Sunday, October 24, 2010

First Tacx Indoor Workout

Saturday 23rd October 2010

On July 27th I bought a top of the range Tacx indoor training system. This system includes a motorised resistence and is computer controlled, permitting you to use personal pre-recorded GPS courses (those done in the summer for example) and to watch the progress on Google Earth! You can race against previous times or even against others over the internet.

Why has it taken three months to manage my first workout with this system? Well, when the box arrived from this box was in a bad state. One tubular metal insert for the steering frame and been clearly dragged along the ground for a long distance and about a centimeter of metal had been ground down. That wasn't a real problem but what was a real problem was the noise when I tried to use the system. Simulation of hill climbing made the motor groan so loudly that even the neighbours would be disturbed - it was unusable. The situation was not improved by the wooden nature of the old house we live in and the closeness of the trainer to the walls - it is in a corner of the room. After trying many things to reduce the noise I posted  a video on YouTube so that the Tacx people could listen to the noise and consulted the Tacx support forum. The unanimous decision was to return the unit for inspection and possible replacement. EvansCycles arranged the collection and transport back to the UK and the return to Fishers - the distributor for Tacx in the UK.

Week went past and eventually Fishers announced that they had lost the system. Worse still they had no new ones in stock. Meantime EvansCycles did have others in stock but kept that to themselves. Of course, without the system having been tested there was no confirmation regarding the noise problem. Fishers clarified that new stock would be in on the 29th September and that it would be sent out straight away. This simply never happened.

When my frustration started to be expressed in communications to EvansCycles they decided to send me another one from their stock. Amazingly this one also arrived in a badly beaten up box (not the UPS transporter box but the one inside that:

To my horror, when this system was set up it was every bit as noisy as the first one. I did at this point have serious regrets about buying this system and not demanding a refund when it went wrong. It's really clear that Tacx have hidden the noise problem of their motor driven systems from potential buyers.

From the beginning though it was my intention to make this work out - so I set about figuring out how to reduce the sound. First of all, to reduce the vibrations and low pitch sound I bought a couple of concrete slabs. This is the classic way of reducing sound passing through the floor with floor speakers in a Hi Fi - the concrete absorbing the vibrational energy. The slabs were placed on a rubber training mat. Next I searched in building supply stores for sound insulation. Only one product was dedicated to sound reduction so I bought a roll of it and then grabbed some thick cardboard boxes from the rubbish outside the store. first of all I cut the cardboard to construct a box covering the motor area from the floor up, but leaving enough room inside to pack it with the sound insulation and still have some air circulation. When this was completed it was relatively small so I packed another layer of insulation around the outside and then fabricated another box to completely contain it. The smaller box passed underneath the motor and so the double insulation layer was also between the motor and the floor. The only air gap left was to insert the bicycle wheel. When the wheel turns the spokes actually push quite a lot of air so this turns out to act like a fan creating a current of air into and out of the box -which helps to keep the motor cool.

The noise reduction is very significant and finally there was a usable system that would not disturb anyone and would not give me a headache. In fact I'd be able to listen to music without having to crank the volume all the way up.

Prior to getting started training though there were a couple of other problems. The USB cable to the computer was too short so I had to buy a longer one. The GPS data I'd recorded on my bike had slightly erratic altitude data - which when being use with the Tacx Training software was impractical. Other software was needed to first of all smooth out the altitude. Incredible that Tacx don't include that facility in their software considering that it actually does have GPS editing. Fortunately I found a free version of a program "3D Route Builder" that does the job well. It doesn't help that this entire area is missing from the online Taxc Trainer software manual. There is nothing written about using your own GPS data - even though it is a major feature. Tacx have just issued the next version of the software and do not even give an upgrade - it costs 100 euros and that's it. I'll give that a miss I think - they have more than enough of my money.

When eventually I did get started training the first half an hour was spent crashing the software due to my erratic and largely unguided console button pushing efforts. I'd resurrected an old analogue Polar heart rate monitor chest strap because the Tacx doesn't work with the new digital ones - so the heart rate data was all over the place for the first 20 minutes. Using that HRM technology feels like going back to the stone age now!

At last - a workout!

After three months of messing around a workout was finally underway. I'd picked a 30km route around the local valley that I usually cover in around 1hr 15'.  For viewing progress I had a screen showing my position on Google Earth from a view point about 200m above and behind - like a helicopter view. I could have selected to race against my original time - with the "competitor " showing on the screen but I didn't select it correctly this time. No matter, the motivation was still the same as cycling around the real route and I was impressed by that. The motor drive/brake is quite clever really because it controls your "momentum" if you stop pedalling - so you feel like you are rolling on a real bike. You actually get propelled downhill. One hour into the course my legs felt just like they do when climbing real mountains - the sensations were exactly the same. Perhaps the only unrealistic aspect is that you don't have to slow for cornering - but you can do that voluntarily if you want to - and I did - to preserve the simulation as best as possible. On some parts the GPS smoothing put in a few climbs or descents where I knew they didn't exist in real life - but this was not an excessive problem. In the end the workout went well and I didn't get bored. Motivation is the real issue here and the system works. The data from the workout can be exported in a form that is used by SportTracks so I can maintain the database that I've been using for two years now. Tacx has there own analysis software but it only displays for an individual workout as far as I can see. The results of any race can be used for racing against in future workouts

1 comment:

  1. exactly what I need with my Fortius unit, it's so loud I expect a knock on my door from a neighbor during each exercise