so I’ll move on beyond that stage now, i.e., ordering and delivering….

After creating and logging into my gratis iFit account, I created a workout based upon one of my most common rides near my home. This ride begins at the Bethel Grocery Store at the intersection of US 276 and Lake Logan Road. The ride climbs to the Blue Ridge Parkway along NC 215 going along the West Fork and Middle Prong of the Pigeon River, by the Sunburst Campground, and then to the Parkway itself. Maps indicate the length of the ride is 18 miles.

The Wood-man and I debated this length at supper last Friday evening and resolved to double check the mileage. Doing so independently, we each measured 17.6 miles and 17.4 miles on our respective odometers. I further checked the mileage using two additional GPS sources (Garmin Oregon 400t and my HTC Thunderbolt using My Track app). The distances on the two GPS units were comparable to our vehicle odometers.

After having created the ride and saved it to iFit, I then logged into my WiFi signal via the spinner bike’s console and achieved connection to the internet. This was easy to do in general, although, I would sure love an improved keyboard interface on the console. As is, you move to one key at a time using navigational buttons and then press the equivalent of an Enter key to store the selection. I made my log-in name much too long not knowing this was the process. I’ll probably improve my speed with practice. Had I realized this process I would definitely have chosen a shorter login name and password.

Once logged in, I was able to select my created route and start the workout. This was where the fun began. The spinner reacted to the virtual road seemingly just as if I were on my road bike. The bike raised and lowered itself with compatible increases/decreases in pedaling resistance. The actual ride is mostly river grade for the first 5 miles although it does trend upward in elevation going from 2475’ elevation to 2930’ elevation over the first 4.5 miles. (GPS coordinates = 35.4266N, –82.9198W at the junction of NC 215 and Little East Fork Rd.)

To that 4.5 mile point, the pedaling was what I would expect had I been on the actual road. – some slight downhills with some slight uphills and no major grade increase at all. In fact, the highest grade over that mileage was 2.2%.

I was switching between the Google Map display and the elevation profile on the display. There are numerous metrics that you can monitor as you ride but other than mileage and elevation profile I wasn’t paying much attention this date. There is no heart monitor for this unit at this time, which is to me a definite shortcoming. I’m hopeful that is being developed now.

At the 4.5 mark, the first moderate intense climb begins. In the real world, you begin to climb above the Lake Logan dam and then drop down to the bridge across Lake Logan. On my virtual ride, I had worked up a nice sweat by this point and had a heart rate in the upper aerobic range as measured on my Oregon Scientific heart monitor. I could see the small jump in elevation coming on the profile and knew that it was going to be right on schedule with the real world ride.

Sure enough, the front end of the spinner bike increased grade by raising the front end and the pedaling resistance became much tougher in partnership with the increasing grade. In the real world, the max grade, as measured on my HTC Thunderbolt was a max of 8.1%, which is close to what other instruments I’ve used indicate although it is on the low side. I was watching the elevation profile at this point in my virtual ride and could clearly see the “top” of the climb coming. My experience on this segment was feeling more strenuous than what I would have felt in the real world due in part to my current lack of knowledge as to how the “gearing” works on the spinner bike. You increase or decrease resistance by pressing on up and down arrows. The read-out tells you what I believe to be a gearing combination. I haven’t found the documentation on this aspect of the bike as yet.

Once I topped the climb, the bike front end lowered and I “enjoyed” the descent to lake level and the causeway (2999’ elevation: GPS coordinates: 35.4090N, –82.9393W). I stopped at the 6.0 mile mark as measured on my recent metric gathering trip in the Navigator’s Ford Escape. The spinner bike showed a slightly lower mileage mark. On the descent, the pedal resistance dropped to nothing and I was free spinning until I changed the gearing on the display.

Unlike a real ride, I didn’t have to pedal back home on this virtual ride. I simply stepped off the bike and was in the shower in 5 minutes. Subjectively, I felt spent with wobbly legs and had definitely maintained an increased heart rate. I was soaked in sweat as I didn’t wear one of my technical jerseys. The seat on the spinner is still pretty rigid and I’m still dialing it in for fit. I was happy that I was wearing some shorts with nice chamois.  It was a good workout that was shortened due to some other duties pressing me for time.

I would not have been out on my road bike this evening getting a workout so this was a much better experience than my previous trainer where I just sat there and spun along. I was impressed and pleased with the performance on this first test ride.

I did discover a previously unadvertised aspect of this product. I purchased the bike under the assumption based upon marketing that I would have the actual Tour de France stages built into the bike computer and that I could imagine myself riding some of the roads of that great race. Well, I can do that. The rub is I have to pay money to do it. The cost is $2.00 per stage or $30.00 for a package of all stages. I do not recall this aspect being advertised anywhere when I was doing my research prior to the purchase. At $1299.00 purchase price, I expected that to be included. (Update 11/25/2011: I WUZ WRONG! The TdF routes ARE BUILT into the CONSOLE of my spinner bike and are accessible at no charge. My previous comments were based upon being on the iFit system, where you can download the TdF stages for a price as noted in my original review.)

So, along with the lack of heart monitor, I’ve gotten a couple of unexpected discoveries after purchasing the bike. Still, my initial reaction to the quality of the workout is very positive. I can choose to pay for the Tour de France stages or simply ignore them. The missing heart rate monitor is likely a bigger issue for me.

I’ll be interested to see how the product holds up over time. I purchased the extended warranty, which I hope I don’t have to use. Having purchased these types of warranties in the past, I know that they usually include a yearly maintenance check-up. I’ll have to peruse the product to see if that is the case here.

(Note: I have received no remuneration or other consideration for the review of this product. I’m pretty sure the ProForm folk don’t know I exist. The opinion here is based upon my sole experience of the product and is for informational purposes only.)

I see we have a heat wave now – 32 degrees! I guess it’s time to get outside and take care of those pre-Thanksgiving chores!

Until later,

- Zeke

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