How to Tell if You’re Ready for an Epic Cycling Adventure

Ken Whittaker with a flute of champaign celebrating his epic adventure cycling coast to coast across the United States
Day 52 – Ken Whittaker

When I originally posted Coast 2 Coast – Cycle Across America, I didn’t include any details about my physical training for cycling across the United States. Even though I was not a young man, I had just signed up for Social Security a few days before leaving on my journey, I didn’t follow a training plan for the epic 3,000 mile cycling adventure.

There was never any doubt in my mind that I could complete the journey. I knew I was ready. Even though I was working a 10 hour-a-day job with a long commute prior to starting my cycling adventure, I still found the time to ride at least 4-5 times a week, every week, week after week. I would ride about 10 miles a day after work on a relatively flat course, riding my single speed bike. On my days off I would ride longer more difficult routes riding my multispeed bike. That’s it. That as my training.

When you look at the numbers, 3,000 miles over 52 days, I averaged 60 miles a day cycling across the United States. But I rarely rode 60 miles while training. I found that distance wasn’t as important to my preparation as consistently riding.

The key to my success was that I rode almost every day. I could feel the improvement every time I got on my bike.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, riding everyday not only prepared me for the physical challenge but it prepared me for the mental challenge as well. Although it is seldomly talked about, the mental challenge can be more difficult than the physical challenge. During my journey across the country, I realized that having the determination to get up and ride again day after day was a real challenge for me. It was especially challenging for me on cold, windy or rainy days. So, if you are preparing for an epic cycling adventure, the key to success is consistently riding every day beforehand. It is just that simple!

Map of the coast-to-coast route across the United States
Coast-to-coast bicycle route across the United States

Related Posts:

Coast 2 Coast – Cycle Across America

Preparation – Cycle Across America

Ken Whittaker

How to Train for an Epic Bicycle Adventure

Topographical map of route through India.

A few of my friends are planning an epic 62 day cycling adventure from the Great Himalayan corridor to the southern tip of India, and they’ve asked me if I would like to join them. Since a good portion of the route will be in the mountains, I’m not sure if I can manage the more difficult climbs, even though my friend has assured me that I have nothing to worry about because cycling from the Himalayan mountains to the southern tip of India is all downhill.

Since the investment in time and money for a cycling adventure of this magnitude is enormous, I want to be sure that I will be successful. One way to prepare for this epic adventure would be to ride the actual route on my indoor trainer before I even set foot in India. Fortunately, with my Garmin Edge 1030, Wahoo Kickr and the course files for the route, I can ride all or select sections of the route virtually. My Garmin Edge has the ability to control the resistance of my trainer to match the actual route’s elevation changes for the route in India. While it may not prepare me for every difficulty that I might encounter, like altitude, weather and road conditions, it will give me a realistic feel for the route and my ability to meet the challenge.

Topographical map of route through the Great Himalayan Mountains.
Sample of the route through the Great Himalayan Mountains.

Using a Garmin Edge to control an ANT+ enabled Smart Trainer in three easy steps.

  1. Pair
    • Select Training > Indoor Trainer > Pair ANT+ Bike Trainer.
    • Next select indoor trainer check box.
    • Then select Add. Once my trainer was paired with my Garmin, the trainer icon appears as a connected sensor.
  2. Send Course to Garmin Device
    • Find the desired route from the Garmin Connect website.
    • Select Send Course to Device.
  3. Ride Course
    • On the Edge, select INDOOR so that the GPS on the device is turned off.
    • Next, select Navigation > Courses > Saved Courses.
    • Select the course.
    • Then select Ride.

That is all there is to it. Now I can test my abilities to handle the climbs in the Great Himalayan corridor from home. I could even ride the whole route beforehand.

