In the indoor cycling space, it’s becoming clear that money is a key easy button to success. Lots of money that is. We have Zwift with its $165.5 million, or Peloton with its $994.7 million (yes, $1 billion dollars). Of course, there are companies like TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest that substitute cargo ships of VC money for longer experience in the space. Or those like KinoMap that simply go with being around the block more times than most others.
And then…there’s CVRcade.
The product was born out of frustrations with relying on Zwift as a racing platform. In fact, you might be more familiar with the CVR Indoor Cycling World Cup Races that have happened over the last few years. These were essentially the first attempts at doing legit esports competitions within indoor cycling. And for the most part, they were successful as a demonstration of what could be done.
But they were always reliant on Zwift. Not just the software, but Zwift as a company as well.
CVR needed more capabilities out of Zwift to support esports in a viable way. All the technical and non-technical stuff you’d expect from a partner organization highlighting your platform. Meanwhile, Zwift saw CVR as someone taking their lunch. Zwift didn’t really want to let another entity make money off their app. Instead, Zwift really wanted to be the only one on stage when it came to cycling esports (as we’ve seen in recent weeks with the Australian eCrit). Each company had their own issues beyond not playing well with each other. CVR was entirely reliant on Zwift for its platform, thus, a challenging long-term business option. And Zwift simply didn’t (nor does it still) have the right platform in place to host these sorts of events. Everything was cobbled together, and it was starting to show.
So the founder of CVR decided to take his millions and go off and build his own indoor cycling platform: CVRcade
If you want a one-stop shop video, then dive into the below:
Or, you can continue on with plenty of text and photos.
Getting it setup:
I had the most structured posting and ‘things to do’ schedule for this week that I’ve ever had around these parts. Mostly because this weekend I leave for over a month of being out of town, and need to ensure everything I need for nearly 6 weeks of products and reviews is either in my suitcase or photographed/shot already.
But when I got the e-mail indicating that CVRcade had opened up its next wave of beta testers and I was among them (after having signed up this past fall like any other person), I figured I’d give it a whirl. I presumed it’d be a quick install and then I’d be off and running…err…cycling.
Oh god, I was so wrong.
Now, of course this is a beta product. But whether Silicon Valley understands it or not, when you roll out a product to thousands of beta users (as CVRcade has noted in their e-mail), there’s a certain level of functionality expected. Most notably, being able to open the darn app. First, I tried on my Mac. Mostly because I figured that’d probably be a cleaner experience. Turns out, not so much.
I couldn’t resize any windows to do anything. After 25 minutes of dorking around, I gave up and moved over to Windows.
This time it worked though. Oh wait, never mind:
Turns out that my installing it on the Mac meant I couldn’t install it on Windows.
First off, it’s a @#$#@ beta! Why is there even a fancy license key at all? Second, what are we, 1998? Who the eff uses license keys during installers these days? Authenticate with a server via account and call it done. After some scrolling I figured out you could actually un-license the other computer from that computer – so thankfully it wasn’t a horrendous situation to undo.
Once I got into the app though, it was time to dig through the menus. There’s actually a ton of them, albeit with a number not yet completed.
In fact, I spent a fair chunk of this video digging through those menus. This video shows off as much of the game as humanly possible up above. From a pairing standpoint, it automatically pairs up with the first trainer/power meter/cadence sensor/HR strap it finds. Thankfully though, if you tap that ANT+ icon in the lower right corner, it’ll allow you to change it to other things:
When it comes to your bike, the default is a wonky motorcycle sorta thing. You can change it, but that seems to require paying money to get to an actual bicycle (at least only motorcycles were offered to me). Flipping through the bike menus, there’s other odd motorcycle looking things:
Apparently though these motorcycles use common bicycle tires, since I can choose from a wide array of well-known brand name bike tires:
There’s a few other bits of profile customization you can do – such as the pressure of said tires, but for the most part things are either super basic, or behind a paywall.
