Zwift review – The latest twist on indoor training

After a slight delay, due to a technical issues, resolved admirably through the Amazon Prime system, I finally managed to get Zwift working. What is Zwift? Zwift define themselves as a meeting of the world of Massive Multiplayer Online games and the indoor cycling community. So does that mean this is the World of WarCraft in Lycra?

Updates to the review at bottom of the page- last update 12/03/15

Zwift review – what IS Zwift?

Zwift, apart from an exceptionally annoying autocorrect word, is an online community “created by cyclists, for cyclists”

It aims to take the joys of outdoor cycling indoors, so whilst I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get a nice set of tan lines indoors, I’m definitely up for anything that can add a “dose of fun” to indoor training.

With regard to indoor training, let me be clear. I hate it. I just don’t have the mental set up for it. When I rowed for Warwick University whilst at medical school, the worst part of the weeks training was the rowing machine. Keeping the 500m pacing splits within whatever narrow band was demanded by the coach for up to 90mins at a go, for me, was torture. Make me do endless circuits, massive cross country training runs, even developing hypothermia during winter training out on the water. All where massively more enjoyable that the rowing machine.

Turbo training for me is the same. Whenever you have a segment longer than about 5 minutes, especially if its at a high wattage target, I just find it very difficult to keep focus. Its entirely my issue, and something I’ve never been able to overcome. The Wahoo Segments app has gone a LONG way to improving things personally. As you can see your improvement along a route, and if its one you cycle regularly, can easily picture it in your mind. Similarly the “coached” TrainerRoad sessions like the 20minute test, are a great help.

I have tried KinoMap, but frankly I found it very clunky, the actual reason behind which I’m not sure. It could be related to the video feed from the internet, which isn’t really KinoMap’s fault, as my ISP, but I’ve never had streaming problems before. With some of the videos, which are supposed to set the resistance on the turbo, as well as let me “ride along” with the filming rider, speeding up and slowing down the film to fit my speed, has never working smoothly. I have always run into lag issues, and frankly found it very frustrating.

Zwift looks to address my short term concentration ability, and also overcome the problems associated with video feeds, my making a completely virtual world.

Getting into Zwift

Firstly to get access to do a Zwift review. as it is still in beta, you need to request an access code from the team. Currently, they are in the play test phase, sending out between 1-5000 access codes a day at the moment. Here demonstrating one of the massive potential that is the scalability inherent in the Zwift setup.

Zwift review

Zwift invite screen

As you can see from the system setup, I was given access to the new Mac version of the game, I haven’t tried the Windows version.

Zwift review

The download installs automatically from the Zwift beta site

Powerups

The power ups are an interesting feature of the game, and are the first things you are introduced to as the game downloads and installs. These boosts briefly increase your performance within the game, corresponding to you crossing certain markers whilst riding. So people not be entirely happy at the concept of being passed by a chap as a result of a boost rather than leg power, but lets not forget this is not a cycling simulator first and foremost, it is a game, that is a cycling simulator. There is a lot of discussion currently about the use of powerups and their implementation in Zwift. Stick a post in the comments section as to what you think about them

Zwift review

Zwift boosts

Rider avatar

When you load the game for the first time, you are able to customise your rider to a small degree – one of the choices is with or without helmet. Now this might not really be the place for a comment such as this, but this is a cycling game, surely there would be a greater promotion for on road safety is the helmet was simply on the rider to begin with?? Just a thought.

To start with, you are able to adjust your avatar’s skin tone, some small colour changes to the bike, the presence of glasses plus other accessories and finally as mentioned the +/- helmet. It will be possible to change bike types, e.g. Pinarello, and Castelli and Zipp gear are also included – at the start however you are limited the Zwift Kit until you’ve earned more.

The designers have gone to great lengths to create accurate models, both in terms of body position, but also the life-like movement on person on the bike. Everything from the initial clip in as you start off, to standing up when you push hard – How they have managed to determine when you are standing and seated just from the power inputs is surprising accurate!

Zwift review

Setting up your Zwift rider

Now here is one of my personal beta issues, the interface needs a polish. I spent quite a while trying to find out how to get back into the customisation screen through the support forums. I thought that the ability to get back to the customisation screen etc might be within your profile screen, or dashboard. However it is accessed by pressing the “T” key at any time. The slight issue with this is that it then clogs up the rider list on the right of the screen, as you are “in” the game, but not participating, but I’ll come to that in a bit.

