As the centenary Tour de France kicked off a few of weeks ago, I decided that it was the perfect time to test ProForm’s Le Tour de France training bike. What better time to review the officially licenced indoor bike than when the peleton is flying through Europe?
Like so many keen cyclists, I find riding stationary training bikes quite boring. Almost everything that makes cycling so compelling and enjoyable is removed from the equation, leaving only the physical effort to contend with. But sometimes there’s no choice, and the option of heading outside for a proper ride simply isn’t there. The answer is finding a training bike that can make those hours in the virtual saddle if not enjoyable, at least bearable.
The ProForm Le Tour de France training bike aims to do just that – create an indoor cycling experience that’s as close to the real thing as possible – and for the most part, it fulfils that role admirably. But before you can even think about spinning those cranks, you’ll have to undertake a bit of DIY to get the bike built in the first place.
Having recently built the NordicTrack T14.2 treadmill, getting the Tour de France training bike out of the box and setup was a walk in the park. You probably want to factor in an hour or so to get it built, but it’s a pretty straightforward procedure. Just make sure that you don’t pinch any of the cables when attaching the handlebars and console – if you do, you’ll be dismantling and rerouting cables before you can climb aboard.
Talking of climbing aboard, ProForm has designed the bike to be pretty adjustable, at least by stationary bike standards. You can adjust the height of the saddle as well as the layback. You can also raise and lower the handlebars, but you can’t move them closer or further from the saddle.
If you really want to personalise the feel of the bike you can replace the bundled saddle with one that matches what’s on your own bike, thus ensuring that you’re as comfortable indoors as you are out on the road. Likewise, you can ditch the bundled pedals and slap on a pair of your favourite clipless pedals and use your regular cycling shoes
So what makes the Tour de France different from every other stationary bike you’ve used at home or in the gym? Quite a lot as it happens. For a start, this bike has built-in Wi-Fi, not so you can browse the web while you’re training, but so that you can make use of the integrated iFit Live functionality.
If you read my review of the NordicTrack T14.2 treadmill, you’ll already know about iFit Live and how it can revolutionise the way you train indoors. But with the Tour de France bike, iFit Live is an even more integral part of the package
After you’ve created your iFit Live account online, you can then sign into your account on the Tour de France bike. Once you’re signed in, you’ll have the option to perform your next scheduled workout. That workout could be chosen from the plethora options built into iFit, some of which are part of a complete training programme, or you can create your own custom workout. Thanks to the integration of Google Maps into iFit, you can simply plot a route anywhere in the world and have it sent direct to the Tour de France bike.
The beauty of iFit Live is that you can plot the exact rides that you usually do in the real world and send them to the bike. So, if it happens to be snowing, or if you don’t get a chance to do any exercise until late at night, you can still ride the exact route that you want.
Plotting your route via Google Maps also factors in elevation, which gives you an even more realistic experience. And this is where another of the Tour de France bike’s killer features rears its head – the bike can physically tilt forwards and backwards by up to 20 degrees. So, you’ll be able to tell when you’re hitting your regular climbs or descents, because the bike itself will tip backwards or forwards.
The level of resistance will also change according to the incline or decline of your chosen route, but again ProForm has added something extra to the equation. Unlike other stationary exercise bikes, the Tour de France bike gives you the option of changing gear to alter your effort and cadence.
There are shifters located on the handlebars, with the right shifter changing the rear cogs and the left switching between chainrings – just like on a real bike. You can even choose your preferred gear ratios, and whether you want a double or triple chainset
Although being able to change gear during your virtual ride is an undoubtedly cool feature, the shifts aren’t as smooth as you’re probably used to on your proper bike. There’s a noticeable delay between shifting and the resistance changing, which can cause you to change further up or down the block than you needed to by mistake. It’s a learning process though, and once you realise that that you need to wait a second or two for the new gear to engage, you can try to change a bit earlier, so that you’re in the right gear when the terrain changes.
Of course judging when the elevation will change is far easier when you’re out on the road than when you’re at home, but iFit Live does its best to address that problem. If attach the optional iPad mount to the bike you’ll be able to visualise your ride via Google Street View, which should give you a reasonable idea of when the terrain is about to change, especially if you’re riding one of your regular routes. Obviously Street View isn’t real-time video, so there will still be some guess work involved, but as you ride a route more often, you’ll learn when you should be shifting.
Although the route plotting via Google Maps is pretty accurate, don’t expect your times on the Tour de France bike to reflect your real world rides. I was somewhat surprised to find that a route that normally takes me around an hour on the road, took me close to 20-minutes longer on the Le Tour de France training bike. Riding this bike is hard work, and it’s definitely worth having a towel handy because you’re likely to be sweating buckets within the first few miles.
If you don’t want to plot your own route or download one from the iFit library, the Tour de France bike has lots of options built into it. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of Tour de France stages to choose from, although if you’re worried about having to drag yourself around the Alps for 200km, don’t be. Each selectable Tour stage is made up of a small section of the actual stage, but most of them include a decent mix of terrain to contend with.
The Le Tour de France bike has a built-in power meter, so you can also train based on the Watts you’re producing. Considering that a power meter for your real bike will cost you in excess of £1,000, having that functionality built into your training bike is pretty handy.
