Zwift: A New Approach to Trainers

Wed, 10/26/2016 - 20:14 - Zwift, trainer, CompuTrainer

A couple of months ago I heard about a new start-up called Zwift. This California-based company was asking for beta testers for their new software program which connects computer-based cycling trainers in an online world and allows you to compete and race against others. I requested a beta account about four months ago and just last week received an invitation.

Now I have tried several of these types of trainer-meets-Internet services. They ranged from OK to really, really poor . . . unusable actually. From what I saw on videos, Zwift had a slick interface, high quality graphics and an open-ended play style that the other services did not. You see, the other services, like (see below) were poorly programmed, ugly and had a play style in which a person had to create a race, which people then had to find and join. Zwift is just an open world that anyone can jump into anytime and join.

Mountain View

When you receive the invite, the first Zwift has you do is to create an account on their website using the beta code they give you. You put in basic information like your name, date of birth and weight. It also gives you the ability to connect it to your Strava account. Once that is done, you are directed to download their software client. The program is not that big and it took about 30 minutes to download. The install was quick and easy and the program is auto-patching, so it took about 7 more minutes to download the newest version of the program.

The first time I opened the software I was prompted to login using the account information I created. You are then brought to a screen that requires you search for any trainer connections to your computer. Zwift quickly found my CompuTrainer on a USB port without issues. The next page is a character customization page. You can pick your gender, body style, bike, wheels, helmet, etc. Many of the custom options were locked, either because it was my first time or because the beta version does not allow for full customization. Once my rider was to my liking, I hit start and entered the world.

Right now Zwift's beta program only allows testers to enter one area. It is an island called Zwift Island and which contains a 5km clockwise loop that has a moderate climb of about 1.2 miles in the middle. The first time I rode using Zwift there were about 40 human players from all around the world, with another 50 or so IA riders cruising around the island.

Here is what it looks like:

Mountain View

On the top left is all your data. On the right is all the data about those riding with you. You can click on any name and zoom into their position and watch them ride.

I rode easy around the island for one lap. As I did riders were racing up the hill in order to unlock achievements. They raged from fastest lap, to miles ridden, to top speed. One of the coolest was the KOM. If you climb the Col'd Zwift faster than anyone currently logged on you jersey switches to the polka dot jersey. You ride with it for as long as you hold the record. I lasted one lap.

Now everyone can agree that riding on a trainer is both super boring and can be way more painful than the outside. I can tell you this, Zwift is the first trainer-based software program that made it interesting. I spend over an hour on the trainer, racing three guys around the island and never looked at how long I had been sitting on it.

After about 22 miles of riding, I decided to bring it too an end. All you have to do is stop pedaling. The software recognizes that you have stopped, brings up the finishing screen and gives you the option of continuing or saving your workout. When you save it, Zwift also gives you the option to upload the data to Strava. I should note that none of my workouts automatically made it to Strava, but that's not a big issue. Zwift saves your workout in the popular FIT file format. You can easily take the files and upload them to training logs like, and/or

Here is the best part. When I went to Strava to look at my workout, Zwift Island is actually Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge located in the South Pacific Ocean. Zwift geo-codes your virtual location with actual GPS points around the Jarvis Island. As a result, I would see who was riding with me if they had Strava accounts and actual Strava Segments had been created, complete with Leaderboards. Here are a couple of my rides on Strava:

The sky is the limit for this software. Once it is expanded to include different areas and longer routes, I can see a day that it will be possible to have a virtual Tour de France with people from all over the world. With the GPS technology at the Grand Tours now, I can also see the day that people will be able to log on while the Tour de France is going on and ride with the actual riders, over the actual course . . . the only difference will be that while the pros are out on the road, I will be in my garage trying to hang onto the wheel of Froome up the Ventoux.

Founded in 2006 by local triathletes Preston Miller, Lewis Elliot and Marc Rubin, Tri-Scottsdale is a non-profit organization and triathlon club, dedicated to helping athletes of all levels reach their potential, from beginners to elite to professional triathletes, through daily workouts, beginner clinics, and athlete mentoring. Our annual Tri for the Cure AZ brings all members together to support a great cause, having raised over $300,000.00 for cancer research.

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