Haliburton’s Kayla Gardiner has enjoyed her Peloton sessions, believing they have helped her with her physical and her mental health during the winter and the related pandemic shutdowns to in-person exercise options. Gardiner said many of her friends, who motivated her to join the Peloton community, have experienced life changing results./DARREN LUM Staff

Getting the virtual wheels rolling to create a fitter you

By Darren Lum

There’s no denying the strangeness of the year with the pandemic’s lockdowns and restrictions on public gatherings around the world.

The Highlands wasn’t immune to this reality and up until several weeks ago the winter weather was an additional challenge for locals who don’t Nordic ski or can’t get out during the daylight hours.

Some found online communities facilitated by the likes of Peloton and Zwift handy, taking advantage of virtual fitness opportunities that can bring real results. Both companies are well-known and heavily marketed to their targeted potential customers.

Peloton, who sells specific hardware from stationary bikes to treadmills to complement the online on-demand sessions is aimed towards the fitness studio crowd, while Zwift is aimed at the cyclist interested in racking up the miles and cranking out the watts – though the customer base is expanding.

Haliburton’s Kayla Gardiner said she’s been happy with her experience using the stationary bike her mother found in Toronto in concert with the app, but knows some of her friends have seen some real gains while using the Peloton- specific equipment.

“I know most of my friends that have the bikes would say, no!” she wrote about whether she was satisfied not using the Peloton bike. “Most have said throughout the pandemic that the bike has quite literally saved them mentally as an escape from kids, work and stress. I use it as a motivator and it’s a really positive way to enhance your day.”

She recognizes the friends who own and use the bike have benefited greatly because of the ability to track cadence and resistance to adhere to the classes’ instructors more closely.

“And these are the two numbers throughout the rides you need to watch. For a non-Peloton and regular exercise bike, I just eyeball the instructor speed and go at the pace I’m comfortable with and then match my resistance. This has worked for me but may be frustrating for some,” she wrote.

Peloton is massive right now.

As of last month, the Peloton is at 1.67 million fitness subscribers and there are 4.4 million members with an account on the platform as of Dec.31, 2020, which includes 35 instructors. It started with the sale of their exercise bike and on-demand classes in 2014. There is an access membership fee. The firm’s first quarterly revenue in 2021 revenue is $1.06 billion. During the last year, Peloton’s quarterly revenue has grown by 102.97 per cent, up from $466.3 million.

From the website, a bike will set you back at least $2,495, which includes a 30-day home trial.

Gardiner, who pays close to $20 a month, started taking the classes in March 2020 based on the recommendations of friends.

There is a great energy felt with each session and it comes from the interactions and the different class format, set to a variety of music playlists.

“The instructor is always pushing you to see your best self, and really puts some great messages into the rides. The community, because you hype your friends up and they do the same to you and the online community it’s nice to see riders all over the world coming together for a simple fun playlists,” she wrote.

From the scrolling leaderboards, which are posted along the side of the screen during a session, she has seen a diverse mix of people, whether it was single mothers, doctors, teenagers to grandparents.

Gardiner, who works during the day and in the evening, said she’ll split her days up with a ride close to lunch time while she’s working at home and pick her ride sessions based on the music playlist. Sometimes when her ride in the day time wasn’t enough she’ll do another in the evening.

A session can be anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours, which can be low or high intensity, depending on what you want.

Gardiner points out a 15-minute session doesn’t seem like much, but it still benefits her.

“I still feel great because I can say I at least I moved my body today,” she wrote.

The sessions include strength, yoga, meditation, cardio, stretching, cycling, outdoor running, running, walking, tread boot camp, and bike boot camp
The 2013 HHSS graduate said she was very active in athletics, including dance, up to four nights a week during her teenage years. But then she went to Guelph University and although she was active with cheerleading and competitive dance, she noticed a drop.

“For two years and within my years leaving high school and definitely in my later years, I fell off the fitness wagon with the lifestyle of a ‘freshman,’” she wrote.

Before lockdowns, Gardiner took indoor spin, yoga and dance classes in the area.

Peloton has been good, but it hasn’t displaced all sports for Gardiner, who welcomes a return to a time when she can play a sport with others outside.

“Yes, I still like to do it for the social setting with friends, I plan on hopefully joining some sports again if they run like soccer and basketball for pickup games,” she wrote.

She adds her experience with Peloton isn’t making her a cyclist. She does look forward to in-person classes related to yoga and dance, which offer social interactions.

“They definitely fill the gaps and for certain classes I like the virtual style for the cycling but for some things, like for yoga or stretching, it isn’t the same because you miss those social settings. Seeing your friend next to you etc.,” she wrote.

Ideally, Gardiner would love to purchase the Peloton bike in the future, but at this point she’s satisfied with what her setup and her monthly subscription provides her, which include meditation sessions she takes before going to bed every night for a restful sleep.

The benefits, she says, have been obvious, but it has also provided the sense of community that has been lost due to the restrictions on social interactions and has also provided Gardiner with a motivation to start fitness journeys.

“They are in the best shape they have ever been mentally and physically. For many I think it’s been an outlet within the pandemic to have that sense of community again. In the form of group riding and sharing classes and supporting each other’s ride. I think overall the app is a good reminder to just start whenever you are in your fitness journey. And starting, leads to more pursuits because you feel motivated, so hiking much more and outdoor walks in between the rides has been my thing throughout the lockdowns,” she wrote.

