Review: The Sufferfest App’s ERG Setting
To set up your ERG setting on The Sufferfest, refer to our article regarding their 4DP test.
(2018) Several years ago I was listening to a radio talk show discussing the prevalence of auto-tuning in singing. For those like me who do not follow music much, auto-tuning is the digital optimizing of a singer’s voice. Host after host sang into the auto-tuner and it aligned the voice as the digitizer saw fit. One host, however, stepped up the mic and cranked out a song. Not a drop of auto-tune could be detected in her singing. Apparently she sang on key, thus bypassing the need for the device.
I thought back to that conversation during my first experience with The Sufferfest’s new feature to their app, ERG mode for smart trainers. ERG mode, short for ergometer, is the smart trainer’s ability to vary the resistance depending on the ‘terrain’ being covered. Riding uphill in a video paired to a smart trainer? The resistance will establish itself as necessary. Steeper hills mean harder resistance.
For the longest time I had used the CycleOps Hammer trainer in its standard mode. After having established my wattage numbers I set about The Sufferfest app’s training plans to gear up for the 2018 season. Having ERG settings show why I wasn’t as prepared as I thought for this year’s race schedule.
One fact I used to describe CycleOps’ Hammer trainer is its ability to eliminate any place to hide in training. Using the smart trainer revealed my recoveries were too easy and my hard efforts not as hard as I perceived (when basing my training on RPE, or rate of perceived effort). In short I was going easy on myself and the Hammer let me know directly. Once my efforts were dialed in, the recent addition to ERG mode within the app showed, once again, I was going easy on myself. ERG mode means there is no place to hide with effort.
My first attempt at a workout saw me struggle mightily with underwhelming power. When I would slow my pedaling for recovery segments the numbers would drop below the established power level. The smart trainer compensated for it and suddenly the pedals became nearly impossible to turn. No sooner would I get the cranks turning than the next interval would come up. I was gassed from pushing heavy wattage to get the bike back up to speed only to realize I was going has hard as I thought I was during the interval. I felt like I was back to square one.
Once I completed the workout I reflected that I never moved into the big ring. Though I stayed relatively close to my wattage and cadence numbers I stayed in the easier gears. For some reason, I thought I was going to have killer numbers from the workout. I did not. I read the numbers in disbelief as it was shown that I covered nearly half the distance as any other workout of the same time. The learning curve was steep. My riding needed an auto-tune lift.
After another dismal performance on the crit circuit, I felt determined to have a racy experience within The Sufferfest app. Call it atonement, call it a healthy outlet, or call it a coping skill, but I rode to one of the race training videos with the goal of riding true. Keeping ahead of my wattage and cadence numbers I found myself staying above the power curve. My sprints were in the red zone of effort. My rest intervals were worthy of the name recovery. And my final virtual distance reflected the numbers of old. I was happy to have wrangled the smart trainer for one hour.
The Sufferfest app does not have virtual hills like Zwift or Trainer Road, so its ERG mode appears to be something of a work-in-progress. Rest assured that a hill in the video or an attack will result in a hard turn of the pedals. When the resistance sinks in the effort is real enough. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself suddenly riding with anticipation.
One detail of note regarding the ERG mode is that it is not useful for every video. The Sufferfest’s app asks the rider to turn off ERG mode for its two tests ‘Full Frontal’ and/ or ‘Rubber Glove.’ I would expand the list to include ‘Half is Easy’ and the dreaded ‘Revolver’ for the reason that the ERG mode is still winding down on its own despite another effort starting. That is, the trainer is still slowing down well into the next interval. Otherwise the decision between pedaling through the recovery in standard mode or freewheeling through the recovery in ERG mode will have to be taken. I shudder at the hefty effort to push the pedals when asked to ascend in wattage for an all-out interval.
There is certainly a learning curve with the ERG mode but like mentioned above, the tool holds the rider accountable. Despite it being summer in these parts, the trainer is still being used for maintenance purposes. Out on the road it is even easier to phone it in, so the CycleOps Hammer and The Sufferfest app keeps one honest. I’d like to think this season started out of tune and painfully obvious an auto-tune was necessary. At the end of the race season it would be nice to know that, despite having an auto-tune, nobody could tell it was even engaged during the performance. I would be out in the open instead of looking for somewhere to hide.