If you’re considering indoor training over the lockdown, then good for you: it’s a time-efficient way of keeping (or improving) your fitness when it’s grim outside. There are a seemingly-ever-increasing number of platforms out there, and the BKOOL Simulator is one that’s well-established. Here’s how to start using it, and a run-through of the main features.
BKOOL have until recently made both indoor trainers and the software to use them with. We first tested a BKOOL trainer in 2014 by which time the Simulator software was already well-established. The main draw of the app back then was the ability to ride famous climbs, with video footage and variable resistance as the on-screen gradient changed.
A lot has changed since then. Late last year BKOOL announced that they were stopping the production of trainers to concentrate on their app; the trainers are now being sold under the Zycle brand now. The app has seen some major updates in the last couple of years, the main one being that BKOOL have moved into the virtual reality sphere. Many of the routes that were previously available as video can also now be ridden in a virtual world, which allows you to see other riders on the road. More on that in a bit: first let’s get going with the app.
You’ll need to set yourself up an account on BKOOL, via the website, before you can use the app. The good news is that you can try it for a month free of charge. Head over to bkool.com and create yourself an account if you don’t already have one. It only takes a couple of minutes.
The BKOOL app is what you actually use with your indoor trainer and it’s available on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android from the BKOOL website. The minimum specs to run it on each of those platforms are:
Once you’ve downloaded the version you want, it’s time to fire up the app and get to grips with the interface. The first thing you’ll see is a recommended set-up page, where BKOOL talk you through what you need. You’ll need a trainer, of course - you DO have a trainer, right? - and pretty much anything will work. A smart trainer allows the app to alter resistance so you get the more immersive experience, but a standard trainer with a speed sensor will pair up fine if that’s what you have. Bluetooth and ANT+ are both supported.
After that you can connect your devices. For me that’s a Tacx Neo 2 and a Bluetooth HRM.
If you’re logging on for the first time then the BKOOL app will ask you if you want to ride an introductory route. It’s a good idea to do this, as it talks you through the basic interface of the app, with lots of cue cards to help you understand what’s going on.
The riding interface looks like this: you in the middle riding with most of the information you need down the bottom of the screen: power, heart rate, cadence, that sort of thing. On the right is the slope indicator, which tells you what gradient you’re currently on and also what’s coming up next, and how far away it is. The profile of the whole route sits above this info, showing your position and the location of splits on the ride: they’re timed sections you can test yourself on.
The default view is 3D, but for this route you can also have video when it's available…
...and there’s also a 2D map view. You can switch between them with the left and right arrow keys. If you’re in 3D view then the V key changes the camera angle - there’s a few to choose from - and the space bar allows you to look behind.
The first session is only short, just over 4km, and by the time you’ve finished you’ll have a decent understanding of how the riding interface works. The BKOOL app will then kick you back to the home page, which is a bit daunting on first view, but it’s actually pretty simple.
Top of the left-hand sidebar is your user information. Click on that and you can change how your in-game avatar looks. Well, what he’s wearing, anyway. You start out with the standard black and yellow BKOOL kit and completing rides and training sessions earns you in-game currency to buy new kit.
The 2020 WorldTour team kits are all in there, although if you want to wear them you’ll need to get a few rides under your belt. Completing challenges often unlocks new kits, too.
The very top of the home screen is normally reserved for ongoing competitions: on the grab above it’s a 6-day velodrome challenge, and a series sponsored by Fiets Sport. There's always a number of these competitions going on, and there's a calendar on the BKOOL website that show you what's running, and what's coming up.
Under that are live sessions, multi-user rides that have already started. You can join these sessions, either at the start line or at the position of the last rider. The overview page gives you the route information and the time since the ride started.
You can also go into spectator mode to see what’s happening, and flick between the different riders.
Under the live sessions there’s a bunch of curated routes that you might want to try, and at the bottom your favourite routes will show up, as well as anything you have scheduled.
You might find something you want to ride among all that lot, but if not it’s time to head to the search page: just click the magnifying glass icon on the sidebar. You’ll see routes by default, and down the left hand side there are a number of filters so you can narrow down the search: there are a LOT of routes in the app. At the very top there are some other options…
Next up is workouts, which is where you’ll find structured training sessions. Again you can filter the results depending on how much time you have, and how hard you want it to be.
Next to the right is the velodrome, which is unique to BKOOL. Again, there are live sessions available for various distances in the two different velodromes, and in 3D mode you’ll normally have some other riders to duke it out against. If you prefer you can attack the kilo (4 laps) or channel your inner Victor Campenaerts and have a pop at the hour.
Last up is the system’s two FTP tests. You can choose from a shorter one, with a 5-minute maximal effort, or a longer one with a 20-minute effort. If you’re using BKOOL for structured training then it’s a good idea to get this out of the way first - hateful though it is - so that the structured sessions are tailored to your current fitness.
Below the search function there’s a pairing screen link where you can check what’s connected, and under that there’s a link to app settings where you can tweak things like the quality of the graphics and your default view.
So those are all your options. Probably the first thing you’ll want to do is get cracking on a famous climb, right? Let’s have a look at your options when you’re riding a route.
Scheduling a ride works best on the website, as you get more options there. Log in at bkool.com and browse through the available sessions, or search for something specific. Where to start? Here’s the Col d’Izoard. Looks like a fun hour and a bit! Clicking through from the sessions page or search results gives you an overview of the route. You can see at the top that this one has video and 3D options, and thus far about 6,600 attempts have been made at the climb. You can see a map of the route too: the hairpins don’t start until gone halfway, so that first section looks like it’s going to be a bit of a slog. Click the ‘Set up’ button at the top to schedule your ride.
The first thing you’ll get is a set of people you can ride against. The first section is ghosts: people who have ridden the climb before, that you can pit yourself against. Below that there are bots, automated riders that have different characteristics. You can choose a mix of both.
You can add splits on a route if you want, and also set targets for zones or cadence. Here i’m easing myself into the climb in Zone 3, before moving up to Zone 4 for the middle and going hard in Zone 5 at the top. If I still have the legs…
On the details page you can schedule a date for your ride, and add a password if you want it to be private, or just people you invite. If you don’t make the ride private then once you’ve started, anyone can join it if they fancy.
Back in the app your scheduled rides will appear in the ‘programmed’ section of the home page. Click through to get an overview of the ride.
On the settings page you can tweak the experience. You can choose your default view, and whether you want opponents to appear in the video. The slope reduction lets you alter the resistance ramp: all the way up is how it would feel in real life, and all the way down keeps the trainer resistance the same whatever the gradient.
Everything how you want it? Make sure your sensors are connected and hit the big play button. It’s time to ride! If you're trying BKOOL for the first time let us know how you get on in the comments below.
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.