Interview: Chuck Wurster
- Vice President Computrainer
Hazen Kent - Tri-Newbies
1992, while hanging out at the local bike shop in
Charleston, SC, I had the opportunity to observe the
shop owner demonstrate a fascinating bicycle trainer
that displayed incredible images and statistical data
via a television screen. I was blown away! It was my
first exposure to a CompuTrainer™ and a year later, I
purchased my very own. At that time, the graphics were
supported through a NintendoÒ and the SpinScan™ software came loaded on the classic
5-inch cardboard floppy discs. Well, 11 years later
(light-years in techy terms!), I am training on the
newest version of CompuTrainer™, but my original
machine is still going strong!
Since 1986, the folks at RacerMate, creators of the
CompuTrainer™ have been providing the cycling and
triathlon industry with the most up-to-date interactive
tools for indoor bicycle training. Others have tried to
duplicate their quality and sophistication, but none
have risen to meet the challenge.
I had the opportunity to share some time with Chuck
Wurster, Vice President at RacerMate and gain some
insight about the genius behind this incredible cycling
I remember first seeing a CompuTrainer™ demonstrated
back in 1992. I
was blown away! Shortly thereafter, I purchased my own.
Who was the mastermind behind the creation of this
incredible training tool?
How did the idea of a high tech, stationary
bicycle trainer come about?
Originally, we were [and still are] in
the marine electronic instrumentation business for
gasoline and diesel engines. Which is why our approach
from the onset has been heavily technical. We started
the business back in 1969 under the name of FloScan
Instrument Company. Then, in 1976 Wilford Baatz, my
colleague and a mechanical design engineer, invented the
first wind trainer…
Really! No kidding!…
Yea…He introduced the wind trainer at
the Los Angeles bike show. Over the next few years, we
built up our sales to 20-30 thousand trainers per year.
However, by then, the competition started rolling in and
within a couple of years there were about 10-12
different manufacturers in the wind trainer business.
Eventually, one of the Japanese manufacturers developed
the magnetic trainer. This was a much quieter machine
and put a real dent in our wind trainer sales. We felt
that this was the beginning of the demise of the wind
trainer business. So, we decided to go one better. We
thought to ourselves…”if the quietness of a magnetic
trainer is the appealing factor [in this industry], we
will build an electromagnetic trainer that will be
computer controlled.” Consequently, the resulting
product was the first CompuTrainer™.
So was the first CompuTrainer™ a NintendoÒ-backed
machine at that point?
Actually, the earliest models were
backed by the Commodore 64! And then it went to Nintendo®
and then eventually to the PC.
And when did you come aboard?
I was actually the first corporate
employee in 1969.
So how did you all go from creating marine instruments
to include computer
Wilford [Baatz] was a cyclist in his
youth and the genesis of the wind trainer was based on
the fact that we reside in Seattle (rainy winters!). He had a
brand new custom built frame and wanted a means to train
during the winter months without getting out on the wet
roads so he invented the wind trainer!
It was around 1996 that you all made the jump to 3D
imaging and began to move away from the
Nintendo/television combination and more towards the PC.
Although the computer industry was definitely booming at
that time, computers were still not a household item
like they are today.
And moving from something that every house could
have [television version backed by a Nintendo® game
box] to a computer version seems like a bold move. This
obviously took some foresight. How did that come about?
actually, Nintendo® discontinued their original game
boxes and we were able to use these discontinued boxes
and neuter them to apply to our needs. Keep in mind, by
doing this, it allowed us to use their product without
having a corporate relationship. Unfortunately as
Nintendo® became popular, their technology began to
improve resulting in better equipment. Add to that the
fact that this bicycle type business (computer
stationary trainers) has such small volumes relative to
the gaming industry [even at that time] that we were
never going to get a company like Nintendo® or Sony®
to work with us. So we had to make some hard decisions
if we were going to continue developing our product.
Nintendo® eventually quit making the original boxes all
together and we could not use their newer equipment so
we had to turn to a general computer. Which actually
enabled us to use better graphics. And yes, it was a
bold move. It cost us the better part of a $1,000,000 to
move to a PC backed product with all the software
And as you mentioned, moving to the PC enhanced the
graphics of the CompuTrainer™, which really took it
to an entirely new level.
The graphics were originally created by
Jim Sachs, who is arguably one of the top five computer
graphic artists in the world. Fortunately, we just
happened to be lucky enough to catch him at a time when
he had some free time.
I remember visiting the CompuTrainer™ tent at Ironman® Florida 2001 and seeing a demo
of the 3D version on a laptop and was amazed at the
clarity of the graphics. Which adds a whole new
dimension of quality and portability!
