Getting ready to ride on the magnetic production BKool trainer. © Cyclocross Magazine
Bored in the basement during your seemingly endless trainer session? What if you could race Gloucester on your screen, actually seeing the course via your own GPS data and GoPro video? Or what if you could send a friend to the Nationals course in Austin and have him collect the GPS and video data so even in early December when there’s a foot of snow outside, you can be prepping for the Nationals course?
Spain-based Bkool can do that. At the 2014 Summer Press Camp, the company announced the launch this September of an “innovative training tool” for cycling indoors that combines a trainer and a simulator. Unlike other products on the market, both components have been developed as one integrated unit.
A prototype of the latest version of the BKool trainer. © Cyclocross Magazine
We tested the Bkool trainer briefly at Press Camp, and was impressed with the smooth and powerful resistance changes as the (virtual) ride terrain changed. With the exception of your bike’s angle changing with climbs and descents, and your bike swinging when out of the saddle, the simulation really provides a realistic training simulation, and on steep “climbs,” we could even feel overgeared due to the high level of resistance.
The technology is similar to the Wahoo trainer that we recently previewed, and the two technologies are compatible, meaning you can use the Wahoo trainer with the Bkool community.
It’s almost scary, but the trainer is described as being a “smart trainer.” The firmware in its electronics carries out complex calculations to convey the feel of the terrain to the wheel, letting the user sense changes in the gradient and texture of the terrain.
Before you worry that it’s heavy or bulky, don’t panic: The new version of the Bkool trainer is extremely compact and light, and yet extremely stable. And for the non-tech-savvy, it uses plug-n-play technology that is easy to install.
The Bkool cadence sensor mounts to the chainstays, but is optional. © Cyclocross Magazine
The cool part: a user can create his own routes or select from among the 500,000+ routes in the Bkool database. These routes can be shown in 2-D, video or map, and the user can see the route taken and parameters like distance, time, power, speed and gradient are displayed at all times.
You can also race your friends—or your nemesis. The simulator lets the user train with up to 100 friends simultaneously, wherever they may be around the world. According to Bkool, “Users can create a group and invite friends to join, or they can join an existing group, and ride a route anywhere in the world either at the same time or separately. They can also create sports events and take part in existing events, like leagues and competitions. Standings and rankings are generated dynamically.”
You can also get a bit “Tron-esque.” “Advanced users can compete against one another or create virtual riders (robots) with highly detailed profiles and thus improve their performance.
The cost of this crazy-sounding trainer of the future in the States is $649.99—very competitive to other simulator options like Computrainer. BKool admits that the price is kept low in hopes that members will join and become premium members, though free options are available without head-to-head racing or the ability to race community-submitted courses.
Working off of GPS data from the company or your own rides. © Cyclocross Magazine
Their membership is similar to Strava’s setup—a free version, and a premium option that offers a lot of perks, like being able to use real video, or even race your friends (or random riders) when you need more motivation to pedal harder on a rainy day. The premium membership runs from $12-15 per month, depending on if you go for the annual membership or month to month. We’d probably opt for the monthly option so when the weather got nicer in the summer, we wouldn’t be tempted to stay inside in the AC instead of hitting the road on an ultra-hot day.
Even cooler? You ride your favorite route, and then upload your GoPro (or other camera) video and GPS .gpx file for an even more realistic trainer ride—great for practicing a ’cross course over and over again, even if you’re in Delaware and the race is six months away in Oregon!
Use actual ride video footage from BKool, other members, or upload your own. You can even ride Vermont dirt roads, as shown here. © Cyclocross Magazine
Of course, the Bkool trainer gives you an excuse to buy a new GoPro as well—you know, for your training.
If you can only afford one trainer, you can also bring the trainer as a warm-up device for a cyclocross race, without the laptop or tablet-connected electronics. The only catch is that the resistance won’t be adjustable, and will default to the equivalent of riding flat ground.
Even though we’re not huge fans of spending countless hours riding a bike indoors when we can play in the mud or snow, we looking forward to testing a Bkool unit, as it looks like the company developed some interesting functionality, record keeping and community aspects to at least make trainer sessions more interesting and stoke our competitive fires. There’s even the Bkool equivalent of Strava KOM and QOMs for rides.
Bkool Trainer Specs:
MSRP: $649.99 USD
Community Membership: Free option, or premium for $12-15/month
More info: bkool.com