Go Zwift Yourself!

For us, it was the Sega Mega Drive. Sonic, Italia' 90, Mortal Kombat, FIFA 95 - there was only one way we knew how to score! The only games the N64 (we've been corrected!) lot had that we were envy of were Golden Eye and Mario Kart. The year was 1994. You couldn't save your games, it was literally play until you've completed it or when Mum called you for dinner. Our TV used to be a big box one with a small screen, kids would freak out these days if they were presented with one! Fast forward 25 years (wow, the 90s was yesterday wasn't it?!) and the gaming industry is dominant in our society. From Apps to consoles, from E-Gaming tournaments to private shoot em ups with your mates, the gaming world has reshaped lifestyles globally. Each new generation is opened up to the next must have in tech' and it seems the fitness industry is not immune to this either. Welcome to the wattage world of Zwift.

Weirdly, it was only a couple of years ago we were invited to a Zwift night to test out their software and especially their VR headset which I haven't seen again since? A short definition of Zwift would be an online cycling/running world where you can virtually explore set cities/routes to implement into your training. Wanna' race against others across the world? Zwift it. Wanna' do lap of the City of London? Zwift it. Fancy climbing their own version of Alp D'Huez? Zwift it. Wanna' watch the pros in the off season? Well you can now Zwift it. The scope for this thing is unreal, let us take you through what we've found out...

The Setup

Ok so it does require some investment and preparation. You'll often come across riders setting up their Zwifting in their kitchens or in front of the TV but we're lucky to have access to our own garage with plenty of space so if you've got a spare room to use, that's the ticket. Mind you, it's a guaranteed sweaty experience so if you're living with someone, you might need to do some negotiating or at least leave some windows open when you get spinning! Do we really need to say you need a bike?! Next then, a smart turbo trainer. Now Mrs Notinthepeloton kindly purchased ours as a joint birthday/Christmas present so budget was a factor, weren't expecting and didn't want the wife to buy a £1000 trainer although if you've got deep pockets and looking for that experience, there are options. We went with the Tacx Flow from Halfords £200 (managed to get some money back through Top Cashback - if you're not on it, what's the matter with you?!). Tacx comes with it's own training programmes but they're nowhere near the interactive level of Zwift but we had to wait for the missing piece to our setup which is needed if you're hooking up your trainer to your laptop, an ANT+ stick that you need to plug in so the laptop and the trainer can communicate or something! If you've got a heart rate monitor handy, you can hook that up too. There are other add ons such as a sweat mat or one of those sweat 'hammocks' you hook up from your seat post to the bars, you can also invest in an attachment for your tablet if you're running Zwift from there, looks more like TT bars and ones we've seen can be quite pricey. With a bit of moving around, as you can see from our man cave photos, we're using a storage unit in front of the bike, we did have it to the right of us but we were beginning to get a crooked neck from turning towards the screen too much!

Why Should I Zwift?

There's a main reason why we have reverted to indoor training. In the next couple of months, Mrs Notinthepeloton will be introducing lil notinthepeloton into the world so our priorities have changed. We don't think the wife will appreciate us being in the middle of the Surrey hills if we are needed for that moment it really hits the fan! So our outdoor mileage has slowly dropped and to prevent a daddy gut from forming, a form of indoor cycling was the next best thing. What if I'm single and ready to mingle? Well weather plays a massive part in people's motivation in getting out on the bike. If you're well prepared and clothed in the right gear, most weather conditions are rideable. What if it's proper hurricane conditions? Ah well, this is where platforms such as Zwift come in handy. If you are even lucky to have a spare bike, leave the spare on the trainer so you don't have to do much fiddling about when setting up.

What's wrong with just going to spin classes or working off my turbo? Nothing at all, everything comes down to personal preference in terms of what gets the best out of you. For us, we have found Zwift has a lot that motivates us to keep using it. We've done our fair share of spin classes and some are a bouncy affair with pacey music and actually a great laugh. One class that springs to mind was at our old local leisure centre where the spin instructor was a crazy lady who basically winged the sessions but they were brilliant, she would come round to your bikes and wind you up (in a friendly manner not in a SAS: Who Dares Wins kind of way!). Digme Fitness is another class we've tried and they're about half way to what you could expect with a Zwift set up. You are given a virtual avatar on the main studio screen and the whole class rides together regardless of what wattage you're putting out. It's a sweatfest but classes are pumping. So there are other options out there which might fit into your lifestyle better.

The biggest question to ask really is are you a gamer or were you brought up on the basis that owning a gameboy meant you had legendary status at school?! Because if the answer is yes, Zwift is right up your street. The difference is that you have to work for your gaming title and that's probably the easiest way to describe Zwift to someone. It's indoor cycling meets gaming.