Absolutely. Originally, we used to carry
around a computer and a television monitor to the
events. However, today, we simply take along a laptop.
With the quality of today’s laptop and the video cards
that come standard with these computers, it’s a
no-brainer. But understand, any contemporary computer
has the adequate computing power to run a CompuTrainer™.
The difference of quality, especially for the 3D
software lies in the quality of video card within the
computer. And obviously, there are some cards out there
that are better than others.
I would assume that the CompuTrainer™ has been popular among professional cyclists and
cycling teams? But it would appear that it has made a
huge impact on the triathlon industry? Where do you find
the trend is heading today – more towards triathlon or
is the cycling industry still dominate?
For us, actually, the cycling industry
has never been a huge factor in the sales of our
product. It certainly did during our wind trainer days,
which was long before the days of triathlon, but we
assumed of course, when we created the CompuTrainer™,
that it would be the cycling market that would run with
it. However, it turned out that that wasn’t so. So we
looked around for other markets and happened upon the
triathlon market during the early days of the sport (the
mid to late 80’s). And triathletes seem to take to it
right away. It became apparent that time was and
still is a large factor for triathletes in terms of
training. Triathletes have to train for three sports and
the CompuTrainer™ saves a great deal of time allowing
you the ability to actually schedule when you want to do
your bicycle training. Then as time went on, we found
that triathletes were pretty techy as well and were
willing to try the latest gadget. When they tried the
CompuTrainer™, they discovered that it improved their
performance by 20-30%. Eventually, pro triathletes began
to approach us. And now we have 50-70 professional
triathletes using our product. And in fact, this
year’s female U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team – Barb
Lindquist, Sheila Taormina and Susan Williams - were all
And for the 2000 Olympics, 5 out of the six men
and women competing in triathlon were CompuTrainer™
users as well. They just found it was an indispensable
tool for top-notch performance.
It really has become a testing center or “lab” for
the serious cyclist. You can work on efficiency as
related to bike position and pedal stroke, it provides
data regarding watts, cadence, balance, heart rate, as
well as the ability to motor pace, time trail against
another rider, climb hills up to a 15% grade and more!
All without the danger of automobiles or the high cost
of a real exercise lab. And through a variety of
statistical data, you can receive immediate feedback. I
imagine it has become a popular tool for Triathlete
coaches as well?
Our ambition is of course to have every
coach [triathlon and cycling] using a CompuTrainer™ as
part of their testing and training gear. Today, there
are probably in the neighborhood of 400 coaches in the
country using the CompuTrainer™ and we continue to
sell our product to coaches each week. And not only are
the independent coaches using it, but organized groups
are using the CompuTrainer™ as well. In fact, the
Canadian Cycling Association has been using it for years
as their primary testing and training tool and use it
perhaps more extensively then any other organized group.
But it is quickly becoming popular among many of
today’s USAT and USA Cycling coaches.
And with the development of our Multi-Rider
Software™ (which we discuss later in
this interview) we may see things take a more
cycling-oriented direction. There is an ad currently in
VeloNews® showing a
Multi-Rider™ set up in Philadelphia and
its amazing how may cyclists have called us in response
to the ad. And if that catches on, which it looks like
it will, it could very much push the interest into the
cycling industry in a much stronger way. As a matter of
fact, we have people in Holland who want to set up
multi-rider cycling centers which is the first time we
have gotten independent interest in Europe. We have been
pretty strong in England but up until now, nothing
In the past couple of years, you all have introduced
some new items to your arsenal of high tech indoor
cycling training aids…
When I bought my first CompuTrainer™ back in 1993 , I
went out, and purchased topographical maps (topo maps)
of the various areas where I planned on racing. I then
called you guys for the formula for figuring percent of
grade and created my own courses. The only problem was,
I had these huge 2’ x 4’ maps spread out all over my
floor (like a puzzle) while running my little measuring
wheel along the highlighted race course. It took
forever! Then, in 2000, you all came out with your TOPO
Software™, which pretty much allows anyone to build
any course they wish from around the United States at
the push of a button (so to speak).
company we work with is called DeLORME - one of the
leaders in the field of topographical mapping and
software - located in Maine. They have topographical
software discs for the entire United States. And we
collaborated with them on an exclusive basis where by
they have modified their software so the user can
delineate a course on their software, then their
software exports to us the longitude, latitude and
altitude points every few feet on the course and our
course creation software automatically takes all that
data and converts it into a three dimensional course.