ANT+ Sensors

Every time you log into the game, you then have to connect your bike equipment. As mentioned, currently the game only supports ANT+. Currently the minimum needed to run the game is a turbo trainer, and because  Zwift cannot accept inputs from bluetooth sensors, an ANT+ USB dongle as well. Which is a mild irritation when the Wahoo KICKR can connect with the laptop over bluetooth normally. Currently invites are going out to individuals with power meters it seems, as it provides a slightly better data feed for testing the simulation. I’ve not managed to get Zwift to work just using a speed sensor, although the device screen suggests this may be possible in the final build.

Zwift review

Zwift equipment setup – ANT+ only at this stage

With your kit communicating with the software, you are ready to go.

Now let me be very clear about this… ZWIFT IS AWESOME

Strava

Frankly I think we are talking Strava levels of awesome here – and yes of course there are Strava segments already present on Zwift Island – with 3102 rides on the segments so far. The one thing I don’t know is are these Strava user segments, or set by the Zwift team? Given the size of the “island” and the real world issues about possible need to curate Strava segments, I’m hoping they are currently locked.

Zwift cycling review

Zwift Island Strava Segments

Initial ride on Zwift Island

So after my quick detour to Strava, lets get back to Zwift. Whenever you start a Zwift session you are given the option to ride with others who are currently logged in, or start off on your own. As i’m an antisocial so-and-so, I started off on my own in order to explore what things are like.

Zwift cycling review

Starting off on the Zwift Island

So that’s me at the start of my first log in for the Zwift review, generic kit and all. As you cycle round and into the game, you’ll see other people paused by the side of the road, either as the rider has stopped, or like myself here, you’ve just logged in.

Zwift interface

To the RIGHT of the screen is the active rider list, which also contains useful metrics such as the Watts/kg you are producing, and crucially that of other rides on the island.

Top Left are your current metrics. Your wattage in WHITE, heart rater and RPM in black. Initially I didn’t think I’d be able to get a cadence, due to using Stages crank normally for cadence, but riding on a KICKR which can’t measure cadence on its own. However Zwift handily gets round that by generating an estimated cadence, which is very similar to the cadence displayed from the Stages on my Garmin

Zwift Segments/challenges

Returning to the Strava concept for a moment, if you go “segment hunting” out in the real world, an important point about getting a good time, is actually knowing where a stretch starts and finished. There are several defined sections, a 200m sprint, a 1km climb, and a hill descent I noticed so far. As you can see in the picture below, the segments, if thats how we want to call them, have clearly defined finish lines, and along the way, hundred meter markers over the final 300m to really help you gauge things.

When you go on one of these segements, a pop banners tell you your time so far, and importantly the current KOM to really spur you on. Whilst to the bottom LEFT you can see the results on the other two island segments. The green leader board for the descent, and the polka dot mountain for the climb. When you get to first position, your rider jersey changes to mimic the section logo, and is demonstrated on the rider list on the RIGHT. Here we can see P. Brown from the UK, holds the green jersey. These are dynamic achievements and can change many times during a ride.

Zwift review Strava

Zwift sprint sections, like Strava, only virtual, and clearly marked

Here however we return to the boost issue again – personally I want to have won the jersey without the boost, which I think is almost akin to the digital EPO people have used to cheat frankly only themselves in Strava. I think the boosts overall could be a fine thing, but just block them on the sprint sections? Another point about accessing the boosts is that they could potentially be rather costly in the real world. Playing Halo this isn’t.

Zwift review Strava

Zwift – You cycle on the computer, but sweat in the real world!

My point is, the boosts are accessed currently by hitting the SPACE BAR on the computer running the Zwift programme. Now I sweat rather impressively when doing any intensive exercise, and I don’t think I really want to be covering my Mac in that. The phone, at a push, as its just touch screen can have the sweat wiped off, and costs less than my laptop!

Plus for those who have been following this as a rehab blog, my RIGHT arm, can be seen above is really improving, although thats about as straight as I can get it now. The point being, whilst it has improved, and the KICKR is very stable, I don’t really want to be leaning over things to try and work a laptop whilst on the trainer. I can see that having a rather expensive, and probably damaging end for me – so not going to do it! The need to interact with the keyboard, even at the end of a sweaty ride, is in my eyes the BIGGEST limiting factor of the game. If it could integrate with the start/stop on my Garmin, thats likely to result in much fewer sweat induced problems!

A Constant Tempo ride?

When you are cycling on Zwift Island, rather like other racing games, you can see when you pass people, or more importantly when they are gaining on you, and what the distance they are behind. This is brilliant, and I wish it was only something that worked in real life!

