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No traffic lights and virtual barbecues: cycling becomes an indoor sport

One of a range of online cycling apps, Zwift allows riders with an indoor trainer to feel like they are inside a video game and ride at least as hard as they would on the road.

“There’s no coasting, no traffic lights to stop at, no chitchat and you break out in a sweat really quickly,” Ms Cogle said.

As boxer dogs Torben and Bodhi wait patiently on a nearby beanbag, the couple join races with riders from around the world or hammer out training sessions over different courses.

The Cogles' avatars on a Zwift screen during an indoor training ride.

The Cogles’ avatars on a Zwift screen during an indoor training ride. Credit:Natasha and Holly Cogle

Bicycle NSW says outdoor riding is still allowed for exercise, commuting, shopping and care-giving with social distancing for a maximum of two riders or a family group from the same household but the coronavirus crisis is changing the sport like so much else.

The general manager of the national chain 99 Bikes, Andrew Garnsworthy, says its 47 stores sold out of indoor trainers in two days when isolation seemed imminent.

Instead of normally selling 700 indoor trainers a month as winter approaches, the chain sold 2300 last month alone. That was everything in stock, including high-end smart trainers costing up to $1800 that adjust resistance during rides.

“Smart trainers were the first ones to sell out, just because they’re easier to set up. They’re more interactive and they simulate riding better from a feeling perspective,” Mr Garnsworthy said.

People have also been buying more bikes for certain types of outdoor riding: commuter bikes for people wanting to avoid public transport, electric bikes for food delivery and bikes for families.

“With gyms and pools shut and school sport on indefinite hold, there are more families riding outdoors,” Mr Garnsworthy said.

"There's no coasting, no traffic lights to stop at, no chit-chat and you break out in a sweat really quickly": cyclists Holly (left) and Natasha Cogle.

“There’s no coasting, no traffic lights to stop at, no chit-chat and you break out in a sweat really quickly”: cyclists Holly (left) and Natasha Cogle.Credit:Natasha and Holly Cogle

For more serious cyclists, indoor training proved its value when veteran Australian professional Mathew Hayman, who had to stop riding outdoors for six weeks with a broken elbow, won France’s famously brutal Paris-Roubaix race in 2016.

Virtual racing has become a novel option for pros now that Europe’s spring classics have been either postponed or cancelled.

Rio Olympic gold medallist Greg Van Avermaet won a virtual Tour of Flanders from his attic in Belgium as fans, watching online, cheered in the street outside.

With the epic Race Across America in June also cancelled, Australian journalist and endurance cyclist Rupert Guinness is planning to ride a virtual version.

A virtual Greg Van Avermaet and, inset, the man himself in his attic in Belgium, on his way to winning the virtual Tour of Flanders on the indoor riding platform Bkool on April 5.

A virtual Greg Van Avermaet and, inset, the man himself in his attic in Belgium, on his way to winning the virtual Tour of Flanders on the indoor riding platform Bkool on April 5.Credit:GCN Racing

Ms Cogle, who was part of a triumphant Australian women’s team at Ride Across America in 2015, has enjoyed Zwift’s social side.

“The chat function is quite fun and there’s camaraderie and you see pros popping up now,” she said. “There are women-only rides and there’s also a social Sunday ride, which is basically a virtual barbecue with beers.”

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