Friday, March 6, 2015

Riding the Virtual Island of Zwift

In the cycling world, there are a few things that come along that you say, "Wow, what took this so long, and why didnt I think of it?" Most of the time it is more on the lines of what a stupid idea.

Now, I am not a gamer at all, I will play some old school Unreal Tournament with my son or Doom, yeah, thats how we like it. So the idea of a virtual on-line cycling "game" was not real enticing at first. I have seen such things in the arcades, yes arcades and they were less than spectacular. So this whole Zwift thing made me curious. It is more than just a game, it is a way to interact and ride with others from anywhere in the world, but not just interact, but engage others. Heck you can have group rides together, race each other and it is fully interactive. Here is their explanation:

Zwift is an online community of like minded athletes united in the pursuit of a better indoor training experience. Created by cyclists for cyclists, Zwift brings the things we love about outdoor cycling indoors and adds a dose of fun. Yes fun!

How do we do it? We start with the best of massive, multiplayer video game technology - our “Zengine” - add in a little voice communication and a whole lot of math. Zwift works across multiple platforms seamlessly connecting to all your existing devices wirelessly via ANT+ and *Bluetooth Smart protocols.



So what does this mean to you? FREIKIN' AWESOME! thats what. Here is the deal, the weather here in Maryland sucks this year...period. Snow, temperatures in the my hoodles want to crawl up inside me and never return range and just miserable cycling weather, So this program comes at just the right time. Now, it is easy to say that something like this isnt really cycling, and you would be correct in saying so...until you actually get on. Now, you must have an ant+ dongle and/or power meter of some sort (they do support some classic trainers). You must also request an invite as well. The requirements are steep, but the payoff is worth it. I had no issues at all get it up and running. It also saves your file directly to Strava, very cool.

Now this in the beta stages, so there are minor tweaks that are needed, but you find yourself immediately immersed in the stunning graphics. Now, depending on your setup, you may or may not be able to truly appreciate the surroundings; things like headlights, shadows, the sounds, etc. It isnt hard to find yourself "in the moment." Now, I am no tech geek, so I dont know the algorithms needed to make such an idea a reality, but I will tell you that you will work (if you want) and you will feel the pain (as you should) of riding here. You control your speed and wattage and "your" rider reacts to your input via the ant+dongle. I know what you are going to say, "but I can just watch a video and get the same workout."...nope. Here is the deal, on a trainer watching a video, you are not interacting with the video. Your input has no effect at all on the what happening on the screen. With Zwift, in order to climb a certain hill, you must put the effort in. So for instance, there is a polka dot jersey climb at the top of the mountain, your results (I use a Power Tap hub) are directly affected by your input; more watts=faster speeds and wearing the red and white dots...it that simple. It also uses your weight as well for real world physics. You can draft, coast downhills. Now of course, there are people out there that have found ways to cheat of course...yes just like the real world. You will see some erroneous times and speeds (people using low weights). Those are the people that have to be first at everything and yield no results when actually riding.

I have found that my "rides" feel and produce results of what I would accomplish outside. My wattage is spot on with my garmin. Of course the speeds reflected on the Garmin are way off. Thats where it gets interesting. I may average 28mph on the Garmin, but my Zwift results are more real world. On the same ride, Zwift will show 20.4, which is the more accurate speed. So this is why; since Zwift is using algorithms that require your input to ride up a climb at a given speed, it forces you to really ride a climb like you would outdoors. I know, sounds unrealistic, but trust me it works. Other than the people who cheat (various ways) you cant fool the system by setting your trainer to an easier setting...doesnt work that way. It reads your wattage directly, so if you aint putin' out watts, you aint getting up those hills. It is hard to explain the "reality" of it unless you are doing it. All I can say is that I come away from a riding feeling as if I was really, well riding! 

So, this isnt a game, but something to have fun with and can be used as a training tool if you want. I think this ranks right up there with Strava in terms of the impact it WILL have on the cycling community. I know this is a bit of a scattered review, but I will have more to come for sure.