And what is exciting is, not only do we create courses
here for our site and our customers, the triathletes
have provided excellent courses as well. We have created
the bike courses from many of the major races from
around the country including the Ironman® races and
well known olympic distance races and we continue
building courses. We even went to Athens and surveyed
with our own altimeter the Athen’s Olympic bike course
for the US athletes, which is available to the public as
well. Today there are a couple hundred courses that we
have built (and we are continually adding courses to our
website) that come loaded on the CD ROM with your
CompuTrainer. But if there is a race or races we do not
have, the individual can purchase the topo map discs and
build their own course via our software.
Then you developed the Velotron™ in 2002.
Is this more of a commercial grade product?
Well, it is certainly a bit
more expensive than a CompuTrainer™. It sells for about $5000-7000 depending upon
how it is equipped. It is more accurate than a
CompuTrainer™ and is primarily used in
the sports science field. However, there are individuals
of which the cost is not a concern who simply want the
best and who have invested in their own Velotron™.
But it is primarily becoming the bicycle ergometer for
universities and sports science labs around the country
And recently the development of the adjustable crankset…
This we developed because it
goes so well with either the CompuTrainer™ or Velotron™. After all, these are both scientific quality
ergometers. And if you want to determine what your
optimum crank length is, what better way than to be able
to sit on a CompuTrainer™ and read your results (i.e.
efficiency/wattage/output) at various lengths to
determine what is best for you.
Probably the coolest thing you all have launched is the Multi-Rider
Software™. I remember a couple of years
ago, during a phone conversation, you mentioned you all
were working on a software package based on the concept
of team time trailing with the CompuTrainer™.
The idea being, several riders could ride and race
together and against each other indoors. Since that time
the idea has become reality and the popularity has
exploded. Please explain this concept and how far has it
concept really developed about 10 years ago. At that
time, during the early years of the Internet, we thought
it would be neat for multiple cyclists to race over the
phone - modem racing! So, we built the software, it
worked and it was fun. But, it never really caught on
and we didn’t really push it. More recently, about 2
years ago, Team Psycho in Boston came to us. They wanted
to do for their wintertime bicycle training what Concept
2 Inc. (manufactures of the Concept 2™ Rowing Machine)
has done for rowers worldwide. For over 10 years,
Concept 2 has been holding indoor rowing competitions
nationwide and worldwide (some events being held at MIT
in the Boston area) and some of the members of Team
Psycho wanted to do something similar with their
CompuTrainer™. So, one of the team members tried this
in his garage with three or four CompuTrainers™, and
all who participated loved it! Consequently, they
contacted us and asked if we’d be interested in the
further development of this concept. And we said yes.
About the same time, we found out there was a bike club
in Chicago that had been running indoor time trials for
about 5 years. So these two experiences indicated to us
that this multi-rider idea might lead to something. So
we decided to generate special software to make it
easier to accomplish the task of handling more than two
riders. Our previous software could only handle two
riders with two CompuTrainers™ so if you wanted to
race eight people you had to rig up eight different
CompuTrainers™ to four computers, which really was a
logistical nightmare. So we created the software and a
USB hub that would allow 8 CompuTrainers™ to run
(through the hub) off one computer, which we completed
this year (2004). Now there are about 10 groups around
the US and one in Canada that are involved and sure
enough, it has been a big success. And everybody has
loved it! Not only did they like it in terms of
assessing their performance, but they really enjoyed
being in a group environment similar to a spinning
Specifically, you can have as many as
eight cyclists viewing one screen displaying all eight
lined up along the starting line with each rider having
his/her own lane complete with a variety of statistical
data provided for each lane.
The screen says “ready, set, go…” and
everyone takes off! And each of the riders and can see
how they are doing relative to each or all of the
now you guys are marketing an entire
Multi-Rider™ package which consists of
eight CompuTrainers™, the USB hub, etc. for a
specific fee…basically a Training Studio?
Exactly, we are selling a training
studio! And we are getting all kinds of interest in
having these studios set up by individuals, teams and
coaches. Which has also helped generate more interest in
the cycling industry as well. Initially we discovered
that cyclists weren’t as enthusiastic as triathetes
about indoor training for whatever reason. But they are
certainly interested in having fun and racing and
training together. It’s the combination of a group
training activity with the fact that it makes indoor
training fun that has really led to its popularity.
And this is probably the next to last
step for us in developing the software for real time
internet or online bike racing where you have multiple
individuals from around the country and world racing
each other in real time via this Multi-Rider Software™.
Wow! How cool would that
be, to get together with eight friends from around the
country or world and train together as often as you’d
like! As a CompuTrainer owner, I can’t wait! I’d
like to thank Chuck Wurster for providing us with the
inside scoop behind the genius of the Computrainer
and for all of his support of Tri-Newbies Online
and friendship over the past few years.