For Strava users Zwift is hard to ignore during the winter months. Their timelines are full of indoor rides through the virtual Zwift world. Zwift is hot. But what is it exactly? And how does it work? We’ll tell you all about it.
What is Zwift?
Zwift is a virtual cycling game. It is a software program for indoor trainers. Zwift users are training on an indoor trainer in a virtual cycling world and ride with or against other Zwift users from all over the world. Zwift connects your bike trainer to your computer, laptop or tablet. That means that when you pedal on your indoor trainer, you’ll see your efforts on the screen that you have linked to your trainer. While you pedal in your living room, shed or (wo)mancave, you’ll see yourself riding through a virtual landscape on screen. Zwift gives riders a very realistic cycling experience. Is the road you’re virtually riding on going up? You’ll feel the resistance on your trainer increase. When you are riding right behind someone, you’ll notice that you have to make less effort. With Zwift you’ll ride through different landscapes with other cyclists, while in fact you are just at home on your indoor trainer.
Why is Zwift so popular?
Zwift is very popular as it gives riders the possibility to ride through different landscapes and courses. You can climb mountains or sprint in a way that feels incredibly real. Zwift makes indoor training just a lot more fun. Zwifters can ride against people from all over the world. The person you ride with might even be a pro! A lot of professional cyclists use Zwift and you can easily join them on their training rides. You can test yourself against Taylor Phinney, Laurens ten Dam, Philippe Gilbert, Michal Kwiatkowski or Tiffany Cromwell. Another good thing: you don’t need good weather to train. Even when it snows or when there’s freezing rain, you can ride. And another big plus: you never need to clean your bike!
What do you need to use Zwift?
In order to be able to Zwift, you need a subscription to the software program. You can easily purchase a subscription via the Zwift website. Do you have a subscription? Then you also need the following:
- A bike trainer or rollers
- A cadence sensor and a speed sensor with ANT+ or bluetooth to register your pedaling data (if you don’t have a Smart trainer)
- A laptop, tablet or mobile phone to see yourself riding through the virtual Zwift world
- An ANT+ or bluetooth receiver to get the data from your sensors
We also advise you to bring a towel and water – you will sweat! – a heart rate or power sensor (if you want to train with this data), and you might want a fan for some cool air as well.
It is important to realize that Zwift works best with an interactive Smart trainer. You can Zwift with a basic trainer or on the rollers as well, but the resistance will not automatically be adjusted. This means that when the road in the virtual world is rising, the resistance on your indoor trainer does not automatically increase. In this case, you will need a cadence and a speed meter and possibly a power meter. With an interactive Smart trainer, the resistance is automatically adjusted. That gives the rider a very realistic cycling experience. With an interactive trainer it is important to know that not every interactive trainer can handle all climbing percentages. If you want to ride steep climbs on Zwift, we advise you to look carefully at the maximum gradient that can be simulated on the interactive trainer you want to use.
Training sessions, races or social rides
Zwift started with only one course on the virtual island of Watopia, but right now you can ride many other courses. For example, the World Championship course in Richmond, Central Park in New York City, or straight through the city center of London. You always have the choice to ride a flat route, or a route with more altimeters. Zwift has options for every type of indoor cyclist. Do you want to train? There are several training schedules available, with which you can improve your performance. There are programs to improve your FTP, but also programs to increase your explosiveness or endurance.
Would you rather race against others? That is possible on your own level. There are five different levels (A to E) in races. Which category suits you best is based on the amount of watts per kilogram that you can push. No idea how many watts per kilogram you can push? After a few rides on Zwift you’ll know. You can also do an FTP test on Zwift to determine your level. Register for a race, join you own category and start racing.
Not too competitive? You do not necessarily have to ride a race. You can also participate in so-called social rides. These are virtual rides where you cycle together with other Zwifters. It is not about winning or how hard you ride, it’s just about cycling together.
Ready, steady, go Zwift!
Don’t forget the nice side functions, such as giving kudos to other riders or even chatting to them during the ride. Zwift also has fun options to customize your outfit. You can choose your favorite cycling shirt, glasses or even adjust the height of your socks. You can even earn a green jersey or a polkadot jersey by being the fastest on certain segments. By riding on Zwift, you will earn points for every kilometer. With enough points you automatically get new gear – for example new wheels or frames – that you can use. If you upgrade your bike, you will notice that you are actually faster than before.
Ready? See you in Watopia!