June 23, 2009

REVIEW: Global Ride: Hawaii Rides DVD Box Set

Jeff and company at Global Ride contacted me a while back and asked if I would be interested in reviewing a new line of indoor cycling training DVDs, and I was all ears. I've been looking for something to spice up my winter-time indoor sessions for a while now, and this seemed interesting enough. My normal winter routine usually finds me suiting up in multiple layers for an outdoor cycling adventure, but there are those days where winter is really unkind. The roads can be impassible with ice, and things can be otherwise dangerous. When this happens I am pretty old-school: a wind trainer, a terry-cloth towel, and Tour De France videos. Yeah, I'm not the kind of person that will spend money on training videos, but after reviewing these from Global Ride I think it's simply been a matter of not choosing the right ones. While it is thrilling to "chase" that breakaway on stage 16, or follow Lance up an Alpine climb, sometimes there is something missing... I mean, honestly, you can only watch the same stages over and over so many times, which is part of the challenge of training indoors in the first place: finding variety.

There are lots of options at the beginning of the videos, which come in a modestly packaged box-set of three DVDs. Each disc has a straight-forward menu, giving you a myriad of options. You can select your background music preference, choose whether or not you want a personal trainer along for the ride with you, or you can choose one of three (depending on the disc you select) pre- or post-ride workouts. These include yoga, pilates, and strength training, each of which is a huge bonus for this package. Most cycling videos simply leave you with the ride, and the cooldown - the Global Ride DVDs workouts are good in their own right, and complement the cycling workouts nicely.

The opening sequences of each ride start out with a lush slideshow of the locale and theme of the package, Hawaii in this case. I personally think this is an improvement over other videos; you have some music and some images that float across the screen while you get yourself ready. Getting myself ready: I find myself in this scenario quite a bit, actually, so I appreciated the extra time to prepare as each video ramps up. Since riding indoors is not "normal" for my routine, I find myself often forgetting simple things like my gloves, or my water bottles. Instead of having to pause the video, I can easily keep it rolling with this warm-up "buffer", and get back on the bike before anything really gets started. This, however, is my first indication that these DVDs are probably meant for cyclists that are familiar with indoor riding and training already: while its easy to deduce that this first portion of the DVD is for warm-up, there is never any announcement to confirm that suspicion, and it made me think that I'd missed something. As the DVD continues play, it simply transitions into the first part of the workout. Its my first notion that perhaps there could be more text or scrolling graphics, maybe a "dashboard" of sorts, to let the viewer/rider know what's expected, and what's coming up. For beginners shopping for their first indoor training DVD, this might prove detrimental: as the first scene appeared and the actual training portion of the video unfurled, the coaching companion was assuming that I was already in my target zone. Now, to be perfectly fair, I chose to watch the third DVD in the package first, mainly because I chose based on the title and scope of the videos. Correcting myself, I tossed in the first DVD of the set, and the coach does indicate the first section is for warm-up.

The coaches: this is a unique feature of the Global Ride DVDs, something I had never come across before. Part of the robust suite of menu features, the viewer can select the nationality of their personal coach! You have the option of choosing an American, an Australian, or an Italian coach, or you can choose to listen to a recorded spin-class session from the Harbor Fitness studio. I personally preferred the Italian coach, honestly - maybe it's my appreciation for cycling's racing heritage, but the Italian was much easier to listen to while I rode along. The Australian coach was good, but a little droll. The American coach seemed to provide the most information from a training perspective, but seemed a little unscripted. She kept giving me her resume, and reminding me that I was watching a video, which was interesting since I already knew that I was watching a video: the frustrating part of that was the fact that, while informative, she tended to detract from the imagery unfolding on the screen in front of me. I find this particularly important to note as riding indoors is already a labor for many cyclists, including myself. A large portion of us are into cycling not only for the physical benefits, but for the fact we are outdoors. Global Ride went to a lot of trouble to get the fantastic vistas and scenic overlooks captured on film from the saddle of a bicycle, and to better fit the notion of "being there" in those images, truly along for the ride, the commentary should be scripted to match. There is, however, an option to disable the coaching commentary altogether from the main menu, so you can ride along in "iPOD-land", forget how bad the weather outside is, and absorb the full effect of the videos as they pass across the screen. No desire for headphones? No problem: the soundtracks that are set to the scenery are very good in their own right, and I enjoyed the electronica and pulsing beats while I pedaled along Hawaii's coastline. In many scenes, the music was precisely in-time with the cadence of the cyclist on the screen; well done. There was a mild critique that popped into my head, however, while riding along listening to the music and the Italian coach: the soundtrack is good, but the producers might have opted for music without lyrics, as the coach and the music often talked over one another, which was a little distracting.

