The little known history of indoor racing
(and what's next is easier than ever)
The first indoor rowing race took place in the winter of 1982 at the Harvard Boathouse. Indoor racing was an immediate hit, and by 1983 the first indoor race software was developed. Exervision predated the Performance Monitor and ran on a Commodore 64 using magnetic sensors attached to the flywheel. When the PM1 came along a few years later, Exervision was replaced by the Video Performance Monitor system, an integrated standalone system used by many of the big indoor races, but that was too expensive and bulky for casual use.
The release of the PM2+ in 1998 allowed machines to be connected together with e-Row on a PC. e-Row also supported racing on the internet, and while the last millennium was arguably a bit early for virtual racing, it still had plenty of devoted followers. It wasn’t until 2010 that the e-Row race server was finally decommissioned.
The next big leap forward for racing was in 2004, when the PM2+ and e-Row were replaced by the PM3 and the Venue Race Application. This introduced most of the things still familiar at indoor races today, from the “Sit Ready, Attention, ROW” countdown sequence, to the dreaded horn sound and the yellow boats nosing their way across the screen.
After 15 years of sterling service, Venue Race was replaced by ErgRace. ErgRace brought indoor racing software up-to-date, and we started to explore further possibilities, including getting back into the virtual racing game.
So what's next? ErgRace Online!
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic saw indoor racing grind to a halt. With race organizers around the world looking for solutions to replace their usual events, virtual racing became a priority project and we started working on ErgRace Online.
We’re excited to be able to now offer it to anyone who wants to run an online race. ErgRace Online gives people the ability to create and run their own virtual competitions. There is no charge for using ErgRace Online.
One of the events that has already used ErgRace Online was the Fool’s Fest Sprints in April. According to race director Mia Zierk, "ErgRace Online makes virtual racing real. You get the same experience as being at an in-person event right in your own home. The app is super easy to use. We put it to the test at Fool's Fest Sprints and it was a great success. Racers really enjoyed getting to compete just like they would if they were all in the same venue. ErgRace Online is also a great opportunity to row with friends and have accountability buddies. We use it for twice a week training and it is perfect. You row better when you row with others and ErgRace Online makes that easy to accomplish. Best part, all your data is automatically uploaded to your Concept2 Logbook so it also pairs with Strava. We are big fans of the app here in Chicago at Fool's Fest Sprints."
From the start, we wanted online racing to provide as close an experience as possible to racing in a venue. This meant that what you see on your monitor should be the same as in a venue and making sure that, no matter where you were in the world, everyone would start at the same time and be able to follow each other’s progress.
We also wanted to make it as easy as possible for race organizers to use, and to give them the flexibility of running a range of different types of race whenever they wanted. As a race organizer, there’s no software to download. You run your races entirely online via the ErgRace Online admin site. After the organizer creates a competition, they get a unique 10-digit code for that competition that just needs to be given to all the athletes taking part.
Each competition will have one or more races; you can either create the races in advance, so that the athletes are entered automatically, or for smaller races, you can add them manually once they’ve connected. Race organizers can follow the race in their browser, and it’s possible to publicize the live view for spectators.
We also wanted to make it simple for athletes to take part, which meant not requiring the use of a laptop or USB cables. As a competitor, all you need is a PM5, our new mobile ErgRace app (available for iOS and Android) and an internet connection. The boat display on the app will be familiar to everyone who has raced in a venue, and you’ll see how far ahead or behind you are from your rivals. Immediately after the end of the race, you’ll get the results online in the app, while your individual result will be sent to your Logbook.
If you’ve been invited to take part in a race, check out our ErgRace Online for Competitors page, which has all the information you’ll need, along with how to test your system requirements to make sure everything is up-to-date.
The initial focus for ErgRace Online is providing a free and open solution for virtual races. In the future we hope to allow a wider variety of workouts to be run on ErgRace Online, including interval workouts and mixed erg Ergathlons, making it a solution for group training online as well.
With over 40 years of indoor racing behind us, we’re excited to see what online competitions mean for the future. If you’re using ErgRace Online for your event, or if you have any questions, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, where our dedicated team will be happy to help.