The CycleOps PowerSync is an electronically controlled resistance trainer. It’s able to simulate changes in gradient, yep, it can ‘make’ hills. And is programmable to create workouts or just increase / decrease resistance at the touch of a button or the tap of a screen. The PowerSync incorporates a power meter accurate to +-5% using the same technology found in the famed PowerTap variety.
Coupled with the CycleOps Virtual Training (CVT) software your virtual cycling world expands. CVT allows you to choose from a multitude of interval, profile (hill) and heart rate based workouts, participate in realtime (or delayed) online races and go “out” on virtual video-based rides.
Given my predisposition to avoiding indoor training I was keen to put these new tools to the test.
The CycleOps PowerSync is a sturdy looking unit. Although I was testing on a very smooth surface, it has eccentric levelling feet which allow it to be stable on uneven surfaces. The mounting and operation is much the same as other trainers I’ve encountered. The bike is fixed to the trainer via the rear axle using a specially shaped steel quick release skewer.
The good news for mountain bikers is that there is a thru-axle adapter available, however it only supports 120, 130, and 135mm axle spacing and unfortunately no 29" wheels. For that you’d need to look at it’s bigger brother, the PowerBeam Pro, although you'd still be limited to a maximum axle width of 135mm.
I tested the PowerSync with a standard 700c road bike and a 26" mountain bike (with a semi-slick tire). Both were easy to mount and had ample space on the rolling surface. The roller should fit tyres up to 2.25" depending on the profile and tread, although I'd opt for a smooth tire on the back from a noise reduction perspective.
Models: ANT+ vs. Bluetooth
Our test unit is the ANT+ version and arrived with an ANT+ iPad dongle. This you’d have to purchase separately if the device you’ll be connecting to doesn’t natively support ANT+. There is also a Bluetooth model available, which although you would have an easier time connecting to, wouldn’t be as widely compatible with the majority of current sensors which are ANT+ based.
Accessory: Climbing Riser Block
Among the various accessories available from CycleOps is a Climbing Riser Block which our unit arrived with. This provides both stability and 3-levels of incline with the option to stack multiple blocks for greater inclines.
Mounting a bike
Mounting your bike on the PowerSync is pretty straightforward. You’ll first need to swop out your snazzy proprietary skewers or thru-axles for the relevant trainer compatible version. In the box you’ll find a standard quick release skewer included, but the thru-axle adapter would need to be purchased separately.
The roller contact surface is smooth and visibly wider than most trainers I’ve used. It’ll comfortably support a wide mountain bike tyre, although for any bike a smooth, trainer specific tyre is recommended.
With the bike mounted and power connected we’re just about ready to go.
On the bike
Getting on the bike I first noticed the sturdiness of the setup. Although in part this was thanks to the climbing block, even without this accessory the PowerSync felt impressively stable thanks to it’s wide stance. The climbing block added noticeable stability upfront, to the point that I was more than comfortable to get out of the saddle and put a far more pressure on the bars than I'd dare to before.
When the wheels start turning you’ll notice a blue led below the roller which lets you know you’re powered up and ready to connect to the app or another device.
CycleOps Virtual Training
Installing and setting up the CycleOps Virtual Training app was quite simple and intuitive. The app is available for IOS, Android and PC. For testing we used the IOS version on an iPad with the ANT+ iPad dongle. Although the app is a free download there is a $6 monthly subscription fee to maintain full access to all features, but you can start off with a free trial.
Once you’ve registered with CVT and entered your profile details you’re good to go. You can then choose from various options for your indoor workout:
As the name implies in this mode you can decide how you want to ride. You get to adjust your target resistance as you’d like to either structure your own ad-lib workout or just ride.
If you’re keen to test your legs on a specific routes or just get some simulated hill training this mode will let you follow a real-world route virtually. The app adjusts the resistance automatically to simulate the ups and downs of the actual route.
When I first jumped on the PowerSync I was sceptical about how this would feel. I chose my route, the Col d’Izoard, pressed go and hit the Pyrenees. This route is one of many that includes a video feed. When the video mode is enabled a video of the actual route will play based on your speed. You can either stream the video if you have a decently fast connection or download it beforehand.