The imagery is fantastic, and the views spectacular. The producers truly captured what it must be like to really ride at the location, choosing good roads with challenging terrain. Again, however, a few "wishes" came to mind. The production would have benefited from anti-vibration smoothing on some of the shots, but it did add to the realism. I would have liked to have seen the DVDs played on an upconversion-DVD player, as the images would have really popped had they come from an HD source, but I can't fault Global Ride for my technoligical shortcomings in the exercise room here at home. Though I am hopeful, someday, for some ambitious company to release a high-quality set of indoor cycling DVDs on Blu-Ray.

After about ten minutes of pedaling, my overly-critical mind began to settle in. This is something that I'll be watching from the seat of a bicycle, indoors, while there is probably six inches of snow on the roads outside - and as the pace picked up, and the sweat began to bead, I felt myself getting pulled into the screen, right alongside the rider shown - the body heat building as the images floated by: it really is, if you let it happen, just like being there. Early on I felt it might have been neat to have more than one rider shown on the road, for a paceline feel, but I began to appreciate the fact that Global Ride chose to make these videos about the scenery, and not about racing, or pacelines, or watching someone else's wheel. From a long-distance cycling perspective, one could say this was like doing a brevet in Hawaii, and I put myself into that mindset while I rode along.

It's been said that every mile of indoor training is like riding four miles outdoors - so riding inside is truly a mental test, just as much as it's about maintaining fitness. Even the professionals have been quoted as not liking riding indoors for more than an hour or so, so that's a genuine concern. Getting a grip on mental focus, having something visually powerful to distract me from the fact that I'm trapped inside, is difficult, and Global Ride seems to have delivered here. After that first ten minutes, I was absorbed into the images, no longer paying attention to the time that had passed. It was easier to stay on the saddle, as the scenery passed by. With three DVDs, multiple soundtracks and coaches to choose from on each one, I think there is plenty here to keep me occupied through even the longest off-season. The Global Ride DVDs took me far away, mentally, to an exotic locale, and delivered the imagery and coaching focus I needed to stay on my plan. Let's remember, I received these DVDs and previewed them during the late Spring... and I still got a full workout indoors. After 30 minutes, I was fully into the scene and forgot where I was, the coach popping in from time to time to prod along the effort and motivation. The images of the rider on the screen seemed to mimic how I was feeling, how I would probably look had I really been there in the moment. Quite realistic. Just like while riding in real life, every time the pain came up or I became tired I simply trained my gaze out over the passing ocean, and took deeper breaths. It works! During the downhill scenes, I found myself increasing my pace to "stay" with the rider on the screen, and to make my feeling on the trainer match what I was seeing on the screen. It's quite effective, and almost subconscious, just like real road riding.