Related Links:

Controlling a Smart Bike Trainer With a Garmin Device | Garmin Customer Support

Ken Whittaker

Zwift Play Beta Test

Zwift Play Beta Test game controllers for the Zwift Play Game Experience.
Zwift Play

Zwift Play is a new innovative product currently in beta test. While the controllers are designed to accompany a new Beta Zwift Play Game Experience, I found them to be a valuable addition to my indoor training setup, simply because they eliminated the need to use the Zwift Companion app while riding indoors.

Prior to Zwift Play, I used to attach my mobile phone to my handlebars to use the Zwift Companion app to access Zwift features. Now I can do everything I used to do on the Zwift Companion app with the Zwift Play controllers. If I never use Zwift Play to steer or brake while riding a Zwift Play Game Experience, I will continue to use the controllers. I think the controllers are a big improvement over using the Zwift Companion app.

However, let’s not forget that the Zwift Play are also game controllers. While I only see Repack Rush featuring the Beta Zwift Play Game Experience, I can’t wait to see what the innovators at Zwift have in store for in the future. I hope the Zwift Play Game experiment succeeds in a cycling world that isn’t known to readily embrace innovation.

If you find it hard to keep a riding streak going week after week or just want to get on your bike on for an easy activity on a rest day, then the Zwift Play Game Experience might be just what you need. Ride on!

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Ken Whittaker

Unnecessary Zwift Embellishment?

Wahoo Kickr Climb
Wahoo Kickr Climb

I’ve always viewed the Wahoo Kickr Climb as an expensive and unnecessary Zwift accessory. While the Kickr Climb may add real time grade changes on Zwift, I viewed it as a $699.99 luxury that I didn’t need. Let’s face it, indoor training is a boring task, and I wasn’t eager to spend more money on an activity I dreaded doing.

However, when I paired the Kickr Climb with my Wahoo Kickr on Zwift, it changed my whole indoor training experience. The boring task of indoor training became fun and exciting. I was absorbed into a very realistic cycling experience. As I traveled the Zwift landscape, I could feel a corresponding change in elevation and pedaling resistance that matched the terrain I was seeing on the screen.

I especially enjoy the rolling routes. I started to factor in the Zwift terrain into my cycling strategy as if I were cycling outside. I would take every advantage of my downhill momentum to take me as far uphill as possible with the least amount of effort. And I was riding faster, farther and enjoying it more because I didn’t have to constantly watch the screen and map elevations. My bike gave me all the necessary queues needed.

3D map of Zwift - R.G.V. in France
Zwift R.G.V. in France

While I still think the Wahoo Kickr Climb is a $699.99 luxury, it may be a good investment if it keeps you motivated with your indoor training. However, if you are riding flat circuits, it is completely unnecessary, and it would be wiser to spend your money elsewhere.

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Ken Whittaker

Six Must Have Items to Enhance Indoor Training

A bike, compatible trainer, internet capable device and an account are all you need to get you going on Zwift. However, there are a few additional items that will enhance the indoor training experience.

  • Fan – Opening a window will not provide enough airflow. You need a powerful fan that will generate a cool breeze to evaporate sweat and keep you cool. My rule of thumb is that if you feel comfortable before you start, your fan setting is not strong enough to keep you cool when you start sweating. Think of it as using wind chill to your advantage.
  • Floormat – Even with a good fan you are going to sweat, so protect your floor with a floormat. You don’t need an expensive floormat. I find that my old yoga mats work fine to protect my floor from sweat, reduce noise, and provide anti-slip surface for getting on and off my bike.
  • Towels – Since sweat is inevitable, it pays to have a towel handy for you and the bike. However, I find it very effective to deal with sweat at the source rather than cleaning it up afterwards. So, I wear a head sweatband to catch most of the sweat, then I only have minimal cleanup afterwards.
  • Water – With all this talk about sweat, it should go without saying you need lots of water to replace lost fluids to stay hydrated. I fill two water bottles before each session and have them readily available in their cages on the bike.
  • Music – I don’t think I could train indoors without music. Besides a controlled environment, having music is one of the big benefits of indoor training.
  • Table – I didn’t use a table when I started training indoors. However, it is nice to have something nearby to put your electronic device, the remote control for my music and anything else you might need. While there are tables specifically for indoor training, I use a music stand that does double duty to hold my device when I’m cycling and sheet music when I’m not.

