So before all my posts devolve into various Zwift related topics, I suppose I should take a step back and talk about:
- What Zwift actually is
- Virtual racing
- Why I like it so much
Let’s get stuck into it.
What is Zwift?
Chances are, if you’ve found this blog you either already use Zwift, know what it is but are avoiding the indoor trainer like the plague, or commit to a bike-free winter. But if you don’t fall into any of those categories…. Zwift is essentially cycling as a video game. You hop on your indoor trainer (with some sensors or using a smart trainer) and you get to pedal your avatar ride around virtual worlds, through volcanoes, up an Alpe, through downtown London, and on the futuristic roads of NYC’s Central Park. AND you get to do all of this while being surrounded by thousands of other people also pedaling their avatars around. With the right gear, your trainer can simulate all of the gradient changes for you, meaning that, much like in real life, you can grind your way at 60rpm up a hill that only seems to get steeper all while cursing some random person for making it look a friggin’ walk in the (Central) park. Sounds pretty neat, huh? Well it get’s better.
As it turns out, if you get three or more cyclists together, they’ll try to race each other. The same holds true in Zwift. When Zwift launched back in 2014, this racing inevitably happened albeit much more informally than nowadays. Back then, people would need to coordinate an exact time, meeting place, and distance for their race. All the results were tracked in some spreadsheet, with Strava as the all-powerful arbiter of race times and finishing order.
But NOW things are different. We’re in the Golden Age of Zwift racing. Even the pros are doing it (more on that in another post). A Zwift race is, fundamentally, a friggin’ hard workout. With races having designated start areas and the races themselves being organized and scheduled by community groups, all you need to do is sign up for an event through Zwift and be on your trainer up to 30min before. Once you join the event and the clock hits 0:00, it’s game on.
Right from the gun (actually a few second before), it’s full-on hammer time. Typically a race starts stupid hard. Gets a bit less hard. Gets really hard up any climb. Gets actually not that hard a couple kilometers out from the finish. Then gets leg-shaking eye-popping hand-numbing-ly hard for the last 3-500m. It’s really quite a fun time.
Beyond just staring at a screen and cursing your past self for signing up for this, there are a ton of tactics and mechanics that go into racing; much like any video game or sport. You need to know exactly how the drafting mechanic works. You need to know the course (where to attack, where you can sit-in, where you should fear for your life). You need to know the different power-ups and where to use them. You need to know your own capabilities and limits. And, while not necessary, it certainly helps to know the other riders and what they’re capable of.
But to really call it a race, there needs to be some sort of scoreboard or ranking system. Zwift itself takes care of organizing people into the appropriate categories based on their fitness level. The community has gone above and beyond to produce the ranking site zwiftpower.com. The homepage just shows the next events that are coming up, but the real gold is hidden on the ranking portion.
I won’t get into the details of how the ranking works (it’s the USAC system, if you care to look it up) but essentially, the lower your score the better. You lose points based on 1) how well you finish in a race and 2) how good the other people in that race were. This is really where it gets addictive. The racing itself is quite fun, sure, but the whole meta surrounding Zwift racing is really the icing on the cake.
The people in that screenshot above are the cream of the crop and can go toe-to-toe with actual pros in Zwift races (and some do, in real life racing). My more humble (albeit still rather decent) profile is pictured below.
It’s definitely a game of experience in Zwift racing, so I’d like to think I still have a ways to go in dropping my rank further. Currently I’m ranked in the mid 200s (out of a dedicated community of 800-1000 people, but a total sign up count of about 10 000 people). My goal this winter is to crack the top 100. It’s a bit of stretch goal but maybe do-able. By the time you read this, maybe I’ll be just that much closer.
Why Do I Like Zwift So Much?
Well, I already touched on this a bit with the racing part. The racing can get addictive and quite competitive, so that’s fun. But even before I started racing more seriously (November 2018), I had well over 7000km and more than 200 hours on Zwift with only a handful of races.
The main reason I tried out Zwift in the first place is that I really like riding my bike and, being in Canada, it’s bloody cold for almost half the year. I started Zwifting as a way to maintain fitness over the winter, even though I was only riding for fun in the summer. The combination of the great community, the realism, and it being so much more entertaining than staring at a wall or watching Netflix or YouTube for hours got me completely hooked.
There are tons of virtual roads to ride now which really adds to the variety of indoor training. Whether you feel like cruising around on the flats, smashing a climb, or sprinting your face off, there’s always something there to do.
Additionally, the conditions are always perfect for Zwifting. You don’t need to think about what you’re going to wear, whether it’s going to rain, what the traffic will be like, or if it’s dark or safe to ride out. When 6 months of the year are spent being cold and at least 3 of those are spent with snow on the ground, the convenience of being able to hop on the trainer and be riding within 10 minutes is unbeatable.
To me, riding on Zwift is, on average, just as fun as riding outside. Sure, you can have more spectacular and awesome experiences outside, but you can also have more miserable ones. Zwift is consistent. When the day inevitably comes where I’m not as fit as I am now and my race performances go down, if I still enjoy cycling, I’ll still be riding on Zwift.
I haven’t even touched on the training plans or workout features of Zwift but all of that is just the cherry on top of an amazing product. It’s certainly not without faults, but then again nothing ever is. We take what we can get for indoor training and, in this case, what we can get is pretty damn great.
Anyway, I hope that this has been a sufficient explanation to make future Zwift-related posts make more sense. If you have Zwift questions or indoor riding questions in general, let me know! Otherwise…
Cheers and Ride On, Friends!