I'm a goat at heart. I like climbs: long, steady, stupid climbs, and I found myself barking with glee as the first DVD transistioned to the "Maui Cliff Climbs" section of the workout. The coach announces that it's time to take the intensity up to 90% for this section, and I answer by cranking up the resistance and standing up for the next 20 minutes. Just stunning: the climb shown is like nothing I had ever seen before, and - true - while I wasn't really there, I still reacted the same way. Just astonishing that there exists a place like this where someone can ride, for real - and I'm compelled to visit in real life someday because of this DVD. Global Ride should strike up a deal with the Hawaiian Tourism board or something, and sell a tour package that highlights the roads showcased in this set of DVDs. Prior to this, I had really no desire to visit Hawaii, simply from the notion that it would be too trappy, too touristy. Now, I just want to fly there with my bike and find these Maui Cliffs. Dude... wicked climbs!! I really, really wanted to be that cyclist in the video, and the best part of the presentation was that I practically WAS, as the music pumped out of the speakers, and the singer (no longer annoying with the lyrics) tells me that I'm "taking her higher", and I "am amazing". Ten minutes left until the end of the ride, and I find myself wanting to downshift and rest, but the images are still pitching upward, and sitting down or shifting just somehow doesn't seem right. The coach says its time to push harder and faster, and the road pitches up again! Dang... I like this video.

The cool-down section was neat, transistioning back to a slide-show format with some motivational snippets about cycling floating across the screen, along with training tips. Strangely, the coach's input about what exactly a "cool-down" entails is missing, which again might confuse novice cyclists and people on their first indoor ride - reinforcing the notion that the focus here might be towards more experienced cyclists. Taking all these factors into account, and the general theme of the DVDs, I have to recommend them for advanced or enthusiast cyclists with knowledge of training theory and some understanding of heart-rate zones and the like - which is probably right on the money for someone that would be considering indoor training in the first place. What these videos lack in the hand-holding department, however, they more than make up for with some of the best bicycling location footage ever captured on film.

The video immediately segues into the bonus training section, as the cool-down comes to a close. Strength training, pilates and yoga are certainly training features I could benefit from, being a cycling-only person. The key to riding successful endurance events is overall strength, as well as cycling prowess, so this is something I'm sure I'll use quite a bit. Being flexible, mentally tough - these bonus sections are very valuable training tools, and provide exercises that cyclists generally don't think about for themselves. Especially in the off-season, the bonus exercise programs that are included on each Global Ride DVD can go a long way to preventing injury and keeping you fit and healthy - ready for a solid spring.

Overall I give these videos a solid arm-up for quality, value, and uniqueness. There are a lot of training videos, but not many that can offer what Global Ride has packaged here. The only criticism I have has to do with the lack of "data", which might confuse those new to the indoor training experience - but a little outside research, and a heart-rate monitor, and those riders will be in fine shape with these DVDs. Just don't expect a lot of "you should be here, doing this, in this gear" kind of guidance. In exchange, however, you can't find an indoor training video that is shot on-location like this. It's truly unique, and is on a pedestal high above the usual Tour de France re-runs or movies-of-the-week that one might normally subject oneself to while riding indoors - although it is still kinda fun to chase Jalabert up those mountains. There is even a silver-lining and hidden benefit to the lack of data and hand-holding from a training perspective: sometimes I just want to get on the bike and ride, and these videos will let you do that without making you feel guilty for not pushing hard enough. The settings allow you to hear what you want to, and you can tailor each ride to your liking - something else that no other indoor cycling training video package offers. I think Global Ride has done something unique and enticing here, and I think anyone looking for something new this winter would do well to seek out these DVDs.

You can learn more at http://globalride.net - Keep watching, as they've just begun wrapping up the new Italy Series of DVDs, which should prove particularly stunning!

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Chad said...

This is a wonderful review, and I appreciate you writing it. As a father of three kids, I'm always looking for more ways to enjoy the bike without cutting into family time too much. Indoor cycling seems to be the answer at the moment that allows me to get fit on the bike for the less frequent longer rides. I've been watching shows and movies from Netflix on my Xbox360, but your review has sold me on these DVDs. I've just added them to my Amazon wishlist, and my birthday is right around the corner.

Thanks again and happy riding.