I use Zwift in the summer too.
And I ride outdoors in the winter. In the rain and sleet. I don’t feel like I’ve any faux hardness to prove.
The clue is in the title – this is a post about why I love Zwift.
What Is Zwift Anyway?
If you’ve not heard of Zwift, where have you been? It’s an online virtual cycling platform that allows users anywhere on the planet to ride around virtual worlds while gaining real-world benefits.
Let the boys at GCN explain, below:
So, here’s why I love Zwift:
1) It’s not a Race to End-Game. It’s all about the journey
To call Zwift a game is, I think, rather patronising. I used to play a lot of online multiplayer games and pretty much without exception they are all characterised by a ‘race to maximum level’ where a player’s main objective is to improve their online avatar as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Contrast to Zwift, where a rider’s main objective is not to improve their online character but to improve their real-world self. There are absolutely no short cuts.
Well, maybe one: weight-doping, where a user understates their weight to make their avatar’s power-to-weight ratio better and therefore travel faster. But, like cheating at golf, they’re only cheating themselves. There’s no other benefit from doing so, so why bother?
The only way to get better at Zwift is to get better at Zwift: do a shitload of cycling.
2) Busy Servers are a Good Thing(tm)
In most online games, a quiet server is as bad as a busy server. Gaming companies spend a lot of time trying to keep servers in the population sweet-spot: a healthy economy, people to group with, lively chat etc but no queues to log in or server wait times.
I logged in to Zwift the other night and shared the roads with 3,500 other people from all over the world and it was a joy. If I’d wanted to do an epic, solitary Imperial Century ride I could have. As it was, I enjoyed blatting around the hilly route with an ad-hoc group of between 5 and 10 that simply coalesced together – and it was brilliant.
3) Custom Workouts
Zwift’s workout mode is getting increasingly popular. You can tell who’s doing a workout when riding as they have a little bar-chart next to their name in the Riders Nearby List and a ghost ‘monitor screen’ in front of their virtual bike. There are dozens of pre-made workouts to follow built-in to Zwift – many incorporated into structured training programs such as ‘8 Week Race Day Prep’ or ’10-12 Week FTP Builder’ but if you can’t find one that suits your needs, it’s absolutely child’s play to create your own.
I made myself a one-hour workout called Happy Hour. It’s an 8-minute ramp up then a series of 1-minute hard efforts, spaced apart by steadily decreasing tempo blocks, so as the hour goes on, the efforts come faster and faster. Other Housemartins-related workouts I have planned include Think for a Minute, Build, Get Up Off Our Knees and maybe a more relaxing one called Caravan of Love.
Another properly handy feature of the workouts is that they scale with your FTP, so as you get fitter, so the workouts get harder to keep you challenged. It took gaming behemoth Blizzard Entertainment 12 years to work out power-based scaling in their online games – Zwift did it in less than 12 months.
4) Group Workouts
Move over spinning classes, group workouts are here.
Through some clever programming, Zwift have managed to set up group workouts where your virtual road-speed is based on your percentage of FTP, not absolute power. So, just like a well-run Spinning(tm) class it doesn’t matter if the person next to you is knocking out 50 or 500 watts, your only comparator is against yourself.
When I come back into the house from the Shed, dripping with sweat from a Group Workout, I explain to Sarah that I’ve been on a 40-Player Raid and she understands…
5) BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Louis Theroux
I’m running out of documentaries to watch on the iPlayer, and get unnecessarily excited every time a new Louis Theroux documentary becomes available (I’ll admit it – he’s my current man-crush). The mind-expanding possibilities of watching telly while working out for an hour or two are amazing. World War II in Colour? Check. Making a Murderer? Check. Every Storyville and Timeshift available? Check. Orange is the New Black? Check. Sunday in Hell? Check.
I tried watching The Grand Tour and using it for interval training, with a 1-minute Zone 4 effort every time Jeremy Clarkson said something funny, but it just wasn’t aerobically effective.
I just wish Netflix would hurry up and release the rest of Designated Survivor Series 2, as I don’t want to start watching it on the bike until it’s fully released and ready for a proper binge-session.
I can’t believe we used to watch one-episode-per-week TV; how did we manage?
6) I can be riding before I’ve had time to think myself out of it
My Specialized Tarmac is permanently set up on the turbo trainer in the shed.
I can be riding on Zwift within 5 minutes of getting home, family permitting, and that includes filling a bottle and getting changed.
They know where I am if they need me and that I’ll be back in the house in an hour or two. It is the absolute path-of-least-resistance to getting the heart rate up and the sweat pouring. And that’s a good thing right?
7) Real-world friends, online friends
I’ve made real-world friends through Zwift and taken real-world friends into Zwift. It’s an open chat channel to like-minded
idiots people and the social contracts that we enter into, such as the Facebook groups and chats to organise regular group rides, help keep me motivated and riding. Behind every avatar is a pretty much like-minded human.
There’s also all of the more common reasons to love Zwift too – the ones that get trotted out periodically:
- You can ride along with professionals
- There are Pro Contracts to be won
- There are worldwide categorised races if you’re feeling competitive
- You can keep warm and dry
- They’re an incredibly responsive, young company who seem very passionate about cycling and about their product
- There are regular updates with new maps and extensions and cool places to explore, both real-world (London, Richmond) and fantasy (Watopia)
- It’s free to try
- It now runs on Apple TV in 4K – that’s a £170 piece of hardware
- You can customise your avatar and its equipment and ride virtual versions of some super-cool machinery
- It links with Strava, and Strava Premium members get 3 months free
- You can get a cool ‘Tron Bike’
- There’s a lovely corporate sense of humour – like the Big Wheel trikes on 1st April, the glittery top hats on New Year’s Day and the hidden squirrels
- There are regular challenges, promotions and competitions open to all riders of all abilities
- Very importantly, it’s graphically better than the video-based platforms, integrates with analytical tools just as well as TrainerRoad and has a much cooler name than BKool
But everyone knows those, right?
Try it at zwift.com