Another Virtual Cycling Beta – Road Grand Tours (RGT)
Back in early 2018 when I registered for the VirtuGO Beta testing, I had also requested for participation in another virtual cycling platform testing – The Road Grand Tours (RGT) Closed Beta programme.
What is Road Grand Tours?
Road Grand Tours is another virtual cycling platform from Romania that is to compete with Zwift.
According to Alex Serban, founder and CEO of Road Grand Tours, RGT is focusing on introducing real life environments into a virtual format and bringing a new level of realism that we have never seen before. It let cyclists to explore a number of new roads, with physics that mirrored real life cycling experience.
Racing is another aspect that RGT is concentrated on and they will put efforts on the accuracy, the physics and the ability to help cyclists to organise racing more easily and in a fair manner.
RGT currently supported only desktops running one of the following platforms:
- Microsoft Windows 7 SP+, 8 and 10
- Apple Mac OS X 10.12 or later
Development works for iOS, Apple TV OS and Android are in progress. Stay tuned if you would like to have RGT running on these platforms.
By end of May 2018, I received the confirmation on RGT account activation.
I immediately downloaded and installed the package onto my iMac desktop. The version was RGT 19.18c and it started up swiftly without any issue.
While I was quite busy working on other issues like the VirtuGO Beta testing, overseas tours and my subsequent surgery, blah, blah, blah, the testing of RGT was actually on hold until few days ago.
Got the latest version of the RGT and installed onto my Mac OS X High Sierra.
The version used for my testing is 2018.12.24.0. Noticed that the “Demo” button was gone and what you can do is to ride. Sounded reasonable.
As of the time of writing, RGT only support the following sensors via the Ant+ protocol:
- Smart Trainer
- Power Meter
- Heart Rate Monitor
The last two are optional but they will definitely enhance the user experience.
So users must first get the Ant+ USB dongle for the required protocol support.
For details on how to equip your Apple iMac or Macbook with Ant+ support, you may refer to my previous post here.
User Interface / User Experience
On start-up, you will be presented with the RGT main menu.
At the top is the Roads and Events selection menu. Sensors status are displayed on the bottom left while the camera, options and shop for avatar customisation are on the bottom right.
I started with the customisation of my avatar. You can choose on the bike, helmet, eyewear and jersey (kit) from the shop. Looks like RGT is somehow sponsored by corporations like 8Bar, BMC, Addias, Lazer Sport, Wahoo & Rapha and their products are available in the initial release.
See what I finally got: BMC TeamMachine SLR01 Carbon Red, Adidas ZonyK Black Red, Lazer Bullet Yellow Black and Wahoo Club Jersey White. Much better than those available in VirtuGO.
There are a number of options that let users to fine tune the look and feel of RGT.
Depending on the processing power of the underlying platform, users may adjust the “Quality” and “Depth of Field” parameters to achieve a balanced environment between quality display and reasonable performance. My 2011 iMac with 512 GB SSD system drive and 24 GB memory can run with High Quality and Strong Depth of Field without any noticeable degradation.
Similar to VirtuGO, RGT provides a total of six camera views selectable by pressing key 1 to 6:
- First Person View
- Third Person View
- Moto View
- Freelook View
- Drone View
- Race View
By pressing key 0, RGT will cycle around all the 6 available camera view automatically. Camera views that I found attractive are Moto, Race and Drone. Refer to my first ride described below for the actual views of the ride.
With my CycleOps Magnus smart trainer powered on, RGT swiftly detected all my sensors without any issues.
The default setting on the Power Delivery is “3s AVG” for the Power Meter reading broadcasted by the Magnus trainer. This may related to the sensor error that I have encountered later in my initial trial.
My bike is also equipped with an Ant+ Cadence/Speed sensor. For the sake of testing, I picked up the virtual Cadence sensor presented by the CycleOps Magnus smart trainer.
Cycling Route Selection
The initial release comes with the following six cycling routes, much more than similar virtual riding platforms:
- Canary Wharf in UK (1 Km with Avg 1% gradient)
- 8Bar Crit in Germany (1 Km with Avg 0% gradient)
- Cap Formentor in Spain (19 Km with Avg 4% gradient)
- Paterberg in Belgium (4 Km with Avg 5% gradient)
- Pienza in Italia (8 Km with Avg 6% gradient)
- Passo Dello Stelvio in Italia (14 Km with Avg 8% gradient)
Scheduled races will be presented as Events where users can join via the “Sign On” button. RGT also allows users to organise Public or Private races. However, to become a race organiser, users must contact RGT for arrangement. Upon registration, new race can be created via the RGT Portal (To be discussed later in this post).
My Initial Rides
I had two rides covered in my product testing.
Ride 1 : Canary Wharf
Users can start the ride from one of the predefined landmarks of the route or the last position previously rode by the user. For this testing, I repeated the ride from the only landmark – Lap gate.
There are also screen showing the other riders and predefined segments similar to those in Strava.
Clicked on the “Ride from Lap gate” button and loading of the relevant route information would be started.
I manually cycled through all the camera views during the ride to give you some ideas of the amazing graphics capability.
Drone view was excluded in this capture as only a moving ground was shown. Not sure if this was a bug or such view was not available in the Canary Wharf route. However, you may refer to some of the screen captures from a drone camera view in my second ride in Paterberg.
