What is Zwift?
Essentially, it’s a cycling and running mass multiplayer online game. It enables users to connect with others around the world, whilst moving around a virtual one with your avatar. You can train on it, compete on it or even just use it to explore – all from the comfort of your own garage/shed/spare room. It’s been growing in popularity with cyclists, runners and triathletes since its release in 2015 and now regularly sees over 20,000 people online at the same time! There is a subscription fee of £12.99/month.
As the running side of Zwift is relatively simple (and currently free!), we will focus on the cycling side of things in this article.
What do you need?
Well that literally depends on how much money you’re willing to spend. You can get started for under £200 providing you have a bike and a relatively new-ish smartphone. On the other end of the scale you could spend over £2000 to get the best hardware available to make the most out of your Zwift experience. I’ve added 3 different options below, with examples linked:
So what can you do on Zwift?
Well at first you may just want to cycle around one of the Zwift maps. Currently there are 4 different maps to explore: Watopia, London, Richmond and New York Central Park. Watopia is by far the biggest and most developed map, with plenty of flats, rolling hills and all-out climbs. To cycle all the routes would take a great deal of time and effort, but you can pick which route you want to ride in the menu before starting. You can then control which way your avatar turns at junctions using the Zwift companion app (downloadable to your smart phone).
Aside from exploring, Zwift also has training sessions available. These range from ‘one-off’ sub 60 minute workouts to full 12 week training programs. Despite some criticism regarding the plans, I have successfully used one (4 week FTP booster) to improve my performance.
Now I’ve saved the best feature til last. Zwift has a really, really good competitive element to it. The race feature. The ability to race others online is something that I really like! It allows you to push your limits further than you would with the training and free ride options. Zwift does racing well, there are many different races throughout any given day, with different distances and elevation profiles available. You can find standard races, crit style races and even time trials. Racing is also split into categories (cat A, B, C, D) similarly to real life racing so that it keeps things entertaining for all abilities. There is even a finishing leaderboard with plenty of race stats. The racing is so popular, that there is a huge following and even an excellent racing stats and ranking website developed by enthusiasts (www.zwiftpower.com).
So I use Zwift quite regularly, more so in the winter months and during spells of bad weather when you can’t get outside (or just don’t want to). I think it’s a great platform to boost your fitness and it has most definitely improved mine. However, it does have some drawbacks. In my experience the Zwift program itself has been flawless but the ability to use it is more down to your home setup. Setup issues are many and can vary a lot in nature, with the most common being connection problems. Turbo trainers can also be sporadic at times, with all the common ones having Facebook groups dedicated to fixing issues. Then you also have to think about your hardware capacity. Is your laptop/pc quick enough to run Zwift? Is your internet connection stable enough? With these kinds of problems, it can be quite a frustrating experience. Trust me, there is nothing more infuriating than losing your power output during a sprint finish!
All in all, if you have the disposable income and really like cycling and computer games then you’ll probably really like Zwift. It can be frustrating at times but if you get the setup right it can bring a lot of benefits. If you have any more questions, drop them in the comments below.