Amid the pandemic, we have discovered and nurtured quite a few new online crazes. Ecycling was one of them, with no exception that those who took part thought it might not stick around for the long run. 

However, December 2021 saw the first world championship in ecycling. 

Ecycling’s run up the hill

Ecycling lets you be a champion in the comfort of your own home. But what is the difference between ecycling and actually hopping on a bicycle outside? 

There is the obvious bit - the fact that you aren’t physically moving anywhere when you participate in ecycling. Ecycling is a fairly new competitive esport, but all things considered, it’s picking up speed - especially in the Covid-19 era, where cyclists are forced to practice and keep their fitness up from their homes. 

Zwift, a massive multiplayer online cycling and running training programme that enables users to train, interact and compete in the virtual world, hosted the first online Tour de France - Virtual L’etape du Tour de France - in 2020. 

Amateurs and pros alike have found ecycling a useful supplement to regular training. When it became apparent that the pandemic would continue for longer than anyone anticipated, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) launched several elite, invitation-only virtual races. According to Ashleigh Moolman, cyclist and two-time Olympian, the adrenaline rush is just the same. 

How does it measure up?

Ecycling brings forward new issues, however. Particularly, there are concerns around data manipulation in ecycling. Essentially, many cycling e-racing platforms regulate or categorise the rider’s performance in the virtual environment by knowing their height, mass and power output. These metrics dictate the overall performance of the rider. The issue comes in with things like mass manipulation, or ‘weight-doping’.

The possibility of this kind of manipulation may encourage riders to provide inaccurate data that conventional cycling may not be affected by - and as such, affecting the integrity of the sport. 

Equipment also comes into play when considering some of the issues ecycling could bring forward. Trainers need to find new ways to optimise the performance of their competitors - especially when considering simpler things like automatically adjusting resistance as the gradient changes. This brings forward the issue of re-educating trainers and racers to ensure that they perform their best under the circumstances. Ecycling is not just a mere simulation, but a new way of participating in a classic sport. 

The other debate that stands is whether or not ecycling can measure up to be a standing discipline on its own. Beyond the pandemic perpetuating ecycling as a sport, it does offer a unique standing in the competitive world. Although it is a simulation of conventional cycling, it does bring niche aspects to the table that would not be possible through conventional cycling. So, perhaps not a direct replacement, but an addition to the world of sport that could bring forward new talent and interesting techniques. 

In the end 

As we can see through how UCI and pro-athletes are investing in ecycling, there is something valuable here.

Overall, the same basic skills and abilities are needed to excel in ecycling. The main lessons to be learned come in when considering the way we measure performance and the new ways equipment we use measures that performance. 

Ecycling is not necessarily a replacement for conventional cycling, but definitely a valuable means of doing it differently. Even in its infancy, it presents an exciting future for the world of cycling. 

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