If you’ve kept up with my blog journal then you are probably aware that cycling outdoors isn’t an option for me right now. I am currently in a rehabilitation phase after knee surgery, which means that scratching my cycling itch is is left solely to an indoor turbo trainer. My bike times has mostly been spent spinning away around the island of Watopia in the highly popular cycling MMO, Zwift. However, I’ve recently joined the Beta for a new kid on the block, ‘Road Grand Tours‘, and here are my initial impressions.
Zwift has always had its competition, for example, a while back I wrote a comparison against The Sufferfest. Then there is Trainer Road which although a more training and numbers focused program, it too has also been kicking around as an alternative to the more gaming centric Zwift. And since the rise in popularity of smart trainers and virtual cycling simulators, other similar Zwift-like programs have begun to emerge including Vitruago and now the Strava heavy Road Grand Tours.
I was put onto Road Grand Tours by a friend, at that time I was willing to try anything in an effort to mix things up a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zwift. I love the racing, the workouts and even just jumping on for a quick spin. However, I was happy to have the opportunity to try a new environment and a new world to explore.
I set up an account and signed up for Beta. I instantly received access and loaded up the program in anticipation. Road Grand Tours didnt really offer much in terms of character creation, other than a selection of different coloured Adidas Kits and an 8bar Crit kit, a Laser Bullet lid and a choice between a Ridley Aero bike or different variations of the BMC Teamachine. This is Beta however, so it was probably to be expected. It would be unfair to compare Road Grand Tours content to Zwift which has been making waves a good few years now. Besides, I like the Teamachine in a laser blue.
Out on Mont Ventoux
There are several courses you can choose to and although I’m yet to try them all, those I have tried are interesting enough. My first destination was the infamous Mont Ventoux. I rode the real thing last summer, so I was interested to see how real life compared to the virtual version. The route on Road Grand Tours isn’t the famous grand tour climb from Bedoin, but the less popular and just as difficult route from nearby Malacene. First impressions were that the graphics were good and the game was stable. There was absolutely no issues with synchronisation between my turbo and the program and I was effortlessly able to jump into the South of France and start riding up a bloody big hill.
The environment was fairly accurate, the game even had the hotel I stayed in last year with the adjacent car park at the base of the Malacene climb. I was impressed at the level of detail. The gradients also felt accurate, as did the few changes in direction. I didn’t manage to go all the way to the top (I’m in rehab remember), but I’d be interested to see how they captured the lunar landscape and meteorological station at the top. Albeit a short taster, I had no issues what-so-ever, the drafting felt intuitive and the changes in gradient felt instantaneous as my Tacx switch up the resistance in order to replicate the ever changing steepness of Mont Ventoux.
It’s safe to say that I was interested to try more of what Road Grand Tours had to offer. My initial experience was very good. The program felt polished (certainly for BETA) and in many ways more realistic than its main competitor. Maybe it was the more realistic colour tones that the graphics engine had to offer? But it wasn’t just the graphics and design of the game that felt realistic. The drafting seemed really intuitive, and when riding with my brother up the iconic Cap Formentor. I was able to position my bike and sit on his wheel with relative ease. The amount of times I chase down a fellow rider on Zwift in order to catch a tow, only to shoot past them at twice the speed! This just didn’t seem to be the case on RGT. Add to that a handy percentage value on the UI which gave me an figure for my drafting benefit. This meant I could carefully adjust my output in order to get maximum wheel sucker mode.
London, Italy, etc.
The following day I tried the nighttime crit-course of Canary Wharf and also the hilly but short circuit of Pienza, and was equally as impressed. Both were shot circuits, but the environment was interesting enough. Familiar Short sprint sessions with leaderboard tables were a welcome addition to mix up the pace a little bit. They also link to Strava as segments which is a great feature. RGT doesn’t offer the ability to change direction or explore like you can in Zwift, but there is a wide variety of different real-life courses like the previously mentioned bucket list climbs, as well as some more I haven’t yet tried. I’m looking forward to trying out the famous Stelvio and its numerous switchbacks.
You don’t get the scheduled events and racing (soon to be added) or a work out mode either. Also the volume of other riders is significantly lower than Zwift. But when I think back to Zwift Beta, I can’t help but be excited for whats to come in Road Grand Tours. They say the game is close to complete, but I’m sure more would be added to as the platform moves out of BETA. And the future will probably be a monthly subscription model. Right now its free to try and I would certainly recommend it as a welcome alternative.