Conquering the Alps Virtually

Battling the ravages of old age is no trivial task. I used to work out more or less regularly at the local fitness center. But the pandemic put an end to that! To tell the truth, at first I was somewhat relieved.

Eventually I decided to overcome my sloth. It was clear that I would never amortize the investment necessary to establish my own fitness center in the basement. So I examined the options. In the garage stood a used bicycle put aside after a violent encounter with a red SUV. The cracked helmet still sat on the saddle. Could I re-purpose the bike for some exercise? I was still afraid of traffic. In the Canadian winter bicycling is not very inviting either. What were the alternatives?

While trawling the Web I encountered a flashy commercial from Rouvy, a fitness startup in Czechia. Their bicycles must have cost a fortune. The guy’s physique was to die for, and the young woman wasn’t to scoff at either. I could easily see myself in that setting.

The website went on to explain, how to realize this dream. The introductory price for the software was reasonable, and a training stand for the bicycle affordable. I owned a computer already, and the three little, necessary electronic sensors were no problem. But the Black Swan raised its head in the form of the Covid supply chain chaos: it took me three months to gather the required components, another week to assemble and debug the contraption, until I finally could start my new athletic career.

To admit, the setup resembles the advertisement in no way. The jargon in the website was directed at jocks, and took me a while to decipher. It promises realistic, virtual bike rides anywhere in the world without having to leave the comfort of your home. I started slowly with easy, undulating routes. The videos were realistic and in High Definition. There was a sheer inexhaustible selection of routes all over the globe.

As I dared to venture on more demanding rides, I realized that my physical stamina seemed to confine me forever to the foothills. At my age there was no way I could cover 20 miles and climb 4000 feet in a single trip. But eventually I figured out how to divide a ride into feasible installments spread over several days. Now things started to become interesting.

Let me take you on my maiden voyage over the Klausenpass in Central Switzerland. The particular choice was easy; I had bonded with the region over 60 years ago, when I spent there a month as supply teacher at a local high school. In dry numbers the route measures 19.5 miles and involves a total climb of 4692 feet. Altogether it took me four rides of somewhat less than an hour each, and four soaked sweat shirts.

To simulate a realistic ride experience on the plain vanilla trainer you pedal at a constant cadence (and resistance), but the steeper the climb, the slower the bicycle seems to move. It is almost like driving a car with automatic transmission.

The tour starts gently along the floor of the Linth valley. I follow my coach at an easy speed. He lets me warm up gradually, and encourages me to an occasional short sprint. It is early morning, and the sun touches the mountain peaks.

But ahead the road takes a sudden turn, and starts climbing up the side of the valley There isn’t much traffic. The video proudly displays my self selected ‘nom de roue’ together with my current riding effort. The traffic sign is somewhat confusing, for there is no railway crossing ahead. It alerts people to to a boom that bars the road when there is danger of avalanches. But we can safely ignore it.

The picture is deceiving, for the road climbs at an inclination of 12%, but I have to slow anyhow to take this picture.

Ahead is the charming village of Urnerboden at an elevation of 1348 meters. My heart is pumping, but a rest at the local inn does not seem in the cards.

Although this is not a competitive race, I still feel some satisfaction on overtaking a peer. Too bad, we can’t exchange greetings. But the view is breathtaking, and I can almost smell the mountain air.

It is getting serious. The last climb with an inclination of 16% invites to a final spurt. But it taxes my reserves.

As I cross the finish line, I can see the foam on the beer in front of my eyes

In the past my wife often reminded me, not to skip the workout. Now she comes down to the basement, warning me not to overdo it. But thanks to Rouvy it never feels like ‘too much’, rather it feels like ‘more’!


In the meantime I have climbed several more passes. Most recently I had a lot of fun with the Lukmanier Pass. Not only do you get to climb to the top, you even get to zip down at 40 miles per hour, and you don’t even have to wear a helmet!