A Beginner’s Guide To Zwift
Posted by Art Hare on June 30, 2016
For some cyclists, racing and training outdoors all year round isn’t always feasible. With the kind of weather we get here in Canada for example, that means a lot of indoor training, and for many, it means riding in the virtual world of Zwift.
Zwift — The Basics
What is Zwift? It’s a 3D virtual world, connected to the act of training on a bicycle (or a treadmill). It’s like a video game where you actually have to do the pedaling to advance.
Taking the components of “gamification” and adding them to the act of sweating on a bike trainer, Zwift has grown in popularity all over the world.
Athletes have several options. They can explore the various online “worlds” within the game: there’s a London course, the 2016 World Championship course from Richmond Virginia, and their own world called Watopia, with volcanoes, underwater tunnels and all manners of “scenery” to keep you in the spirit of riding.
As a rider, you can also choose whether to just ride, to follow one of Zwift’s training programs (like the 4-Week FTP builder), or you can make or upload your own custom workouts. Whatever option you choose, your mileage earns you points toward in-game upgrades like kit designs and fancy wheels and frames for your virtual bike. And whatever you choose, Zwift guides you through a ride, encouraging you to work harder as you ride among other virtual riders from all over the globe.
They also have group rides and racing, which is where things get interesting, and where an entire sub-culture of road cycling has emerged. The key metric in Zwift is “watts per kilogram,” so riders are expected to enter their weight honestly.
How to Get Started
To ride in Zwift, you need some means of connecting your bike to a device like a laptop, mobile phone, smart tv, or Apple TV. The app is available for download to a computer, or on a mobile device.
The minimum requirement is a means of reading the data from power meters. If you’re using a 4iiii power meter and/or Viiiiva heart rate monitor, the device you’re playing Zwift on may read the bluetooth signal directly. Most modern devices like smartphones, tablets, and Mac or Windows laptops support bluetooth directly.
Riding with a power meter is sufficient to race (the main input to the Zwift physics engine is your wattage), but many people continue to upgrade their indoor setup with a Smart Trainer that can simulate uphills and downhills to make it feel more real.
Some devices (like windows desktop PCs) may not have either ANT+ or Bluetooth – in this case, you may need an ANT+ USB stick. Alternatively, Zwift offers an app called Zwift Companion that lets you use link your phone’s bluetooth radio to your PC, as well as choose routes.
What Riders Think
“Over the course of a week, I make use of all the different types of Zwift rides in order to meet my training goals for the week,” says Zwift Canadian Champion (yes, Zwift has National Championships) and Women’s BC Premier Series Champion Janna Glick. “If I have a long ride, I’ll either pick a Fondo event or choose a long route to ride in its entirety. For workouts with specific power targets, I’ll add my own workout into their system.”
Her advice to new Zwifters? Janna, who races with Glotman Simpson Cycling, says: “Run what you brung! I’m usually on rollers with my iPad mini on a fold-up music stand that I found by the side of the road at the end of a ride. I’ve got good, consistent data coming from my power meter and heart rate monitor and that’s all you really need.”
Stuart Lynne is a race Commissaire, racer, and bike race organizer with Escape Velocity Cycling Club in Vancouver. When he’s not doing the timing at a Spring Series, crit or cyclocross race, he’s training or racing on Zwift.
“I find doing structured workouts on the trainer and IRL boring and hard to finish,” says Lynne. “Doing the equivalent with Zwift Racing works for me. Effectively every race is an unstructured workout with a mix of high intensity and VO2Max Intervals, and recovery at tempo/threshold. Zwift trainer workouts are also very time effective—I don’t have to drive or ride somewhere to do a workout or race. More quality time on the bike, less wasted with prep and overhead.”
If you haven’t already, try Zwift for yourself.