Indoor v Outdoor?

We like to think we input the balance of tradition and modernisation in our lives. You can't really beat a ride outdoors, the freedom a ride gives you and the health and social benefits that come with it, it's hard to beat that. But the world is changing and if you want to keep up with it, you need to embrace or at least try out what is has to offer. When we've been using Zwift, our thoughts wander to what would this ride be like right now outside on the real worlds.

Let's take the London circuit for example. Pollution and traffic is something we all have to contend with in cities, this is not an issue on Zwift. The worlds are traffic free obviously as it's virtual, you just ride. Potholes and other road furniture can usually be an issue too. Not in Zwift. Weather looking nasty outside? Well it can be on Zwift too but it's virtual, unless they somehow release a 4D version, just wearing bib shorts is fine whatever the weather. But I prefer the social aspect of rides with my mates/club? Well you can now organise meet ups on Zwift and chat through the companion app. Yeah not the same but when time is short or the weather is looking apocalyptic, what a great alternative to have. I don't want to cycle around a city for a session, that's boring? Well in the London world, ride through the underground to get to Box and Leith Hill to push the legs and it's not like they've just made the routes up, the zig zag road is there on Box along with the Natural Trust Cafe as well as the viewpoint. Take it you won't get any mechanicals then? Well, punctures are not unheard of, we got one on our first ride possibly due to the tyre pressure as you do need to calibrate your trainer so your resistance and power output are realistic (we will touch on virtual doping in a bit - yes, it's a thing!). And if something does go wrong at home, you're not stuck in the middle of nowhere with frozen fingers, you're more likely to be surrounded by your tool box and spares.

So you going to Zwift in the Summer months? Well maybe that's where the draw of Zwift becomes stuck. As soon as there's a bit of sunshine in the sky, the number of cyclists on the road does shoot up so will you need to keep your £12.99 Zwift subscription in the Summer months? Probably not and you can cancel it anytime.

Sell It To Me Then?!

Well what do you want to do? Wanna' race? No problem. Each day, a new world is opened up out of a choice of London, New York, Innsbruck, Richmond (US) and Zwift's own world Watopia which weirdly on google maps does show as a volcanic island in the Pacific so I'm not sure if they've virtually invaded it or brought it?! So each day there are races organised by Zwift or other parties, most you can enter at your own risk, now we say 'risk' because some races do set out certain requirements. One major requirement which you'll be presented with is your w/kg (watts per kilo), basically the higher the number, the faster/harder the race will more likely to be. Another thing which is recommended before it all is to undertake a FTP test (Functional Threshold Power), this basically sets the bar at what you should be riding at. At least this way, you can enter races/events which won't make you sick after the first mile but also won't be you leading out a few hundred riders on a Sunday stroll.

Currently, Zwift has organised it's own Zwift Tour exploring all 5 of it's worlds with 9 stages to complete. With each stage are grouped categories (based on the w/kg output). These are not classified as races but if you wanna' be near the front, you need to treat it as one. You're probably thinking why don't I just sit on the trainer and spin out? Well naturally, our competitive side will come out and the temptation not to keep up with the riders around you will be a battle. And we're not talking in the tens or even hundreds, we rode the L'etape Sportive last week organised by Rapha where you climbed the virtual mountain of Alpe Du Zwift (again, yes, that's a thing!) along with the other climbs of Watopia, there was 3,800 riders doing it too. Right now according to the Zwift companion app (where you can control what your rider does on the screen - we will get into this more in a bit too, told you the scope is ridiculous!), there are 6.704 riding around Watopia doing sprint intervals, hill climbs, FTP tests, endurance training or just exploring Zwift (update- Zwift announced it hit the 10k mark!).

So where does the gaming aspect come into it? Well it all comes down to unlockables which keeps you on your toes. You get given a Zwift level and the more you ride, the more you unlock such as new parts of Watopia to explore. Weirdly I can't climb Alp D'Huez because that's unlocked at level 12 and we're just about to break into level 10 so taking part in events gives you a teaser as to what you can expect as you ride through Zwift. When you unlock levels, you will unlock new gear to customise your avatar with. Not sure how you do it yet but I do believe you can wear your club kit somehow, someone might correct me on that... And obviously, you're competing in a virtual world so if you want to, you can use power ups which you get when you've completed laps, we avoid using them as we want to know that the data is all down to us, not because we've used a drafting power up that has allowed us to get the edge over other riders. We did come across a few people on social media discuss the possibility of 'Mario Kart' power ups! Throwing a banana or two under someone's wheel to slow them down or thrown a few of those turtle shells to make a few tyres go flat!