Zwift review

R. Newell in the Polka dot jersey holding off a challenger

Here R.Newell has taken the Polka dot jersey, and is holding off against V.Gannon, at 14meters behind, and if we look at the rider board thats only a +0.01 lead. Zwift can certainly be dynamic, and yes, drafting does have an effect in the game, with pop ups encouraging you to “close the gap”. You similarly complete a challenge for drafting for >15secs

Viewers/Spectators

The picture of R.Newell was possible, as there are spectator views, so you can go round the island seeing what groups are doing, and how other riders are fairing. If nothing else this shows of the time and effort that has been spent creating this world, from the docks and marina, to town and the snowcapped peaks. All of which you can check out in great detail from the camera angles using the 1-9 number keys. Which in of itself is a wonder, what are the Zwift team going to do with the island? Will there be different islands and routes, or will there be special stages you have to unlock? Seriously the possibilities about what could happen with this game are huge. Jenson Button holds a Triathlon event every year, allowing people to race against him. Can you image running a series of virtual challenges to get the chance to cycle against some of the cycling worlds big names? I can! Look at F1 racing sims, here you could race the actual Jenson Button round the island, rather than just a computer generated version. Now that would be a crowd puller – especially as you have the spectator function!

Conclusion

The final take of this Zwift review is positive, in that Zwift currently in what I would describe as actively beta, its fully functional currently, but there are many tweaks going on under the skin, and being loaded into the game, roughly every 14 days. Sometimes is just “stability fixes” but other times things directly responding to feedback from riders – such as lengthening the day compared to the night! Simple idea when you think about the nature of the game. I’m not sure what the length of a Zwift Island day is currently, but I know I saw one whole cycle in my first 30mins in the game.

So Zwift, currently, even in its beta stages gets a strong 9/10 for me. I say 9/10 as if I take up the space in the living room much longer I think there will be what is called a domestic argument

Update –  3/3/15

  • A big finding for me whilst doing the Zwift review is Zwift is addictive. I’m trying to get out on “The Island” for a short while every day – if only just to delve further into the beta and find out more about how its functioning. Obviously, as I gain more experience, that means there are things not discussed in my original Zwift review. This post will act as an Zwift Review Update section to that original post
  • During the Zwift review, there have been a few crashes, which are rather irritating when it wipes 10km off your efforts. But thankfully few
  • The Zwift community is growing rapidly online, and is acting as a great source of discussion and ideas sharing about the game and its current features. However the current features of the game are remaining slightly cloudy – as might have been noticed in my initial review. The reason for this is that there is no manual as yet. You log into the software and just go. Learning as you do.
  • A chap by the name of Brian Cheung within the forum has put together an unofficial cheat sheet – which is the nearest we’ve got to a manual at the moment. So if you want a crash course actually using Zwift, take a look at this Google slides set for a quick series of short cuts
  • A more in-depth unofficial manual is also available via Google Docs
  • Addressing another point I made about not wanting to use my laptop keyboard and Zwift, for fear of filling it with sweat – there is an alternative on the way. Zwift has a phone app in the works which will allow interaction with Zwift without having to touch the computer. This will hopefully allow much easier control within the game. There is a hope for increase ease of social interaction, such as shout outs to other riders, although I don’t quite know how that would be achieved – I’m not sure I’d be overjoyed about moving to a Call of Duty style level of communication. I’ve never wanted to wear a head set whilst cycling!
  • Adding to the game aspect of Zwift, you get points, currently for simply completing distance within the game. As your progress along the points slider – only see at the end of a session, you seen “Present/reward boxes”. As yet, I don’t know what they contain, but hope to find out tonight – hopefully its new kit!
  • The Zwift IOS app is imminent, it has been submitted to the App store and is awaiting APPLE to agree to its release. I CANT WAIT TO STOP SWEATING ON MY KEYBOARD!

Points are currently awarded as follows:

  • 20 points per Km
  • 30 point per mile
  • There is a small “+” power, which nets an extra 10 points, and a Large “+” that nets 250. I’ve not have the large plus

Update 12/3/15

  • A new build of Zwift for the Mac seems to have been released last night. So far it features a change of direction.
  • Hitting space bar with no powert up now makes the rider give to “Ride on” call out
  • Not an update per say but a solution. The Zwift App is currently pending Apple APPROVAL. Whilst waiting, download a mouse app from the App Store, to save getting sweat of the keyboard!

Community

Zwift is already generating an effective cycling community. As in all cases, this has begun to resolve itself into organised rides as seen on the Zwift Group Facebook page

 

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12 thoughts on “Zwift review – The latest twist on indoor training

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  8. charles

    Just landed on your blog. Great writting ! I’ll be on zwift too in a week or two, just waiting for a Kickr !

    Reply
    • James Gill Post author

      Hi Charles. Glad you like it. Hopefully you’ve found something interesting. You’ll love your KICKR. Although I knew how it worked, the First time I used it, experiencing the whole idea of the changing resistance for the hills was amazing – never used a smart trainer at that point though

      Reply
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