Riding is an addiction, and a hard one to shake at that. I cross train in cold weather, but at some point, I know that the trainer will beckon. The call came early this year, as I tore my MCL and was taken out of all activities, save alpine touring and skiing. Luckily, I was handed a BKOOL Wireless ANT+ Trainer and was told to “ride my heart out.”
Being honest, I’m a trainer snob. After years of training on smooth, machined rollers with a simple MP3 player, I’m not easily impressed by gadgets and media that tout making indoor training fun. I like stoic training. BKOOL was designed to keep you fit indoors, but it emphasizes entertainment and social interaction. To boot, its price point is much lower than many similar training systems. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Without daily workouts and goals from my coach, it thought that it might be nice to have some entertainment while riding.
I was hoping that the trainer would require little assembly, and my cries were answered. Once you remove the trainer from the box, you’ll find that assembly is simply a matter of pulling away the packing foam and cardboard. The accessories—wheel block, dedicated skewer, ANT+ dongle, trainer AC plug, and sensors—are all included in the package. Now, setup is a little different than with most trainers. Although the rear wheel is secured in the trainer using the standard skewer/clamp interface, the BKOOL depends on the rider’s weight to hold the rear wheel to the flywheel. You unfold the trainer and hold it open while securing your bike. After some finagling, I was able to complete the task, though it would’ve been much easier with a second set of hands. Once the bike was in place, I attached the cadence and speed sensors and the magnet.
One thing to note is that the trainer connects to the online BKOOL training system via ANT+, which allows the trainer resistance to adjust to the chosen training protocol. To this end, the trainer itself features an AC plug, so the trainer needs to be situated near an outlet. I set it up in front of my desk to keep my laptop directly in front of me.
The primary interface for the BKOOL is an online account. In fact, the BKOOL platform is where you create ride sessions and store your training history. BKOOL features several levels of membership, and unlike most online training plans, monthly plans are available. So, it’s perfect if you only ride your trainer in the winter months.
The software is also easy to navigate. I created an account, downloaded the desktop BSIM software and Direct X, and then synced the trainer to the software via the ANT+ dongle.
The online platform allows you to create sessions, invite friends, and choose videos and routes to train on. Once these have been created online, I was able to see them in the desktop’s BSIM interface. I recommend creating a few weeks’ worth of training in one sitting. That way, you’ll have them at your fingertips without having to log into the online site before each ride. After doing this, riding was as simple as logging into my offline BSIM account and pedaling.
BKOOL features a variety of training sessions. Impressively, the trainer adjusts resistance according to the selected route, making it hard to cheat. There’re also simple mapped routes, various training criteria, velodrome simulations, and videos. These are available with an individual or multiplayer option. The multiplayer option either pits you against other riders, or allows you to invite other BKOOL friends for a group ride. The only thing that you’ll be missing is friendly banter and that mid-ride coffee stop.
Mentally speaking, being a former track cyclist, the velodrome simulation was the most difficult for me. You see, to minimize torque on my knee, I had my XX1-geared mountain bike on the BKOOL. And while these gears suffice for hillier terrain, on the velodrome, I was killing my legs to even keep my pace near a respectable warm-up speed. If I’d been on the boards at the 45-degree LA velodrome, I would’ve slid down repeatedly. Still, it was enjoyable, and it’s nice to see track training being incorporated into road cycling plans. After all, it never hurt Cavendish or Wiggins.
And while I chose to not save any of my files, you’re able to save and share your routes and workouts so that your ride metrics are always available for you to analyze. If you desire, files may also be exported in formats like .FIT and .GXP for import into programs like Training Peaks. You’re also able to download iOS and Android apps. These apps are free and import your outdoor sessions to your BKOOL account. You can also import ride files directly from your Polar or Garmin device.
The biggest drawback that I found in the BKOOL trainer is in the trainer itself. The rear wheel was held in place with my weight, so if I stood for sprint intervals, or to simulate climbing efforts, the power readings bounced around, while the rear wheel skipped a bit. Truthfully, though, the BKOOL is designed to keep you fit, not to turn you into the Manx Missile.
Secondly, the ANT+ doesn’t pair to all ANT+ powermeters. Instead, it’ll only pair to the heart rate and speed/cadence sensor types. Additionally, it reads sensor data from those, but it doesn’t transmit the data back out to ANT+ head units. Adding compatibility would allow the user to have data on the end device of their choice.
Admittedly, I’m not the most social of creatures, but I enjoyed my time on the BKOOL. The velodrome simulations and videos are entertaining, and they kept my mind occupied. And although the capability exists, I never felt pressured or obligated to join in on group rides or multiplayer sessions. It’s this versatility that makes the BKOOL perfect for a family of cyclists—all of whom may have different motivations for indoor winter training. And now that the BKOOL has been returned, I will reluctantly retire to my boring rollers for the remainder of the winter and dream of videos and banked planks.