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Indoor cycling has gone from strength to strength in recent years and recent lockdowns have only helped accelerate that trend. Smart trainers are seemingly out of stock everywhere you look and indoor training software is surging in popularity as more people turn to indoor cycling to stay fit in these troubled times.
One platform that’s seeing significant growth is FulGaz, an Australian brand best-known for its real-world videos of some of cycling’s most famous roads. CyclingTips’ managing editor Matt de Neef put FulGaz to the test.
One minute I’m winding my way up the steep, serpentine, single-lane road that is the Lacets de la Montvernier, one of the most visually stunning stretches of road anywhere in the world. The next I’m on Two Bays Road on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, battling up a short climb I’ve heard so much about but never ridden in the real world. A few minutes later I’m warming down on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, dodging pedestrians and fellow cyclists on a beautiful sunny day as I gaze across the bay towards Alcatraz Island.
In half an hour I’ve done three very different rides, on three different continents, and all from the comfort of my lounge room. This is my first foray into the world of FulGaz and so far, I’m pretty impressed.
You might have heard of FulGaz. The virtual training software has been publicly available for nearly half a decade now, and while the Melbourne-based brand hasn’t enjoyed the same runaway success as rival platform Zwift, it does have a small but loyal following. It’s generated some interest in the pro scene, too, with Rohan Dennis using the platform as part of his preparation for the individual time trial at the 2019 Road World Championships in Yorkshire (which he won, incidentally).
So with indoor training becoming more and more appealing in these troubled times, what exactly is FulGaz and what does it have to offer?
How it all started
Former triathlon coach turned software developer Mike Clucas started work on FulGaz in mid 2014 as a side-project while working on apps for a bunch of clients. After a bad crash while riding on Melbourne’s Beach Road, Clucas decided that he wanted to replicate the feeling of outdoor riding indoors.
Video-based trainer apps had been around for a while — like Kinomap, for example — but Clucas felt that more could be done to make indoor riding as realistic as possible. He bought one of the first Wahoo Kickr trainers to land in Australia and started work on an app that would utilise the smart trainer technology.
“Instead of being confined to a few roads near my home, I wanted to capture how it felt to ride in different parts of the world again,” said Clucas. “The video-based apps that were available at the time were mostly unusable, with low-quality video and the data that was hopelessly out of sync with what you saw on the screen. I knew we could make something that could take realism to another level entirely.”
Nearly six years on, FulGaz has full-time employees in Australia and Europe (and is hiring), and continues to grow off the back of a strong subscriber base.
How it works
The basic concept behind FulGaz is surprisingly simple. Connect your smart trainer to a compatible device — iPhone, iPad, PC, or Android phone or tablet (currently in beta) — via the FulGaz app, choose a ride from hundreds of available options, and then ride along with video of the route you’ve chosen, as captured by a fellow rider at some point previously.
Depending on your preference, you can either get the video to play at the speed it was recorded at, or automatically speed up and slow down, depending on whether you’re riding faster or slower than the rider who captured the original video. As you ride you’ll see a swathe of data on the side of the screen — power, speed, distance completed and remaining, gradients — keeping you updated on your effort and your progress. As the road in the video gets steeper, so too the resistance imposed by the smart trainer will increase, making the ride feel harder.
Once you’ve completed the specified ride, FulGaz can automatically upload the data to Strava, TrainingPeaks or Today’s Plan for you. It can also email you a .fit file, allowing you to import the ride to whatever training software you like.
At the time of writing FulGaz has almost 600 rides available. These rides come in all different shapes and sizes and are handily sorted on the home page of the app by category:
New rides: The latest rides added to the app.
The People’s Picks: The most popular rides on the platform, such as the Sa Calobra climb in Mallorca.
Easy: Flat rides like Melbourne’s Beach Road.
Group rides: Includes the first 50 km of the Giro della Donna.
Hilly: Including Willunga Hill near Adelaide and Yarra Boulevard in Melbourne.
Long rides: Including the 120 km Whistler Gran Fondo.
Loops: e.g. A lap of the Australian Road Nationals course
Mountains: Including classics like Alpe d’Huez.
Races: These aren’t filmed in races, but are the courses used in races (e.g. Tour of Britain)
Trails: Gravel rides and the odd CX race.