For the cyclist with racing aspirations or the racing kit to match the obsession with wattage and heart rate beats per minute, there is the online community of Zwift.

Like the virtual experiences provided by Esports – think simulators and realistic sport games, Zwift is more of a physical Esport. The Zwift experience offers three levels from compete for the competitive, whether that’s the pro to the beginner; training that has a social component; and exploring, which includes collecting achievement badges. Unlike Peloton, which mimics the studio cycling environment, Zwift provides a level of replication of the outdoor experience, but also offers it’s own virtual experience. For example, there are rides that are similar, but not the same like the famous mountain pass route Alpe d’Huez is called Alpe du Zwift within the Zwift world. There is also a mountain biking experience that was recently added. There are races, events, including free riding with other bot cyclists, who can learn your habits to ride with you and encourage you.

Started in 2014, Zwift was created by entrepreneurs and game developers who came from Los Angeles and London, England and were cycling enthusiasts. It debuted in 2015. There is a monthly cost of close to $20.

Users can opt for a conventional trainer – bike on a stationary setup. It’s beneficial for the experience to have a heart rate monitor, cadence sensor and power meter. Serious users can use what is called a smart trainer with all the bells and whistles for the ultimate connection with the Zwift world.

The company has said they hope to offer hardware options like Peloton in the future, so that the start-up is easier.

With more than 3 million Zwift account holders in the world, who are pedalling their bicycles and training and racing routes made famous by cycling legends, it’s a robust community of cyclists looking for a virtual experience to break records and meet personal goals. It was reported in the Calgary Journal that the app had experienced a 79 per cent increase last summer in July compared to the year before.

Robin Bell, 76, is a passionate cyclist with strong family roots, who leads an active lifestyle and first started in 2018 with his inexpensive setup using various sensors to measure relevant information [cadence, distance and speed], relayed by bluetooth from the bicycle on his Tacx Flow trainer from the 1990s set in front of a television set.

Like most cyclists, the president of the local cycling club, the Haliburton Real Easy Ryders [HRER] didn’t enjoy his time on the trainer before Zwift and had only used the trainer twice since he got it. After continuously speaking with friends and fellow members of the Kawartha Cycling Club [KCC], he decided to join the Zwift community with his equipment. Over the past two winters, it has been the main way he has stayed fit, he adds.

Bell said Zwift enables him the flexability to ride any time of the day
“Especially when before, even in early winter there were wet /windy days that the temp was ok for outside but I wouldn’t go because of the wet/windy bit.  It’s convenient, takes less time for the whole ride and I can pick one of approximately 60 different rides in France, England, Austria, USA and a make-believe island in South Pacific called Watopia. When riding you can see other riders and there is a lot of socializing going on. Zwift has many different mass rides and actual races that you participate in and also a group of friends can plan a ride together on any of the routes. I do this twice per week with approximately13 friends from KCC and HRER [called Meetup].  You can choose an “open” ride [where the fast riders ride away from the slower ones] or you can have a “no drop” ride where the software keeps everyone together – we do the latter and use a software called Discord to speak to one another via our phones – we’re more in touch than when we ride outdoors!  For staying bike-fit in a Canadian winter, there’s nothing like it!  I could also Meetup and ride alongside friends who are riding Zwift in Ireland and Australia or even in BC.”

Bell bought a smart trainer at the end of 2019, valued at more than a $1,000, but that investment has the benefit of an efficient virtual connection measuring data such as cadence and power to enhance the Zwift experience. He says it’s more convenient and quieter than his previous setup, which required a variety of pieces of technical hardware.

Zwift offers an immersive experience, complete with all of the ups and downs of riding, but lacks the rush of speed without the wind, which leaves users sweating profusely without a fan and it simply can’t replace the in-person interactions of the outdoor experience.

“It’s not the same as face-to-face but what is these days.  [It] can be harder on your seat since one stands up less than when outside.  It uses internet and most internet in Haliburton is poor with all the extra demands from people who have moved up here to cottages,” he wrote.

Bell recommends it to others and wishes more people from the area used it.
He said Zwift doesn’t replace anything so much as add to his training, which can include participating in training programs to prepare for future long distance events such as a Gran Fondo.

Bell said he has noticed gains in his fitness this year and last year.
“Zwift helped me come into the season well ahead of my usual spring fitness level.  I rode solo outside in 2020 and haven’t yet ventured out this year, so it’s hard to gauge myself against other riders,” he wrote.

He adds he’s seen measurable gains in being able to hold a higher speed and in his FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, of plus 20.

“On Zwift, since drafting [when riding is easier behind another person] is a part of it and there are a lot of events each week, it encourages you to push yourself along with learning the strategies involved in cycling such as drafting, when to push, how to sprint etc,” he wrote.

Bell has appreciated the weekly rides and welcomes the interactions, but he acknowledges that it is not like the real thing.

“Although I’m happy with Zwift, I’m looking forward to riding outside again. I’d find it harder to ride 100 km on Zwift than on the roads outside, although my times would be better on Zwift [no wind and top speed on all corners].”