CVRcade has the concept of your home track. They view this just like your home, except, well…rideable. It’s where you can warm-up, host events, or even post pictures of your dog (no really, that’s an exact quote). CVRcade wants this to be one of your social networks, and they see that home world as a place for you to customize as you see fit. You could change the track to have hills or some other aspect. Whatever floats your boat.
The way it works today, once you reach 24KPH, you’re automatically ‘teleported’ to the track of the day world. So if you really like your own home world, don’t ride too hard in it. The teleportation looks like this for a number of seconds:
So take that Zwift, world switching!
Then you randomly land in someone else’s backyard. You can also change to various worlds using the track menu on the upper left side. However, be warned – if you aren’t pedaling, you’ll be kicked out of this world quickly and back to your own. Deportation via the groovy teleportation page is free of charge. Assuming you do start and maintain your pedaling, you’ll see some core stats along the bottom. This includes wattage and heart rate, but also even frame rates and ping times. You can change the camera angle to take in the scenery using the ‘C’ button.
You can control a bit of the direction of where your bike is (such as when cornering) by using the left/right arrow keys. This is also useful for avoiding crashes, because you can do that in CVRcade.
Otherwise, you basically just pedal alone. By yourself. In 1987 NES graphics.
I didn’t see anyone on the main gameplay map of the day, nor any other map I poked at until late in the afternoon (when I saw one CVRcade person, and then another unknown person). And certainly, I get it: Developing a new social network is hard. But with thousands of people invited a mere 2-3 days ago, I’d think there would be at least one other person on this planet willing to give this go.
I pedaled around a bit more, attempting to break the current record noted by ZNN of 4 minutes of riding. As you might expect, riding around in an empty world with poor graphics is kinda boring. At least in an empty Zwift or Road Grand Tours world/map the graphics are enough to largely carry themselves. Plus, I’m also at least riding something that looks like a bike.
I tried out a few other worlds too, including this one which was marginally more appealing. But even that had weird inconsistencies with trainer control. Going up/down inclines the resistance control was way too strong and then was significantly delayed well after I was past the apex of the hill before it started reducing resistance.
Eventually I got bored enough that I decided to go off to a different platform and get in an actual workout.
Now, as bad as the app is overall in terms of wanting to use it, there are some fascinating nuggets in here. Up until this point no money was requested for using it. Meaning that unlike Zwift or others with a monthly subscription fee, this seems to be based more on the purchase of points, which can then be applied to a wide variety of things. So by default, you can ride for free, but then you can pay to get extra stuff. You purchase what are called cadeCOINS, which loosely translate to $10 = 1,000 coins (far better conversion rate than Bitcoin):
From there you can spend them on anything from bikes to structured workouts to courses. It’s all a little bit thin on details, but this is actually the one part of the entire experience that’s most clear:
But here’s where it gets interesting: In-home setup.
See, if you wander far enough into these menus they offer two things:
A) Ability to buy a complete indoor training hardware platform
B) Ability to have some random person come and set it up for you
See, check this out. You can start to go through the menu where it prompts you with which type of experience you want, and then picks the hardware accordingly.
As you go through the menu you’ll get asked a pile of questions, including this bizarre one on whether or not you have a computer:
Given this app only runs on computers, it seems a peculiar question to ask. Albeit, not as odd as asking whether or not you have a bike:
The actual reason it’s asking you this is because you can ‘play’ CVRcade without pedaling a single inch. You can simply use a controller and mash a bunch of buttons. For some reason CVRcade thinks that those of us sweating and gasping for air want to compete against someone holding a slice of pizza while pressing some buttons sitting on a couch. Mmm…pizza.
I suppose the intent here is to pitch these as upsells. And in fact, if you keep going and inserting an address (I selected 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as my test address), it’ll give you an itemized price list, home setup included:
But there’s some quirks in here. Why’s it adding a speed-sensor when the Magnus transmits speed to the app already. And then lower on it adds a trainer skewer, which again, I’m pretty sure the Magnus has inside the box. Never mind that CycleOps stopped making the Magnus some six months ago and now sells the M2 instead.