Trending: Whatever’s most popular right now.
As you’d expect there’s a bit of overlap between sections, but breaking the rides up like this does make it easier to find whatever you’re in the mood for. There’s also a section on the app for rides you’ve marked as “favourites”, and likewise for rides you’ve downloaded to your device (so you don’t have to stream them while riding).
In all there’s a vast and impressive selection of rides on offer here. Whether you’re looking for something short and flat, or long and hilly, somewhere you’ve ridden before, or somewhere you haven’t, you’re bound to find a ride of interest in the FulGaz library.
Time to train
If you want something a little more focused than simply riding a beautiful stretch of road, FulGaz also offers a range of workouts and training features to help you get the most out of your indoor riding.
At the time of writing, the FulGaz Workout Library features 32 workouts of different lengths and types. Most range from around 45 to 90 minutes in length and feature a series of efforts, as dictated by the app’s “virtual coach”, Bernard.
Bernard “coaches” you via a series of on-screen pop-ups and vocal commands (you can choose from 14 different computer-generated voices — males and females — with a range of accents). Bernard guides you through your warm-up, your intervals, and offers handy tips like reminding you to drink periodically, to pedal smoothly, and to relax your arms. He also makes observations about the road you’re riding, and the weather.
Bernard’s also got your back if you want a challenge while out riding. Simply set the power output you want Bernard to hold for the duration of the ride, and then you can ride “against” your virtual coach. At the bottom of your screen you’ll get continuous time splits showing who’s ahead and by how much. The ride profile at the top of the screen also has markers showing where you and Bernard are on the route, relative to one another.
Ideally, an image of Bernard would be projected onto the road ahead of you, helping add that extra bit of motivation, but augmenting video in this way is not trivial and for the moment at least, time splits and beacons on the route profile are what you’ve got to work with. Even these provide a certain motivation as you ride along, though, trying to keep Bernard behind you.
If you’re looking for a time to beat, you aren’t limited to racing against Bernard and his constant power output either. Challenge mode allows you to load the time of any previous rider to have done the ride you’re on, and ride against them, with time splits just as you get with Bernard.
In addition to the standalone workouts and challenge modes, FulGaz also features two 12-week training programs, one designed to help improve your FTP (which starts and finishes with an effort up the popular Kinglake climb near Melbourne), the other designed to help improve your climbing power and technique. Both programs are available in “Beginner” or “Keen” variants, which specify different volumes and intensity of riding between the prescribed FulGaz sessions.
You can also import your own workouts to FulGaz via BestBikeSplit’s .zwo files. This is a great option if you’ve got a particular workout you want to do with very specific efforts — simply create the workout in BestBikeSplit, import the file to FulGaz via the site’s homepage, and you’re good to go.
The good and the less good
So is FulGaz any good? My initial impressions were certainly positive. For starters, I was impressed with how easy it was to set the system up. It took me mere minutes to download the app, create an account, attach my bike to the Wahoo Kickr, connect the Kickr to my iPhone, then select and start a ride. Truth be told I was expecting more friction during this process.
Connecting my FulGaz and Strava accounts was a cinch too. Rides I finished were already on Strava by the time I’d stopped riding and logged into Strava.
The video quality had me impressed as well. Most rides were shot at 4K resolution with a high-quality action camera, meaning you’ll get smooth, detail-rich videos regardless of the size of screen you’re using. The vast bulk of videos are shot from the rider’s handlebars ensuring they’re steady and don’t jerk around as they would if they were shot from a helmet cam or handheld.
One of my only frustrations with FulGaz was the lack of a Mac app. There’s one for Windows PC, for iOS, for Apple TV and now for Android, but so far there’s no native Mac app. Thankfully there is a workaround you can use to “use” FulGaz on your Mac — use FulGaz on your iPhone or iPad, connect that device to your Mac via Lightning cable, then mirror your iPhone/iPad screen via the New Movie Recording feature in QuickTime Player.
It works, and does allow you to watch the ride video on a bigger screen (go for the biggest screen you can for the most immersive experience), but it is a clunky workaround. You still have to control FulGaz through your phone or tablet, which can be a little confusing when you spend the bulk of the ride watching your computer screen.
