FloBikes: Review and buyer's guide for cyclocross fans

December 20, 2020

FloBikes: Review and buyer's guide for cyclocross fans

On December 8, 2020 FloBikes, an over-the-top streaming service, announced a new 4 year deal to stream the UCI World Championships including road, cyclocross, track, BMX, mountain bike, and urban cycling; plus the Telenet cyclocross World Cup, as well as the UCI Esports World Championship to fans in the United States.

New, 4 year streaming deal is good news for cyclocross fans

This is massive news for 'cross fans, because the cyclocross World Cup was previously carried by NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, before being dropped ahead of the Fall 2020 season - leaving fans no legitimate way to watch. With the new FloBikes deal, those races will be available to USA fans once again, in addition to the large list of other races already under the FloBikes umbrella, like the Giro d'Italia, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders ("de Ronde".)

I chatted with Ian Dille, Senior Producer for FloBikes about this announcement and what cycling fans, especially cyclocross fans, should expect from the FloBikes subscription service. Ian has a rich background in cycling, as a former USA national team member and domestic pro on the road for the Sierra Nevada cycling team.

“People who sign up for FloBikes tend to be die-hard racing fans and they watch a lot of bike racing”.

- Ian Dille, Senior Producer, FloBikes

You may have seen Ian riding with the Telenet Lions during a guest training session on the FloBikes YouTube channel. 

Background

Although FloSports offers their subscription package worldwide, this article is written from the focus of a United States customer. Availability of specific races varies based on your location: for example, FloBikes has the rights to broadcast the Tour de France in Canada, but not the United States.

Depending on your location, you may find more, or fewer, events available to you. If you aren't in the USA, check carefully to make sure you will have access to the events you expect before subscribing. 

About FloBikes / FloSports

FloSports is an OTT ("over-the-top") streaming provider - delivering content over the internet instead of a traditional cable TV or satellite package. FloBikes is just one of many sports under the FloSports umbrella - they cover more than 25 sports including wrestling, hockey, competitive cheerleading, and grassroots motorsports - too many to list here.

FloSports was founded in 2006, and added FloBikes with cycling coverage in 2017. There are currently about 300 employees working at FloSports across 25+ sports, with nearly 400,000 subscribers. Dille serves as the SME (subject matter expert) for cycling inside the parent FloSports organization, curating and creating cycling content, writing, and occasionally appearing on-camera. 

Like GCN's Race Pass or NBC Sports Gold Cycling, FloBikes/FloSports content is not tied to a cable to satellite subscription, perfect for "cord-cutters" who no longer pay for traditional TV subscription packages (see my separate review of GNC Race Pass.)

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including outright race cancellations and rescheduling to later in the season, FloSports appears to be thriving; growing year-over-year subscribers on their FloBikes platform by over 122% in 2020.

What you get with a FloBikes subscription

Let's take a look at what's on the FloBikes streaming calendar for the remainder of 2020, and looking ahead in 2021.

First on the list for 'cross fans will be the previously mentioned UCI Cyclocross World Championship and World Cup series. The COVID-19 pandemic trimmed the World Cup from a planned 14 races to 5 this year, but as we look to 2021 and a more normal racing calendar resumes, it's clear there is a lot of cyclocross value here - 15-ish world-class 'cross races over the next year coming on FloBikes.

Cyclocross has been popular among FloBikes subscribers, Ian shared with me that about 40% of their subscribers tuned in for the US Open of Cyclocross stream, for example, so the addition of the World Cup is a big win with broad appeal.

Beyond cyclocross, FloBikes offers a robust schedule of all types of bicycle racing, with streaming available in modern web browsers, connected TV devices, or in the FloSports app for mobile devices. 

Those races include* 

  • the Giro d'Italia
  • top-tier Spring classics like Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders (De Ronde van Vlaanderen), and Gent-Wevelgem
  • the previously mentioned cyclocross World Cup races
  • UCI road, MTB, cyclocross, esports, track, BMX, and urban cycling World Championships
  • a slew of secondary events like the UAE Tour and Cape Epic that fill out the calendar
  • See the complete FloBikes event calendar

In addition to live coverage, subscribers can watch replays of prior events and use DVR-like features to pause the action for bathroom breaks or rewind to key moments. 

Although your primary interest may be bike racing, it's worth noting that as a subscriber you get access to the entire FloSports catalog, not just cycling. So you also can stream track and field, or grappling. This is a big value-add if your interest goes beyond bicycle racing.

The only large gap in FloBikes coverage is the Tour de France, while FloBikes has streaming rights to the TDF for Canada, in the USA, NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass retains the rights. While FloBikes can't show you live Tour de France content, they do offer editorial coverage and highlights made available through social media, so you won't be completely shut out. 

* for USA subscribers

How I tested

I tested the FloBikes service using an Apple MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015), iMac Desktop 5k (late 2020), and iPhone 11 mobile phone. On the Mac OS devices I used Safari, Chrome, and Firefox web browsers. On the iPhone, I used the FloSports mobile app. To test the video in a larger format, I plugged the laptop into a flat panel 1080p LCD TV using an HDMI cable.

In addition to my tested platforms, FloSports also offers an Android mobile app, Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV apps, which I did not use as part of this test.