Still, all of this isn’t all that far from what Zwift has been trying to cobble together over on the Zwift shop. Many have long argued that the entire process of getting set up, including things like ANT+ adapters and extension cords and what-not is a high bar. So CVRcade is aiming to resolve that (apparently using Amazon Home Services). Just like Zwift offers ready-made packages today (minus the home installation bit).
And in fact, the CVRcade home installation bit could actually be quite compelling, depending on how it’s priced and whether the people doing it actually have any meaningful bike-IT experience.
So while this whole section feels like someone in their bedroom put it together after a Mountain Dew-fueled Saturday night, the underlying concepts aren’t that far from what Zwift has been trying to do.
At this juncture, I don’t see many pathways to success for CVRcade as it stands today. However, I’m all about trying to help out companies – so I’ll suggest they follow my bulleted list below for how to get things back on track.
1) Reduce and remove: Way too many half-built/half-thought features. Rip them all out. Yank out workouts, training plans, and even home world. Nobody wants to ride past a random internet dude’s dog pics. That’s why we closed the Facebook tab and got on the trainer. You’ve spread yourself way too thin here “trying to be a social network” (your precise words in a recent live stream), and thus instead of having a few great things, you have a massive pile of sucky things.
2) Make it pretty: I get it, CVRcade sounds cool. Retro even. But in the grand scheme of things, it looks hideous. If you wanted to make a retro arcade app, then simplify it all. A handful of routes, simple, simple simple. That’s what people *like* about old school arcade and retro games.
3) Get rid of the motorcycles: Seriously, be a bike app, or a motorsports app. You’re never going to attract the high-end races you’re all about when their bikes look like motorcycles from F-Zero.
4) Get rid of map building: Down the road, maybe. But for now there’s zero reason why any regular user should stumble into this portion of the app to try and build their own maps. Sure, that’d be awesome in Zwift to build your own tracks. But today it’s just distracting.
5) Stop teleporting me: If I wanted to be deported I’d (insert your own joke here). I came to ride my bike at whatever speed I wanted on the map I selected.
6) Re-think cadeCOINS: I get it, you need to make money (and I totally support that, versus the VC route). But right now it’s still confusing as to what’s going to cost money and what isn’t. Deal with making money after you make the app appetizing. That’s what the beta period is for.
7) Go to a bike shop: Seriously, take this game to your local bike shop and ask if they can set it up for the day. Then, ask real people what they think after 60 seconds of riding it. Consider that feedback as real user feedback, not paid athlete feedback that tells you what you want to hear.
8) Remember what made Zwift popular: Sure, Zwift had/has money to throw at things, but one of the key things that drove people to Zwift initially over Bkool was the graphics. Back in the day, the Bkool graphics was blah at best (now it’s better). CVRcade graphics are horrible compared to what Bkool offered then. I’ve said it a hundred times before: Ugly apps don’t win. Confusing UI apps don’t win. Nobody wants to use something that’s both confusing and ugly.
9) Get rid of the license key as part of install: There’s no reason for this. Period. Either you trust in your cadeCOINS or not. If not, then why are you using them?
10) Yes, I noticed you can race without riding (just using a keyboard): Why? It’s either a cycling app where you get hot and sweaty or it’s not.
Ok, I think that’s my main thoughts for now.
Now – lest you think I’m some huge fan of Zwift, then you should probably read more of my stuff. Within this very realm of indoor trainer racing, I have serious concerns about Zwift’s own arrival into sanctioned cycling events and such over the last few weeks (which I’m saving for another post). And hey, at least CVRcade has world switching. So there’s that.
Still, many people have been looking at CVRcade as some sort of way to flee Zwift. As I saw today, that’s simply not a practical avenue. There are far better alternatives in Road Grand Tours, Rouvy, and VirtuGO, plus non-racing apps like The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, and Kinomap. CVR certainly has the money to address the problems they have, but I think that’s going to take a serious change in direction, and realization that what they’re building today isn’t going to attract many cycling fans.
With that – thanks for reading!