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


Media Research Wonk said...

A review from a real rider! Great information regarding accuracy and perceived effort. Thanks for the gouge and keep spinning.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comment and for visiting. I look forward to getting more familiar with the spinner bike as winter settles in...

- Zeke

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great improvement over the indoor wind-trainer experience. I try to stay away from the trainer at almost all cost, this time of year I rely on night riding on the mtb over at Bent Creek. This past Thursday night was my first full after-dark ride for this season, the wind and cooler temps made for an interesting ride.

David Tate

Unknown said...

Yes, a significant improvement! I hope I can find the motivation to use it sufficiently through the winter months to hang on to some conditioning. I sure lost ground last year...

Yesterday and today would have been good days for a real ride but the chores getting ready for Thanksgiving kept me from it. I've turned my attention to smoking turkey and ham... I'll need a ride after that!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

- Zeke

Bruce Bradford said...

We received our ProForm TDF bike last week. I've had issues with getting the WiFi to sync up (no issues with any other equipment - phones, computers) and hate that you have to input the WiFi router data and then your iFit login EVERY time. Hopefully a fix is on the way.

Our bike has the TDF route excerpts built in - I'm surprised to hear that yours doesn't.

Also, shifting can also be accomplished by the shifters on the underside of the handlebars.

Happy cycling!

Unknown said...


Once my Wifi was set, I haven't had to do it again. That would get old very quickly having to input that each time!

Our the TDF routes built into the console already or are you downloading them from iFit? I may be missing something there.

I'm definitely missing shifters on the underside of the handlebars! Where did you find those? There was nothing like that to install on mine.

Thanks for the information!

- Zeke

Anonymous said...

Bruce & Zeke,

I recently received my TDF bike and have not been able to connect to my wifi. I have no problems with any other devices so I am not sure what the problem is with the TDF bike. Did either of you experience any issues connecting to your wifi network? At present I can do the preprogrammed TDF routes but no iFit and no Google map routes. Waiting to hear back from icon fitness on my complaint. Appreciate any insight. Also thank you for the thorough review.


Unknown said...


I did not have any specific trouble connecting to my home WiFi. As you've discovered by now, the keyboard is rudimentary at best and requires "hunt and peck" movements to type in the requisite information. Given that it is not a touch screen, I would expect that.

My ongoing issues have been getting some kind of response from Customer Support that is consistent regarding the heart monitoring functions. I can find no directions regarding how to get the function to work. The manual just refers you in a loop to other non-helpful information. I have tried their "chat" function and received no response, I have sent email and received contradictory responses, and I have held on the phone line for up to 30 minutes. Finally, yesterday, I left my number for their call back function from customer service and got a call back - after I left the house. I'll try that again.

The second question I have is about shifting the gears with two alledged buttons on the handlebars. I can find no such buttons and have even taken my console off and started over to see if I missed something in the setup. I have one remaining wire to be plugged into something that comes up from the seat tube and stops there. I can find nothing indicating what it is for or what it does.

At one point in all of this, the console quit working and then mysteriously started again. I'm almost afraid of trying anything else...

Good luck with your WiFi settings. I hope you can resolve them without having to depend upon their customer service.

- Zeke