Zwift isn’t the first virtual cycling platform, but it is the best. Tacx Trainer, Bkool, VeloReality, Kinomap, Trainer Road, PerfPRO (and others) all existed before Zwift–but none of these managed to achieve the participation and notoriety of Zwift. Why is this? Because Zwift has created a community-driven platform which is a level above what existed before. Here are six ways Zwift has changed the indoor cycling game forever:
#1: Large Virtual Community of Real People
And when you get lots of people together, amazing things can happen. While we don’t have hard numbers to go on, we do know that the Zwift Riders Facebook group has over 13,000 members, and the official Zwift Facebook page has over 105,000 followers. Some estimates peg the number of Zwift user accounts at over 100,000!
What this means is that, while Zwift is a ‘virtual’ world, it is inhabited by real people–lots of them. (This level of online participation, while common in the gaming world, was unheard of in the cycling world until Zwift came along less than two years ago.)
This thriving mass of Zwifters has self-organized into an active community which organizes group rides, holds races, creates innovative companion websites (see zwiftnation.com, zwiftpower.com and others) and helps its members get the most out of their Zwift experience.
#2: Immersive Experience
You may be on a stationary setup in your garage, but Zwift can still be a very immersive experience thanks to three important features:
- Variable resistance (smart trainers): the realism increases dramatically when your trainer resistance responds to changes in terrain. Smart trainers came along about the same time Zwift did, and this “perfect storm” helped grow Zwift’s user base significantly.
- Quality graphics: while Zwift’s graphics be ont he same level as certain cutting-edge dedicated gaming consoles, they are certainly good enough to be convincing (especially with a quality computer and a big-screen TV)
- Real people: riding in a virtual world is nice, but riding with others in real-time is another experience entirely. Much like the difference between a solo ride and a group ride in the real world, cyclists understand that riding with others opens up new avenues of challenge and fun.
Other indoor cycling programs have some or all of the three features above, but none of them combine them together as effectively as Zwift.
#3: Virtual Racing… for Real!
When you’ve got an active community of cyclists, it’s a foregone conclusion that racing will happen. Even though Zwift has no official “race features” baked into it (yet) the community has developed plenty of tools to make the experience enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding.
There are several races each week on Zwift, and special “one-off” races as well. Just like real life, races vary in length, course type, rider classifications, and other rules.
#4: Plentiful Group Rides
Along with races, the Zwift Community (and Zwift HQ) organizes many group rides throughout the week (several each day, in fact). There are group rides for every type of rider: long rides, short rides, fast rides, slow rides.
Again, see ZwiftCalendar.com for group ride schedules and details >
#5: Embracing (and Creating) Cycling Pros
Like any other sports fans (and perhaps more so) amateur cyclists idolize pro cyclists. Before Zwift came along the only way to interact with pro cyclists was to attend races. Now with Zwift we have multiple opportunities each week to ride with pros like Jens Voigt, Laurens ten Dam, Ted King, Evelyn Stevens, Lawson Craddoc, André Greipel, Matt Hayman and everyone’s favorite Zwift race commentator #1 ranked USA Cycling MTB Pro Nathan Guerra.
Some of these riders just show up on Zwift and you’re lucky if you see them, while others lead official group rides organized by Zwift HQ. Either way, thanks to the immersive Zwift experience it feels great to ride with a pro!
And while pro cyclists have begun flocking to Zwift, we also see Zwift HQ reaching out to pro teams. This year they have teamed up with CANYON//SRAM Racing and created a program to turn one lucky female Zwifter into a Pro Cyclist at the end of 2016.
#6: Riding with Power
Power meters measure how much actual power the rider is putting out. While training and racing with a power meter has been “the norm” for professional and competitive cyclists for years, many amateur riders have never made the investment to purchase a power meter.
This has changed with Zwift, since your speed on Zwift is based on your power output. Even if you don’t have a power meter, Zwift can calculate your power fairly accurately as long as you are riding on a supported trainer that is adjusted correctly.
The result is thousands of cyclists seeing their power numbers for the first time. Riders who had no idea what “FTP” meant (or what theirs was) are now modifying their training schedule around specific power intervals and levels. This will lead to increased levels of fitness–all part of what has come to be called the #ZwiftEffect.
So there you have it–six ways Zwift has change indoor riding forever.
What about you? Got any additions for the list? Comment below!