How do I find my mates on there?! That's pretty easy too now as you can request meet ups if they're online or just jump straight to where they're riding. We rode a little (we say a little because he bolted off at the end!) with our good pal Sam which was quite funny with Sam barking out orders to me over the game, think he used me just to draft so he can jump me at the end! Zwift love a bit of social media too and are quite good at communicating issues through it's channels. We did 'report' to them the presence of a possible doppelganger, in one of the London Tour stages, we looked up at the screen after doing a turn on the group we had found us in and our name 'B.Ryan' had an American flag next to it. Got onto the companion app and had a look if my profile had been hacked by Russian bots! Nope, same name but different country! Had to add follow them on Zwift didn't I?! Ride on!!! Zwift to their credit asked if it had been a glitch (bit of a Wreck It Ralph plug there!) but it was just an episode out of Black Mirror!

So what's the catch?

There's a few things which could do with tweaking but we expect either Zwift has contingencies in place or there not totally at fault. One issue we've had a few times is signal failure, sometimes our power output and other data has just cut out especially at times when we're putting the hammer down. You do need to make sure there's minimal electrical interference between your device and trainer. You also need to make sure your wheel is calibrated and that it's not loose in the actual trainer. Zwift does work with brands so that these issues doesn't happen to an extent that you'd rather ride in the pouring rain than playing around with getting Zwift and the trainer to work together.

Something you do have to be aware of is the time it takes for your power and speed to replicate itself on the screen. It's not a case of hitting the gas and your rider is off and away. We've learnt that knowing when sprint segments (they're in there too!) are and to go early than expected will make timing of your sprints better off. Riding in groups means you can virtually draft, often we'll find the virtual speeds at around 30mph. If we tried this with a group on the road, we'd be blowing out of our...! Mates like Liam, Sam and Chris wouldn't have a problem with this but we know what our body is capable of, drafting in a group at 30mph is not one!

Virtual doping. Explaining it first. You have to enter your weight and height details, this will obviously impact on your w/kg. The lower your weight and higher your FTP, your avatar is basically gonna' be a whippet up the hills. If you fake this data which it's easy to do, you will find yourself at the front of most races/events. Your cadence and heart rate is not shared on the screen on the list of riders you're with (maybe I'm missing an option setting here), just your w/kg and distance so if you're passed by someone riding at say 8.0w/kg and holding, either it's a pro playing around or someone has gone out their way to fake their data. You can find out more data at the end of each event and if you are found to have dodgy data, the most severe action would be you'd be banned from Zwift (so I've read) or that your result will be wiped from the race. That's fair enough but with E-gaming taking off and Zwift getting more involved in this, more policing may be needed but I can't see Zwift representatives turning up to each rider's homes just to weigh them?!

There is a small risk of boredom that might creep in if you have unlocked everything (that'll take you a lot of mileage) but there's enough different routes and events in each world to do that it shouldn't be too much of a problem. One thing we have read on and it comes from the reporting department of Zwift aptly named Zwift Insider is that soon to be released in the next update is the option of exploring a different world each day because everyone is restricted to the scheduled world on that day ie. if it's the world of New York, everyone will riding virtually around Central Park. The bigger the 'game' becomes, the more demand for diversity in terms of routes, events etc.

The Future

Well we don't work at Zwift although if they're hiring, they know where to find us! It would be naive to assume that they don't have plans for more worlds to be opened up. Our personal preference would be Paris, riding up and down the Champs Elysees, a little tour of the Louvre, sounds like a cool and cultural route. Or maybe a mini Belgium taking in all the spring climbs? Not sure how they would replicate the cobbles, maybe as you're riding you have to shake your handlebars as your pedalling!

Zwift have announed their own E-Sports league with 4 pro teams taking part. You might be thinking what's the point, can we not just wait for the season to start? Well Zwift are obviously capitalising on the lack of cycling on TV and opening up another avenue to watch, engage and interact with riders you would never get the chance to on the road. Just to give you a taste of what is to come; last week two youtubers went head to head on a race up Ape Du Zwift but they were also joined by over 1,000 others with another 900 or so watching via streaming. So you can only imagine what the pull might be when the E-Sports league gets going.

To say we are a fan would be an understatement. We've been getting a bit of stick from the others for not being outside much but mainly due to the new arrival we're about to welcome into this world, Zwift has solved our problem before it has even begun, the growth of the daddy belly! There are other training platforms out there, some people use programmes such as Sufferfest and we have mentioned Tacx's own platform but the level of Zwift and it's scope for social interactions, competitiveness and the variety in events/races/training programs it offers is hard to beat. They've spotted a gap in the market and they have plugged it good...