Road Grand Tours is a Zwift alternative that is still in beta, but that doesn't mean that isn't a legitimate option for those looking to train inside this winter. I signed up for a free account today, and decided to give it a whirl. It was actually a lot better than I expected with only one real let down.
Sign up gave way to a free download of the program, which on my home Wifi took about 45 minutes for all the updates to go through. I linked the account to my Strava, and started it up. Pairing my power meter, trainer, and heart rate strap over Ant+ was a breeze, as the system does not support Bluetooth yet. It loaded quite quickly, and I had a really nice looking interface staring at me in no time.
Like Zwift, RGT presents you with a digital avatar that rides through a virtual world of roads with each grade and downhill triggering resistance changes on a smart trainer. RGT has multiple "real world" courses to choose from including London's Canary Wharf, Mont Ventoux, and the Stelvio. It seems a little more suited for the climber, as most if these courses have big climbs. I had a hard time deciding, as I looked at the course previews and they almost all had average grades over 5% except for the dead flat crit courses.
Like Zwift, it allows the user to select a "realism" setting or trainer "feel." I set the slider to 50% meaning that a 10% climb would feel more like 5%. Like on Zwift, it is a good idea to experiment with the trainer "feel" to see how well your trainer reacts to it. On some trainers the 100% feel may very well make you unable to pedal at all on a 15% uphill grade. My CycleOps Hammer works pretty well, but I found 50% to be quite usable on RGT. I will adjust it as I continue to try this software out.
I tackled the famous Paterberg course today, and with its punchy 321 meter hill, it was a bear. Flanders is no joke. That's for sure. The graphics were excellent, and the rolling gradients reacted as I would have expected on Zwift, FulGaz, or any of the other virtual cycling platforms I have tried.
I did two circuits and then a little more before moving on to try another of the courses, the 8Bar Crit Course. This track in Berlin features lots of hairpin turns on what I think is an old formula one track. It was flat flat flat. It was interesting to make those banking turns and to draft other riders at speeds around 20 mph. One neat metric on screen is the drafting boost percentage. As I drafted one of the virtual riders in the program, I could see how much of a benefit I was getting.
And that is where the only downfall of the program was for me. There is no one on this. As I rode either course, I realized that everyone of the riders online was a clone. The same names I saw on the Paterberg were the same ones I saw on the 8Bar. And there were not even too many of these.
I was left feeling that I had underestimated the power of the social aspect of Zwift. I was not super inspired to be chasing virtual computer clones around the course. There were no thumbs up or ride-ons. It was a lot of feeling like I was riding alone in the basement. And even though you are always technically riding alone on the basement, knowing the riders around you are real does have an inspiring effect. I don't really know how to describe it any better, but it is a little empty feeling.
All this is really unfortunate because RGT is an amazing platform. There are no training programs or group rides that I can tell, but the ride experience is exceptional...apart from the lack of the social thingee. The metrics are clear, the bikes and kits are cool, the graphics are awesome, and the courses are really nice. And...I did mention that it was still free because it is in beta? How can you beat that when the cost of Zwift just exploded from $10 to $16 a month (at least for long time users).
I hope they continue to develop RGT, and I will continue to give it a go. I will try to report back as I continue to use it for a few more days. I guess I should also report back about why I ditched TrainerRoad after giving that a shot this Fall. I don't think RGT will be a Zwift killer, but it is fun and breaking up the monotony is what training indoors is all about. And did I mention...it's free (and links to Strava)?