In the last couple of years the almost universally despised act of going on the turbo trainer has got a lot more entertaining. Training indoors has always been a struggle. Grafting away on the trainer for extended periods or to a schedule, demands huge discipline and commitment. Since smart trainers and Zwift came along a couple of years ago, this is no longer necessarily the case. Having recently purchased a new trainer, it was time for me to dip my front wheel into the world of Zwift.
First up, I should probably declare that I am an often sceptical, old school rider. I have ridden through about 30 winters, (although 9 were in Australia – which don’t really count ) My UK winters have typically featured a weekend ride and one or two mid-week sessions on either rollers or turbo’s. I was interested to see what Zwift could offer me.
What is Zwift?
Zwift is an online training game. However don’t let the word game make you dismiss Zwift as ‘just’ gaming. With a decent online connection, a trainer and smart phone, tablet or computer, riders all over the world can ride with or even race, inside the world of Zwift. Pedalling your bike on the trainer powers your customized avatar around various courses. With Zwift workouts, you can select specific sessions for training instead of just riding around, this gives options for either serious training or a steadier group or solo ride.
Obviously, it’s not the same as riding outside, but it has some surprising similarities. There is something satisfying about chasing a another rider, even if they’re in avatar form. Zwift is immersive enough to produce some of the same emotions as cycling does in real life. In Zwift you also get to see who riders are (name and country). Other riders can ‘sit on’ when you pass them, providing they lift their power a bit to hook into your slipstream behind you. You also get a realistic benefit when you sit in a bunch of riders. It is very easy to be drawn into the riding very hard, if you do not want to get dropped from a good group for example.
For me, it definitely feels like a new place to ride, a place between the real outdoors cycling world and the traditional trainer. The Zwift world would be a really nice place to live too – no cars, no potholes and no abuse from other road users. Obviously elements remain from traditional trainers; you still sweat a lot, you will need a fan and a drink bottle or two for longer rides. However, the gameplay does seem to speed up trainer sessions and it does seem to keep riders (well me at least) pushing on.
Zwift has functional threshold power (FTP) test sessions (20 Minutes) and lots of specific training programmes from half an hour to a 12 week-long training plan to increase your FTP. There is also the option to custom build training programmes enabling riders to plan sessions to improve time trialling or climbing for example. My first FTP on Zwift was hard, but at least time seemed to pass fairly quickly. The distraction of other riders and scenery can effectively take your mind away from the steady build up of pain through the 20 minutes. Zwift offers ‘micro-rewards’ throughout the training. Maintain a power output near enough to your target output during a training session and you receive a gold star. Your FTP numbers for 20 minute test are kept on your profile page on the Zwift website.
Zwift definitely makes training more entertaining than just doing intervals listening to your favourite music. Having the rides upload automatically to Strava or Training Peaks is good too, this makes it easier for your training to be logged. The real bonus is that it does hold my interest, having to remember when to get off is the issue – not trying to stay on… It is also really interesting to see what’s over the next hill or around the next corner.
World Wide Ride
The social aspect of Zwift, connecting riders from all over the world, is a really great feature. This is effectively populating a world full of riders. Because of the world’s different time zones, UK evening riders can jump on an early morning ride with mainly Aussies and Kiwi’s. Perfect for rides with your mate who emigrated to Australia, you can even text banter within Zwift as you ride along. There are organised group rides throughout the day and regular rides over the same route too, ideal for evaluating and tracking your performance over time. The routes change between London, Richmond (Virginia, US) and Watopia (A virtual pacific ocean island) – the monthly route schedules are posted online. There are races open to anyone, although sometimes they are limited by watts per kg (W/KG). Your W/KG figure is worked out from your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and weight. The Zwift Race Schedule can be seen here.
So what do I Need to get on Zwift?
1 A bicycle trainer (Check Zwift.com for compatibility)
2 Trainer sensors that measure output and transmit to Ant+ or Bluetooth
3 A bike
4 A PC or Mac computer or a compatible iOS device with an Ant+ antenna stick.
Options to improve your Zwift experience include;
- A bigger TV display screen makes the experience a lot more immersive.
- The Zwift Connect app, available free from Playstore (Right) allows you to control your zwift experience from your smart phone on your handlebars. This makes Zwift more easier to use, control and more interactive.
- A big fan will reduce the sweat as well as provide realistic wind in your hair.
Check the Zwift website to make sure that your trainer is compatible. Zwift subscription costs £8 per month, with no contract or minimum term – perfect keeping in decent shape through the worst of the winter weather.
Zwift has transformed home training for many bike riders and looks set to become an even bigger part of the cycling world. As the platform develops and evolves, it will be interesting to see whether officially sanctioned races will ever take place through the this platform. There is however, scope for cheating; entering an incorrect weight for example, can boost your power to weight ratio and positively effect your performance within zwift.
Despite often being on the edge of my capabilities, the interactive aspect largely takes your mind off the effort. It still can be painful, sweaty and make you almost vomit if you try hard enough. However Zwift-time flies by and I actually look forward to my next session. So three weeks in, with about 600 kilometres covered in 17 hours, I think I am becoming an addict.
Smart New Trainer
I am using the Elite Muin B+ smart fluid trainer. The quietness of the Muin allows me to train in the spare bedroom even while my kids are asleep. The Muin is a hugely solid and smooth trainer, capable of providing resistance up to 2000 watts, this makes it a useable training tool for all riders.