So which camera view(s) is/are your favourite?
The Canary Wharf route was short, flat and easy to ride. Some beta users said that the graphics matched nicely with the actual Canary Wharf. I have no idea on that but personally, I think it is designed to demonstrate the realistic simulation of RGT.
My first ride was completed by pressing the “End Ride” button after 4 rounds of the route. The ride statistics screen would then be displayed and by clicking on the “End Ride” button in the bottom right corner, your ride details would be automatically uploaded to Strava. If you don’t want to do the upload, change the “Save to Strava” switch to off.
The information shown here was quite minimal as compared with VirtuGO and probably RGT expected users to do the analysis in Strava.
The Canary Wharf ride was completed without any major issue except that I did not know how to get away with the Roads/Events menu at the top of the screen.
Ride 2 : Paterberg
Paterberg is a hill in the municipality of Kluisbergen, in the Belgian province of East Flanders and is a recent addition to the Tour of Flanders. The actual climb to Paterberg has a maximum gradient of 20.33% and an average gradient of over 12%.
The RGT Paterberg route is adapted from that and is a 4 Km route with an average gradient of 5%.
In my second ride, I accidentally clicked on the “Close” button at the bottom right corner.
Oops, to my surprise, it turned out that the Roads/Events top menu was gone and replaced with all the required cycling statistics that I was looking for!
The Paterberg route was much more interesting with stunning graphics and fully demonstrated the capacity of RGT. Excellent physics like cornering of bike and riders, accurate posture of riders during normal ride and overtake as well as the matching pedalling frequency with users actual cadence.
Another interesting physics is on drafting benefit, ie. the reduction of wind resistance when you are tucking in close behind another rider in front of you. Frankly speaking, I’m not sure if the calculation was corrected or not but at least a good effort in putting in these factors into the simulation engine.
Interactive chatting with other online users and RGT support are also available during the ride by clicking on the Chat and Feedback buttons on the bottom left of the screen.
Two rounds of the Paterberg route was made for my second RGT ride, making a total of slightly over 8 Km.
Besides the strength of the product, there always came with some errors or bugs during my ride.
The first one was that I got no sound or music during my ride. Not sure if this was as designed or program bug.
Update on 2019/02/27
I just had another ride on Cap Formentor tonight with my iMac speaker volume turned to maximum and I noticed that there was humming sound coming out from the speaker. Oops RGT does not have background music as in other virtual riding software and probably it was just making some kind of riding/pedalling sound. 🤔
The second one I had encountered was the failure to get the sensor readings in Power and Cadence. This subsequently affected the Power per Unit Weight as well.
My suspicion on that may relate to the “Power Delivery” and the “Feedback Intensity” parameters of the Power Meter and Trainer sensors respectively. I will arrange some more trial-and-error tuning on that later.
The third error was that my ride suddenly came to a halt. No matter how hard I pedalled, I had no way to resume my ride. On the screen, my speed was reduced to 0 kph and my legs were completely stationary.
The pedalling was resumed after a few minutes and up to now, I don’t know how I escape from the error.
The last error was the un-matching riders position against the leaderboard. While riding for about 8 Km, I was in front of another participant “Griff G” as reflected in the two avatars along the road. However, what was shown on the leaderboard was that “Griff G” was few meters ahead of me.
I understand that RGT is still in its beta stage, some errors and/or program bugs are inevitable. Hopefully, the final release will be more well polished with all these issues rectified.
The RGT Portal can be accessed via http://roadgrandtours.com.
You can edit your account details, disconnect from Strava and view your activity history. Available races will be listed until the Event Calendar where you can Subscribe/Sign on. Your subscribed races can be found under “My Events”.
If you are a registered event organiser, you can also organise new race via the Event Calendar.
Having just these two initial rides, I can say that RGT looks promising and it definitely gave me a virtual cycling experience that I never have before. It shares quite a lot of the similarities with Zwift but not VirtuGO, where the latter is more concentrated on the training aspect.
Development and launching of virtual cycling platform is a money burning game. Few months ago, Zwift received another new fund of USD 120 million mainly for the development of digital racing. So success of RGT will really depend on the acceptance of the product by cyclists and the amount of funds injected by the investor, MVP Academy.
Anyway, let me share with you some of my observations with the product.
- Package installation as well as the subsequent updates under Mac OS was simple and smooth
- Sensor detection were good
- Availability of six cycling roads that outperformed other similar products in the market
- Well designed cycling roads and realistic graphics
- Clean user interface and cycling statistics display during the ride
- Wonderful camera views like “Freelook” and “Race”
- Excellent physics and simulation on rider posture, pedalling and cornering
- Responsive simulation engine with smooth riding experience
the BadAreas for improvement
- Lack of BTLE sensors support
- Lack of mobile devices support on iOS, Apple TV and Android
- Insufficient online help and documentation on the navigation within the product
- Not much ride participants for each of the available routes despite the RGT Beta programme was release for testing for nearly one year
- Bugs and errors encountered during beta testing
Last but not least, RGT is totally free at the beta stage. Try your very best to explore and enjoy the virtual cycling platform.
If you are interested in my preview on the VirtuGO Beta, please take a look in my previous post:
For my sharing on virtual riding & training, you may also visit the following posts:
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