The screen built into the console can display all manner of other information too – cadence, speed, distance and of course heart rate. There’s no heart rate sensor chest belt bundled with the bike, which is surprising considering that the NordicTrack T14.2 treadmill came with one. That said, given that this bike is likely to appeal to at least reasonably serious cyclists, perhaps ProForm expects potential customers to already have a compatible Polar heart rate sensor – I think I’ve got about five!
You can cycle (no pun intended) through a plethora of different info screens while you’re riding – just like you can with a decent bike computer. The default screen shows a map of your route and your current position, along with your power and cadence readings below it. But you can also view your speed, distance, heart rate, workout time etc. You can’t customise your own info screens, but it’s not as much of an issue having to switch between info screens on a stationary bike as it is on a real one.
So what’s the Le Tour de France bike like to ride? Better than any stationary bike I’ve ridden before, that’s for sure. It’s also incredibly quiet, making almost no noise whatsoever no matter how fast you’re riding. The tilting motion when you encounter an incline or decline is a little disconcerting at first, especially the first time you find yourself pitched forward for a steep descent. But once you’re used to the sensation, it really adds something to the indoor cycling experience.
You’ll also need to make sure that you’re wearing a decent pair of cycling shorts, because you tend to spend more time in the saddle on an indoor trainer than you do on your real bike. That’s not to say that you can’t get off the saddle to power up a particularly tough climb, but the Tour de France bike does seem to respond better to steady, fluid motion rather than stamping on the pedals in a big (virtual) ring.
The Le Tour de France training bike isn’t perfect though, and there are a few niggles that could be improved upon. The biggest issue for me is that the bike doesn’t really take into account declines on your ride – okay, it will reduce the resistance when you hit a descent, but it won’t factor in that you’d be accelerating even without peddling. If you stop peddling on a steep descent, you’ll slow down and stop, when in the real world you’d continue to gain speed.
That delay when changing gear is also a bit frustrating at times, especially when you’re sweeping from a fast descent into a steep ascent. And because of the delay, you’re sometimes not sure if the gear change was even registered – there is an audible beep that accompanies the shift, but if you’re training with headphones on, you won’t be able to hear it.
The foam that coats the handlebars can also become incredibly slippery once you start to build up a sweat, making it hard to maintain a good grip, especially when you’re really pushing yourself. That said, if you remember to wear a pair of mitts whenever you climb aboard, you can avoid that problem.
Another annoyance is the lack of persistent memory in the console. This means that if you completely unplug the bike from the mains after each use (as the instruction manual tells you to), you need to enter your iFit login details all over again when you use the bike next. That might not sound like a big issue, but since the console doesn’t have a touchscreen, entering a long username and password is a real chore.
None of those issues are enough to spoil the party, at least as far as I’m concerned, so the big question is whether it’s worth the asking price. The ProForm Le Tour de France training bike has a MSRP of £1,299, but right now it can be picked up for £999 thanks to a special offer to commemorate the 100th Tour.
Although that might seem expensive to some of you, it’s relative to how much you spend on your other cycling kit. If you’re thinking “that’s more than my bike cost,” this probably isn’t the training bike for you. But if you regularly climb aboard a two-wheeled masterpiece that costs more than a small car, the price of the Tour de France bike will seem fairly reasonable.
Personally, I think that ProForm has made the Tour de France bike a compelling enough proposition to justify its price. And, I’d much rather have one of these in my house than be slapping my Litespeed on a turbo-trainer in the winter.
Just as I pointed out in my review of the NordicTrack T14.2 treadmill, though, you need to be completely sure that you’ll use a device like this before investing such a significant amount of cash. As with any home gym equipment, the Tour de France training bike will only help you improve your cycling performance if you actually use it.
ProForm has tried very hard to make an indoor training bike that’s actually fun and exciting to ride. On many levels it has succeeded in that goal, and even the issues I do have with this bike aren’t what I’d consider to be major failings.
The iFit Live integration is very well implemented and makes it even less of a chore to spend a couple of hours in the virtual saddle when you can’t get out on the roads.
The inclusion of a gearing system with handlebar-mounted shifters is another great feature, as is the 20 degrees of physical tilting forwards and backwards to simulate climbs and descents.
If you need to keep the cranks turning but struggle to get out regularly, the Tour de France training bike is well worth considering. Even if you’ve found stationary bikes to be boring and uninspiring in the past, this one offers an array of unique features that could make all the difference.
- Real incline and decline to match your virtual ride
- Adjustable gear ratios
- Gear shifters mounted on handlebars
- Great array of real Tour de France stages included
- Excellent iFit Live integration
- One year iFit Live membership included
- Built-in power meter
- Heart rate monitoring
- Near silent operation
- Very adjustable setup
- Can use your own saddle and pedals
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Automatically saves rides to iFit account
- No real momentum when heading downhill
- No heart rate sensor bundled.
- Discernable lag when changing gears
- iPad mount is an optional extra
- iPad mount only compatible with 10in iPads
You need to re-enter your iFit login details every ride
Manufacturer: ProForm Fitness
Update: On my last couple of rides I haven’t needed to re-enter my iFit login details when I turned the bike on. I’m not sure whether there was some kind of glitch before, or if this issue has been fixed with a firmware update, but at least now it seems that I can unplug the Tour de France bike without facing the chore of entering my iFit account name and password.