We are right in the middle of the height of the indoor trainer season in the Pacific Northwest and this year, there is a new option for most that can really help make the indoor miles more enjoyable.
I’m talking about Zwift and it completely changed the way I view indoor training.
I am something of a Zwift-aholic since joining the beta in August of 2015. I’ve found the platform to be an amazing way to ride more frequently in the dark, cold winter months and even during nicer weather when other constraints make it hard to go out and ride for a few hours.
A lot of cyclists are aware of my Zwift addiction and have asked how to get started and what they should do to get the most out of the platform, so here are my suggestions.
You can Zwift on a simple resistance trainer and an old laptop, or you can go all out and buy a fire-breathing gaming PC, massive TV and a smart trainer to fully immerse yourself. I’m going to leave the buying decision up to you and assume you have bought what you need to Zwift effectively.
If you’re looking for a good starting point for your Zwift setup, the ZwiftBlog.com has a good write up on your hardware options (it is however, a bit out of date). It does not mention the most recent and possibly cheapest hardware option for Zwift which is the iOS version of the app running on just an iPhone/iPad paired with Bluetooth bike sensors. Of course this setup is only cheap if you already own an iPhone or iPad. In addition, an Apple TV (latest generation) version of Zwift is also coming out soon.
Here are a few tips to improve your setup once you’re ready to start riding.
- If you’re using ANT+, get a 10′ USB extender cable and position the ANT+ receiver as close to your sensors as possible. For most this means on the floor right under their crank set
- If you’re using ANT+ and have a WiFi router, make sure the 2.4GHz band of that router is NOT on channel 11. This can sometimes cause ANT+ interference. Move it to Channel 1 or 6.
- Protect your bike … all of it. I ruined a front wheel after a few months Zwifting because my sweat would hit the hub and axle. The rust formed fast and ruined the wheel.
Ok now that you’re all setup and running, what do you DO in Zwift to have the most fun? Here’s a quick list of things to do in the game.
Level up and unlock bikes and kit
Every 3 miles you will get experience points in the game. These points add up and when you hit a certain number, you level up. When you level up, you almost always unlock something in the game like a bike or a jersey. In addition, there are a number of free jersey “promo codes” out there that let you unlock kit. There are TONS of unlockable jerseys in the game, you can see the list and how to unlock them here.
There are also long distance challenges in the game that unlock very special bikes. One of these is the “Tron” bike (you can see me riding it in the video at the end). If you want this bike, you have to climb Everest 3 times over in the game. It takes a LONG time, so I’d suggest picking this challenge first.
Learn the Draft
Zwift simulates real riding physics which includes the drafting effect. This can really make the game fun when riding with and around others. Wheel sucking has never been so rewarding!
Zwift drafting works just like real world drafting, the closer you are to the rider in front … the less work you need to do. You can tell when you’re in the draft and when you are not by the posture of your in game avatar. If you’re in the drops, your nose is in the wind and you’re not getting much if any draft. If you’re on the hoods, you’re in the draft.
This becomes a very important thing to master for group rides and racing
Get the mobile app (if you’re playing on PC)
Using a keyboard and mouse while riding a stationary bike is not an easy task. Luckily Zwift makes a mobile link app for iOS and Android allowing you to control the game from your phone while riding. These controls include chat, direction changes and taking pictures.
The key thing to note with the mobile app is that it needs to be on the same WiFi network as your Zwift device. If not, you’ll only get the “peek” icon instead of the “ride” icon.
Quite honestly, it was the group ride and racing in Zwift that really sold me on the experience. I enjoyed group rides so much that I took over a TGIF group ride soon after joining and ran it for a year before handing it off to another TGIF regular.
There are tons of group rides every day on Zwift and they range from very slow, easy spin rides to ramp style races where you get progressively faster each lap until an all out bell lap at the end.
If you ride in a group ride, look for the yellow beacon over the head of one of the riders. This is the ride leader and the group should stay with that rider. Don’t fly off the front and don’t lose the draft!
Racing on Zwift is constantly evolving as the community learns and improves the experience. Originally races were completely ad-hoc honor system affairs with no rules, confirmed results or consistent practices.
Today racing are officially supported in Zwift and there are a number of external sites that tabulate detailed results and even keep rider rankings. Here’s an example of a recent race I was in from community built ZwiftPower.com.
These applications (PC and Phone supported) let you chat with others over the internet while riding in Zwift. Our Friday TGIF ride uses Discord every ride with up to 50 riders chatting in real-time. It’s a great way to really connect with the other riders even though they are hundreds or thousands of miles away.
I have an SVVC Discord server setup at this address if you would like to join: https://discord.me/svvc If you’re already on Discord, you can add the SVVC server directly in the app with this invite code: 564eYDB
Whether you’re using Teamspeak or Discord, be sure to turn on Push to Talk so everyone else can’t hear your suffering. 🙂
Finally, for those days where you need to focus on very specific aspects of your training, there is workout mode.
Zwift has a ton of built-in work outs that let you focus on everything from training for your first century, to high intensity intervals that are meant to break you.
You can also create your own work outs right in the app so you can target exactly what you need to that day. I’ll often create a strict Zone 2 work out on my “recovery” days where I ride at 2.0 w/kg for 30-40 minutes.
Workout mode works for standard and smart trainers, but it’s really best suited for smart resistance based trainers.
Odds and Ends
A few other things to think about when setting up and playing Zwift.
- An on-bike power meter is as good (sometimes better) than the power meters built into the smart trainers.
- Link your Zwift account with Strava to get automatic uploads to your account.
- Sadly, Zwift miles do not count for Strava distance challenges.
- There are many camera views in Zwift and these can be fun to take screenshots or look behind you in races.
- There are three courses in Zwift that are on a rotating schedule. The calendar in the bottom right corner of the screen before you start the ride will tell you when each course is scheduled.
That covers the basics and a few things I’ve learned in the last 6,000 miles on Zwift. If you’re still not sure what this is about, you can check out my most recent race on YouTube.