That’s my list of six things that will enhance the indoor training experience. Do you have anything to add to the list? If so, please comment below.

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Ken Whittaker

Zwift Essentials

The minimum essential items you need to start Zwifting:

  • Bike – Any bike that is compatible with your trainer will work. However, Zwift recommends a road bike with 700c tires for the best experience. I use my “everyday” bike on Zwift because I find it very beneficial to be able to tweak my bike over the winter while I’m using it on a trainer.
  • Compatible Trainer – At a minimum, you will need a smart trainer that can measure and share your data so you can move in the game. I use a Wahoo Kikr, a direct drive trainer that changes the resistance, so it feels more realistic going up and down hills in Zwift.
  • Internet Capable Computer, Tablet, or Smartphone – In essence, Zwift is a video game. And like all video games, Zwift needs a compatible electronic device to run on. My computer, tablet, or smartphone are all capable to run the Zwift app. However, that does not mean it will run on all devices. Chances are that Zwift will run on your device as long as your device is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), ANT+, or both compatible.
  • Zwift Account – Finally you will obviously need a Zwift account and subscription. Since I only ride inside during the winter, I only subscribe during the winter months for $14.99 per month.

That’s it! That is all you need to get started Zwifting.

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Ken Whittaker

Three Ways to Maximize Experience Points (XP) in Zwift

Zwift has turned my indoor winter training sessions into a cycling game. Like most games, the goal of Zwift is to overcome challenges and achieve goals, giving the player a sense of accomplishment as they progress up levels and accumulate points. Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you to maximized points to move up levels faster.

Zwift Route Achievement Badge
Route Achievement Badge
  1. Complete Route Badges – When you complete a route for the first time you earn a route achievement badge. In addition to earning the points for the distance completed, you also receive a one-time XP bonus equal to the XP you already earned for the route. In essence you double your XP points for riding a route for the first time.
  2. Riding Streaks – A ride streak is the number of weeks you ride consecutively in Zwift. You must ride at least 2 kilometers, or 1.25 miles, for your ride to count.  Achieving a ride streak awards you with additional XP:
    • 300 bonus XP for each of the first two rides of week 1.
    • 400 bonus XP for each of the first two rides of week 2.
    • 500 bonus XP for each of the first two rides of week 3 and subsequent weeks in the same ride streak.
  3. Complete the last kilometer or mile – XP are earned for every km (20 XP) or mile (32 XP) completed, so it pays to complete partial miles remaining at the end of your ride. For example, if I complete 1.9 miles I earn 32 XP. However, if I ride another .1 mile making my distance 2 miles, I earn 64 XP. While this is not a big gain, it does pay to complete that last km or mile.

In every game, a strategy is crucial to success. These three strategies will help you maximize your XP in Zwift, which in turn get you better equipment and access to some level restricted areas in Zwift.

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Ken Whittaker

Best Strategy on Zwift

At first glance, Zwift looks like it’s designed for a road racing cyclist. However, the more I ride on Zwift the more I realize that a bicycle touring mindset is a much better game strategy and here is why.

Screen shot of the 120 Experience Point Bonus for completing the Railways and Rooftop Route Badge on Zwift.
120 XP Bonus for the Railways and Rooftop Route Badge on Zwift.

Remember, Zwift is a game where you earn points and the more points you earn, the higher your level in the game. A road racing strategy is all about speed. The faster you ride the faster you accumulate points. However, if you wanted to double your points in a Zwift session, that means you would have to ride twice as fast as your normal pace. Not a realistic strategy.

