Zwift; Social Cycling for The Solo Cyclist

Hello everyone,

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If you already pay to be a premium member at Strava, then you get two free months at Zwift!

I have an admission to make today.  I’m a big cycling techno geek.  I love all of the technology currently being created in the world of cycling.  It really gets me motivated to ride and try out new things.  If only I had an unlimited budget!  Today, I wanted to take a minute to tell you about Zwift since it is a very unique experience.  I was an original Beta tester with Zwift and have decided to stay on this winter and give them a solid three months of riding.  

So, what is Zwift?  From their website, located here, you can take a deep dive into that question.  To put it plainly, Zwift is social cycling for the solo cyclist.  It is a virtual cycling experience much like a video game except you play this game with your own bicycle and pedaling power.  Your cycling avatar is customizable, you receive power ups/prizes along the way, and you can join in on group rides that happen on a global scale.  Zwift takes indoor cycling to another level and now they have incorporated training plans.

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Left side: Your training plan for this ride. Top: All of your pertinent metrics.  Top Right: Elevation and location in the virtual world. Right: Pertinent information on riders near you.  Bottom: Heart rate and color coded graph for wattage target; also, riders just behind you.

The new training plans are what forced me to sign up with Zwift after the beta testing ended.  These are legitimate training plans that were created by the likes of Hunter Allen and Marco Pinotti.  I reviewed all of the training plans and they are legit.  They look very similar to other training plans I have seen within Training Peaks and Traineroad.  In the picture above, I chose a simple training ride from week 1, day six of a 12 week winter training program.  They have you working at near the top of zone 2 for 15 minutes with some 8 second max efforts in between.  My legs were feeling super heavy from yesterdays ride so I had to tone down the ride as it went along.

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Up ahead is my yellow marker that lets me know that my 8 second maximal effort is about to begin.  They also close efforts with another bubble.  You can see the bottom of the screen has a color code representing how accurate you are on hitting your prescribed watts.  Either that, or it’s a representation of your wattage zones from your FTP.  I’m not sure which one it is at the moment.

So, how do you get started with Zwift?  They have multiple options for you that you can research on their website.  They do make it very easy to get in and workout utilizing their program.  You can be tech heavy like me utilizing the Wahoo bluetooth tools like power, cadence, and heart rate, or it can be as simple as a ANT+ dongle utilizing your speed and cadence sensors already on your bike.  Just check out the website and you will see a multitude of options.  My setup is a Macbook Pro, Garmin ANT dongle, Wahoo KICKR, Wahoo heart rate monitor, and Wahoo Cadence sensor.  Yes, that’s a lot of tech and I made most of my purchases over these last three years.  There are definitely cheaper ways to get setup.  I think the cheapest option would be to use your existing Garmin Speed and cadence sensors because most of us have Garmin head units.  The speed and cadence sensors should be ANT+ at a minimum.  Then you just put your bicycle on your current rollers or fluid trainers and do a quick calibration. Bam!  You’re off cycling with other people even if it’s super cold and snowing outside.

Now, there are other trainer options out there that are just as effective.  Trainer Road is one of those options.  I’m keeping my subscription with Trainer Road this year.  I want to see where Zwift goes with their training plans.  Right now, Trainer Road’s plans basically get rid of the need for a coach.  Their training plans are guided and simple to use.  The training plans are extensively vast and cover everything from Triathlon training plans to Cyclocross training plans.  Trainer Road takes you from base and all the way to your peak event through Base, Build, and Specific blocks of training.  The other reason that I cannot part from Trainer Road is their support of Sufferfest videos.  I love me some Sufferfest, and Trainer Road has the specific power profile setup for each Sufferfest video according to your FTP.  Riding a Sufferfest video on Trainer Road takes pain and suffering to a new level.

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I’m telling you, riding the sufferfest videos on the trainer road platform is freaking hard!  Especially if your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is accurate.
Main Screen on the iPhone.

One of the other great things that comes with Zwift, is your ability to utilize your phone while riding.  I was using my iPhone 6 today as I was riding.  It allowed me to respond to conversations much quicker than reaching over to my laptop in front of me.  Here are some screen shots from my iPhone 6 that is simultaneously linked to my ride on my Macbook Pro.

The first screen is just some basic information on your ride.  You have your power output or estimated power output (if you don’t have a power meter).  There is speed, elevation, RPM, time, and Heart rate.  There is also a power up button you can use while riding normally and not under a training plan.  Some of the power up options are the feather (drops your weight down for a period of time to allow you to climb under a higher watts per kilo) and the aero helmet (allows you to ride faster under the same power). There are many other power up options available but I don’t want this article to get out of control describing them all.  Now, if they had power up options like Mario Kart, I’ll spend all day talking about that!

A quick touch screen of things you might need to do right away without reaching over to your laptop.

My experience with Zwift today was great.  I was able to enter into a few conversations with people I didn’t even know.  I also had the opportunity to tell someone to “Suck it up buttercup!”  I will be using Zwift more and more as the weather turns bad here in the Northern Hemisphere.  I can’t wait to unlock some new bicycles, new kits, or new helmets. I’m a sucker for virtual carrots! They have planned group rides and charity rides to raise money just as you would do outside.

Okay, so let’s get the crux of it all here.  Which one is better and which one should you buy into?  Well, that depends on you.  If you are a social butterfly, miss the group ride dynamics come winter, and love to chase virtual carrots much like Strava; then Zwift is the platform to use.  You can even plan your own club or training rides online.  There are endless possibilities in regards to the social aspects of this platform.

On the iPhone you can also see riders near by and engage with them through the chat.

However, if you are the type of rider who likes to sit in on the trainer and watch movies and you need a detailed training plan that can guide you through a whole season of Road/Crit/MTB/Tri/Century/whatever; then Trainer Road is your platform.  Let’s not forget that Trainer Road has detailed training programs for all of the cycling videos out there from Sufferfest, 3LC, CycleFilms, EnduranceFilm, EpicRides, RealRides, Spinervals, etc, etc.  You can also create your own videos using a GoPro and then make your own training plan for your videos.  You have endless options with trainer road except the social aspect. If all of that appeals to you, then Trainer Road is for you.

That’s my opinion on these two very popular and productive platforms.  I do believe that Zwift will have to change their pricing strategy this summer.  Right now they have a monthly subscription for 10 dollars and I imagine once April rolls around people will suspend their accounts until next winter.  Trainer Road also had the same monthly plan and realized later on they needed to lock in some capital with a yearly subscription.

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Here is a little Roubaix action in the virtual environment.  I’m getting flogged with a dust cloud on this dirt road.

That’s all I have for now folks.  There is so much more you could write about for both platforms but I have to end the article before I hit the 1500 word mark.  Have a productive winter and definitely give Zwift a try if you are already a Strava premium member.

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If you have Strava Premium and haven’t started your free two months at Zwift, you are really missing out.
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As you can see, the information is exactly the same on Strava as if you were riding outside.
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You also get the same data on Strava as if this was a normal ride outside.  Here is a picture of the map and your ride.





Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

Aaron served in the military for 20 years. Multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the military after 20 years of service to take care of our three small children in 2013 as a Stay At Home Dad.

athletictechreview has 60 posts and counting.See all posts by athletictechreview

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