Sure enough as the road kicked up the going got tough. There is a slight delay between the on screen gradient change and what you feel as the resistance gets applied progressively. I was impressed by the difference. The uphills really do make you work and quickly had me searching for more gears as if on a real-world climb.
If you want a bit of company or some added incentive you can enable Virtual Partner. This feature allows you to select a previous ride from other users and compare your efforts.
You’re also able to quickly create your own routes based on your own GPS files, however this must either be done via the Virtual Training website or the Desktop version of the software. You can also create your own video routes via the desktop, but this is a little more complex.
Power based training is said to be the most efficient and effective and the CycleOps PowerSync makes this easy for you. The Virtual Trainer allows you to select from various existing workouts or create your own. Each workout is based on a specific metric, either: Power, Power / Weight, % FTP or Gradient %.
While you could do the same with a standard indoor trainer and power meter, the visual representation of the workout and on-screen cues thanks to the app take a lot of the thought out of it, allowing you to just ride.
For anyone serious about their training or just wanting to make the most out of typically limited training time this is a most valuable feature.
Real time online races are one of the cool-factor features of the PowerSync and CVT app. Perhaps it’s a bit of nostalgia back to my misspent youth playing multiplayer computer games, but for me this is a great way to not only make indoor training more interesting, but create added incentive and commitment. Much like entering a real-world race it becomes all the more difficult to back out once you’ve put your name down.
The races take place in real time on a predetermined course and use the data from your trainer to pit you against the other participants. You can compete with real people on the same course, at the same time from anywhere in the world.
Thanks to the PowerSync’s built in power meter you're also able to perform a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test. This test will allow you to establish your capability and then tailor your workouts based on the results. It also lets you benchmark performances and track progress. Be warned though - an FTP test is not for the faint hearted!
Without the app: Connecting to a head unit
If you just want to ride or forgot to charge your iPad you can also simply connect to a compatible head unit. Most power meter compatible units will allow you to read power-data from the PowerSync, but wouldn’t allow you to set resistance as you could from the app. For this you’d need the PowerTap Joule GPS head unit which can control resistance. My Garmin Edge 510 had no issues connecting to the PowerSync and pulling in the available of power specific data.
The CycleOps PowerSync indoor trainer is certainly not an entry-level trainer nor does it come with an entry-level price tag. Thanks to the workout tools and virtual riding / racing capabilities the CycleOps Virtual Trainer app makes riding indoors a pleasure, until the road kicks up that is. If you’re wanting to be a little more focussed and efficient with power-based training or you’re simply looking to spice up your indoor riding it might be worth stretching the budget for.
The CycleOps PowerSync is available from Bicycle Power Trading either via their dealers in your area or direct on their website.
Retail price: R11,595
- ANT+ (Model 9912) or Bluetooth Smart (Model 9913) compatible.
- PowerTap power meter equipped for +/- 5% accurate power readings.
- Some assembly required.
- Features clutch knob for perfect roller to tire tension each ride.
- 2" resistance unit roller allows for 650b, 700c, 26", and 27" wheel sizes.
- Does not fit 29ers or 650c wheel sizes.
- Precision-machined alloy roller reduces tire wear and slippage.
- Noise level at 20 mph is a quiet 69-70 decibels.
- Electronic resistance unit allows for programmable workouts.
- Controlled resistance lets you set your slope, power, and other metrics.
- Eccentric leveling feet allow for easy adjustment on uneven surfaces.
- Comes on the CycleOps foldable Classic frame with spring loaded, bolt-action lever.
- This trainer is designed to fit common road and mountain bike frames with included steel quick release skewer and has three settings for rear dropout spacing: 120mm, 130mm and 135mm.
- Trainer tire recommended.
- CycleOps VirtualTraining compatible.
- The PowerSync is intended to be used with an iPad or Android tablet running the CycleOps VirtualTraining application and does not come with a computer.
- Cadence sensor and ANT+ stick sold separately