Beginner's Guide to Zwift

With many of us increasingly training indoors we thought it would be useful to share the insights of a newcomer to Zwift.  Although you can try out Zwift for free the trial is pretty limited and you may have to invest in an equipment upgrade before you can even start the trial. 

What you require:

The Zwift website gives good details on the equipment that you require but essentially you will require an indoor bike which can measure power or speed, this output dictates your speed when riding with the App.  There are varying degrees of sophistication in the equipment, which give more or less realistic riding experience, if you are prepared to invest more upfront.  Our tip is if you have a spin bike or "dumb" turbo trainer then the addition of Power Pedals gets you up and running for approximately £370 (for the Favero Assioma Uno pedals which have proved easy to use,  again no sponsorship/association).  The big advantage with this is that you can also switch those pedals on to your bike for outdoor riding and use that power reading. 

After your Free Trial Zwift will cost you £12 per month for unlimited use and we understand that has flexible cancellation.  You will have to download the Zwift App to your laptop and/or smart phone and it appears necessary to also download the Zwift Companion App to your phone.  You can view the riding on a smart phone, an up-to-date tablet or best of all a laptop.  We found that on a smart phone if you leave Zwift to check another application then your avatar stops riding!  Navigation around the Apps seems a little unintuitive to start with but that is probably picked up over time.

As Zwift rides tend to end up being relatively intense you will want some sort of mat beneath your bike and also a towel to catch sweat.  There are of course expensive branded mats but any sort of exercise or yoga mat would do the job.  We also found a cycling cap was effective to contain and then direct drops of sweat!  Just rinse in the shower after training to keep it fresh for the next day.

While there are specific indoor training laptop desks (yes, there are!) you can probably improvise using a small table or chair to balance your laptop or tablet safely within your eyeline and within reach.  You will also want to have at least one water bottle within reach, with your preferred refreshment depending on the session.

A fan will also help keep you a little cooler.  Simple desk fans are available from £15 all the way up to the sophisticated Zwift specific version for £200.

The types of ride:

There are basically three different types of ride on Zwift.

  • Just ride: You can select from a small number of routes which change on rotation and ride alongside anyone else that is participating at the time.  Generally, the pace of riders is on the slow side with occasional people flying past and then slowing (presumably interval training, see below).  As with all types of rides you can send a message to all those on the road at the time, you can also give a “Ride-On” (basically a “kudos”) to a rider during or after a ride.
  • Training programmes: There are various programmes which you can select from a filtered menu with for example varying power intervals based on your calculated or provided FTP score.  You then ride on an open course with anyone else, as described above and follow the on-screen Training cues, the bottom of the page displays a heart-rate and power graph.
  • Organised rides, races and “Meet-ups”: Rides and Races are open to all and you can see the schedule for the upcoming days, enter and request a reminder.  You then log-on to Zwift just ahead of that time and select the event which should put you on the start-line with the other participants.  In our experience the speed of these events is typically pretty high and above the “advertised” speed, so a race category with guidance of say 2.5 – 3.0 watt per kilo may well see the front group averaging 3.5+.  “Rides” seem to be just a little less competitive than “Races”, but only a little!  Zwift takes into account drafting and if you can find the right level then these events can be entertaining as you try and stay with a group, take your turn on the front to bridge to another group and of course make a heroic breakaway/sprint for the line!
Meet-ups are a way of riding with people you know or connect to with Zwift.  An organiser establishes a Meet-Up ride, invites their followers and then up to 50 of their followers can join the ride.  We would say these are not quite as good as they can be as its not so easy to identify the participants on what can be a busy road.


What we think overall?

While there are areas that could be improved using the App does what most people will want which is firstly to distract you while indoor training and secondly if you are even a little competitive then the Rides and Races are a good motivation to push yourself harder and reap the training benefits.  For months in which you will be riding indoors a lot then the subscription looks good value, it seems you can pick and choose which months you subscribe. 

In these challenging times Zwift also encourages a sense of community and allows you to ride with friends which, depending where in the world you are, sadly may not be possible outdoors for some time.

If you are on Zwift then feel free to follow “Ed INVANI CC” which will also let you know of any Meet-Up rides that get arranged.  Happy riding! 

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