A bicycle touring mindset on the other hand is not about speed. A touring cycist focuses on traveling down roads and trails that they never traveled before, new environments, and the satisfaction of knowing they’ve the got the guts to continue the journey no matter what conditions they encounter. As a result, a bicycle touring strategy can easily double their points riding at their normal pace on Zwift by simply focusing on riding new routes. When a rider completes a route for the first time, they earn a route achievement badge. In addition to earning the points for the distance ridden on the route, they also receive a one-time XP bonus equal to the XP already earned for the route. And there is no shortage of new routes to doubles point with currently 129 routes on Zwift.

Screen shot of the 500 Experience Point Bonus for a three-week training streak on Zwift.
500 XP Bonus for a 3 Week Streak on Zwift

In addition, that daily determination of a bicycle touring mindset is also rewarded on Zwift. When I cycled across the United States, I realized that the real challenge was not the daily milage. Rather, it was all about the determination to get up and ride again day after day for almost two months. Similarly, Zwift rewards a bicycle touring mindset by giving bonus points for consecutive Riding Streaks.

So, the best strategy on Zwift is to ride like you’re bicycle touring. To illustrate, at the completion of my last 9.2 mile I would have received 288 XP no matter how fast I rode. Yet, I earned 912 XP as follows: Milage 288XP (9X32), Route Badge bonus 124 XP and a Training Streak bonus 500XP. It pays to ride Zwift with a bicycle touring mindset. Ride On!

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Ken Whittaker

Three Rules for a Successful Zwift Session

Screen shot of author beating a personal best time on Zwift
Zwift Personal Best

While I am a fairly strong rider (for my age), it can sometimes be demoralizing when other riders fly by me on Zwift, especially those Tron bikes with the glowing wheels. I found it helps to keep these three simple rules in mind during my Zwift sessions.

Rule #1 – Put Zwift into Perspective: Zwift is huge! There are roughly 4 million users from around the world with a wide range of abilities on Zwift. There is no way I would expect to be leading the pack in such a diverse group of riders. So I shouldn’t be surprised when someone zips by me during my Zwift sessions.

Rule #2 – Focus on Your Strengths: Zwift can be humbling. However, I am proud that I rarely see an avatar with gray hair like me. I want the other riders to know that I am not a young man. If fact, when I’m Zwifting it is the only time I ride without a helmet so other ride know that I’m old. I find it empowering to still be out there as a septuagenarian.

Rule #3 – Use Yourself as the Benchmark: Forget the rider that just passed you. I focus on self-improvement rather than comparison with others. The only real competition I have is with how I did yesterday and whether I can see improvement over time.

So, if while Zwifting you see the gray-haired K.Whittaker avatar, give him a Ride On. Better yet, empower every rider you pass with a Ride On.

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Ken Whittaker

Never buy a new bicycle

I admit it. I’ve always lusted for the latest and greatest bicycle and gear. Even though I thoroughly enjoy riding my current bicycle, I’ve always wanted the latest and greatest gear as soon as I see it. Sure derailleurs, disc brakes and tubeless tires were great improvements and justified upgrades to improve comfort, safety and performance. However, in reality there have been only a few truly breakthrough technological innovations in cycling in the past several decades. As cyclists we are like a child that only wants what’s advertised on the TV Saturday morning cartoon show for Christmas.

A brand-new bicycle can cost you anywhere from the hundreds to several thousands of dollars, depending on style and brand. Yet, with a fresh coat of spray paint or just a tune-up, an older bicycle can be made new at a much lower price point. By getting into the “Buy Nothing” group online you might just snag a bike for free. Especially kids’ bikes, which they outgrow so fast that it’s worth investing in a used bike to save money. But you can even buy adult bikes online at sites like eBay, Craigslist or checkout your local bike shop. Many bike shops take trade-ins. For example, as part of Trek’s sustainability objective Trek will begin selling used bikes through its Red Barn Refresh program. Spend the money you save on a brand-new helmet, which you’ll need to be safe.

Ken Whittaker