I encountered a few other minor frustrations in my time with FulGaz too. The presentation lacks a bit of polish in some areas, like with typos and questionable grammar in Bernard’s on-screen notes. There’s also the fact that when Bernard or the rider you’re challenging is behind you, their time split will show up as a negative time (e.g. -00:03) which is traditionally used to denote when a rider is ahead. I found this a little confusing at first, but I’ll admit it’s a minor concern.
And finally, while riding up Mt. Wellington in Tasmania, Bernard decided to chime in with updates relevant to the previous ride I’d done — Mulholland Drive in California — which made for some rather incongruous commentary. I found this bug persisted even when I closed the app, reloaded it, and started the ride again.
Speaking of Mt. Wellington, perhaps the thing I enjoyed most about FulGaz was how it allowed me to explore the world by bike without leaving the house — quite the blessing in this time of reduced human movement.
For years I’ve had Mt. Wellington on my cycling bucket list and while I almost got the chance to climb it around a decade ago, heavy snowfall prevented that attempt. FulGaz gave me the chance to see what I missed out on.
From the start outside Hobart’s Cascade Brewery, up through the ever-thinning suburbs, into the bush, and then out onto the exposed pinnacle, I was able to experience the mounting fatigue, the building sense of anticipation and the perverse joy of riding up a mountain, all from the comfort and warmth of my home. Sure, riding indoors is never going to feel quite the same as being out there in real life, but for climbs you’ve never done, FulGaz gets you a good chunk of the way there. I certainly finished the ride with a rekindled desire to head back to Tasmania and finally climb the famous mountain.
I also found FulGaz to be a useful reconnaissance tool. It had been a while between visits to the Kinglake climb north of Melbourne and with a PB attempt looming, I was keen to re-acquaint myself with the road before making the journey out there. I rode Kinglake on FulGaz, reminding myself of where the road gets steeper, where I could sit up and take a breather, and what to look out for in terms of landmarks. That virtual refresher certainly helped when I visited in real life a few weeks later.
A subscription to FulGaz will set you back AU$18.99 (US$12 / €11) per month, or AU$157.99 (US$100 / €89) per year, which works out at AU$13.17 (US$8.30 / €7.40) per month. You don’t need to take the plunge right away though — there’s a 14-day free trial available to give you a feel for what the software has to offer.
By contrast, Zwift will cost you AU$21.99 (US$14.99 / €13.40) per month, likewise with a Sufferfest subscription (which is also available for AU$204 per year / US$129 / €115 Euro), while TrainerRoad is AU$31 (US$19.95 / €18) per month or AU$300 (US$189 / €169) per year.
In summary, FulGaz is the cheapest of the four options listed. But of course, the question of value-for-money comes down to more than price alone.
FulGaz vs Zwift
These days we cyclists are spoiled for choice when it comes to indoor training platforms. Zwift, Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, more — there’s no reason to be riding indoors without some sort of useful distraction. But where does FulGaz fit in and how does it stack up?
Well, it depends on what you want out of your indoor training. If you’re looking to ride with and race against others online from all over the world, with a sense of progression as you go, then Zwift is pretty hard to go past. The nature of the FulGaz presentation — real-world video for a single user — means it lacks the social connectivity that a massively multiplayer online training tool like Zwift has.
In my view Zwift also offers a more refined experience than FulGaz, with a cleaner and more appealing user interface, and a generally more polished presentation. But that’s hardly unexpected when you consider the relative size of the FulGaz and Zwift workforces. In terms of how each world actually feels to ride, there’s not much of a difference. Connected to the same smart trainer, both feel the same in how they simulate different gradients and how your effort translates to “in-game” movement.
If you’re looking for a dedicated virtual training solution, with structured workouts and programs, FulGaz does have plenty to offer, but you’ll probably find more depth in something like TrainerRoad or Sufferfest. FulGaz continues to expand its offering in this space, but to my mind, it’s not the platform’s biggest selling point for the average user.
But if you’re looking for real-world riding (Zwift’s recreations of Road World Championship courses don’t count), some pleasant visual distraction while on the trainer, to ride a legendary climb or road you’ve always wanted to, or reconnoitre an upcoming ride, then FulGaz is definitely worth a gander. And given there’s a 14-day free trial available, if you’ve already got a smart trainer, there’s really no reason not to dive in and have a look yourself.