I have a Charter cable modem 50Mbps internet connection; historically, it's been very reliable, although it has suffered from more slowness recently (perhaps due to the explosion in work-from-home and remote education during the pandemic.) That's plenty for FloBikes, which requires just 7Mbps to stream (in standard definition.) Snob that I am, I immediately cranked the resolution up to the highest offered, 1080. Quality was flawless with no picture breakup or lag. You do of course need a faster connection for that resolution. 

I also briefly tested FloBikes streaming on the go, using a Verizon 4G LTE connection when away from Wi-Fi. It works just fine, subject to the availability and speed of the mobile network. This would be a great diversion as a passenger on long drives.

To test the FloBikes service, I watched the Namur World Cup live, and also explored some of their back catalog of archived, previous events. The ability to return to prior season races for a recap or to re-live a favorite is a nice touch. 

It's worth noting that the FloBikes stream of Namur was one continuous long video clocking in at more than 3 hours long. This is a little different from some competitors, who have separate, shorter video files for the Elite Men and Women's events. I was pleased to see that the broadcast included the pre-race rider introductions, and continued after the event with interviews and podium ceremonies - much better than some competing streams that begin at the moment the race starts and then immediately cut away when the race is over. At the Namur World Cup, for example, this resulted in American Clara Honsinger getting some TV time post-race, a pleasant surprise.

The Namur World Cup on FloBikes was free of commercial interruptions (I was previously very disappointed in NBC for inserting commercials in the middle of 'cross races, cutting away from critical moments in the action.) Commercial breaks are expected during dull moments of a 5-hour Tour de France stage, but cyclocross is so short I expect an uninterrupted stream. 

FloBikes web browser compatibility

I successfully streamed live and archived video from FloSports in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox on MacOS. Notably, GCN Race Pass doesn't work in Safari, so it's a pleasant surprise to find Safari working here. 

The built-in video controls in the browser allow seek to anywhere in the content (if pre-recorded) and handy fast-forward and rewind buttons in 10 second increments.

In-app, the video controls are virtually identical. Airplay is supported for subscribers in the "Apple ecosystem". I was surprised to find the ability to "cast" to a FireTV from iPhone, which was unexpected, but would prove useful.  

Video and audio quality

During my test I found the streaming quality to be quite smooth, similar in functionality to Amazon Prime or Hulu. Netflix, in my opinion, is the gold-standard in streaming quality, offering the most consistent connection and fewest dropouts of any streaming service I've tested, rarely stuttering or dropping out. 

Video and audio was crisp and high quality. It's worth noting that FloBikes does not control the camera angles or video quality - those come from the owner of the source material, which FloBikes licenses - from RAI Italy for the Giro d'Italia, UCI for the cyclocross World Cups, and so on. Picture breakup happens sometimes during grand tours in bad weather, usually when motorcycle cameras are transmitting images wirelessly to a helicopter - such issues will affect all TV, satellite, and streaming providers at the same time, since they are consuming the same source material. 

Depending on the event you are watching, you may have the FloBikes team providing commentary in English, or English commentary may be included with the source stream. For example, UCI World Cup cyclocross events feature the highly-qualified Anthony McCrossan. Other events have category experts like retired pro, Jonny Sundt. Excellent. 

FloBikes Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Packed with content - the largest library of live and past races available of all streaming providers
  • Subscription includes quite a bit of non-race content, including interviews, pre-and-post race coverage, and analysis. FloBikes also produces special features like athlete profiles, such as "Jonathan Page, the last ride" which traces the career of the American star over two decades, which are exclusive to subscribers. 
  • Excellent value - the $150/year subscription works out to $12.50/month, in line with Netflix, Hulu, etc.
  • Easy to watch on-the-go or on your large TV with FloSports mobile app or FireTV, AppleTV, and Roku apps, plus in popular desktop/laptop web browsers

Cons

  • No monthly subscription option; only annual subscriptions are offered
  • Tour de France coverage not offered 

FloBikes Pricing

FloBikes "Pro" package costs $150, billed annually, (that works out to $12.50 a month, although monthly billing is not offered - you must pay a year in advance) about the same as what your household may be paying for Netflix or Hulu, and far less than traditional cable or satellite TV.

For this price, you can stream to multiple devices (up to 12) in your household (on the same WiFi network) at the same time, but not to devices in different locations at the same time.

Conclusion and Recommendation

FloBikes offers the deepest content and variety of any streaming provider for cycling fans. As a subscriber, you'll have something new to watch almost every day if desired. If you're an enthusiast cycling fan, I recommend subscribing to FloBikes, because it has the most options and lowest "cost per race" of all the streaming packages offered in the USA.

If you would like to read more about competing and complementary streaming services, please see my article, How to stream cyclocross in 2020/21 for an overview, which includes additional discussion of FloBikes, GCN Race Pass, NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, and Fubo.TV. 

Many American households are accustomed to paying $100+ every month ($1,200+ annually) for cable or satellite TV service, most of which goes unwatched. Die-hard cycling fans, in contrast, can subscribe to all 3 of FloBikes, GCN Race Pass, and NBC Sports Gold for about $300 annually and enjoy live streaming coverage of what amounts to essentially every minor and major professional bicycle race, in all disciplines, for that price. 

With FloBikes' recent addition of the World Cups and World Championships, we are truly in the "golden age" of streaming cyclocross coverage! 

Thank you for reading

Thanks to FloSports for making Ian Dille available to comment, and to the reader for taking the time to visit RideCX.com; I'm excited to stream pro cyclocross with you during the 2020/21 season and beyond! 

Disclosures:

FloBikes provided a login to their service at no charge for evaluation purposes.





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