Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How to Get Started with Zwift

I'm glad you're considering Zwift.  It's a fun training tool and a way to meet like-minded cyclists from around the world.  I've been riding in Zwift since March 2016 and I've ridden in the virtual world with 100s of people from Australia to Japan to Africa and all over Europe and the US.  Zwift is very social and it's easy to communicate with the riders you're next to via text messages in the game.  As with any video game the more you ride the more cool bikes, wheels and kit you unlock to dress up your avatar. If you climb 164,042 feet (50,000 Meters) you unlock the ultimate fastest bike called the Tron. It will take the better part of a year to get there!  Here's a picture of me and Meylina on our Trons.

Communicating with riders after your ride is possible because you save your rides to Strava and Strava shows who you rode with. Knowing that you can start a conversation with them by commenting on their activity.  Zwift creates a .fit file (just like a Garmin) which details real GPS coordinates and makes it possible to apply all the Strava analytics to your rides.  Here's a picture of my screen in a group ride.

You can also ride with friends in the virtual Zwift world no matter where they are in the physical world.  I have done many rides with my brother who lives in Florida and friends I have met in Zwift from New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut, England, France, Canada and Australia.

There are all kinds of group rides and races which make it even more fun. In Zwift all the dynamics of drafting, climbing and decending work just like in real life.  It makes for great motivation to see a rider just ahead and put the hammer down to catch them and get in their draft. I find I ride longer and harder indoors then I ever did before Zwift when the indoor trainer was a necessary evil.  Now I'd rather ride in Zwift with over 800 people than outside by myself. Here is an example from a recent Zwift race showing my Suffer Score.  That's 142 of 145 in the RED! 

Your speed in the game is based on the power you're generating and your weight or watts/kg.  The more watts/kg you're generating the faster you'll go.  Using this formula for speed replicates all the cycling dynamics of real life.  Heavier riders will need to put out more watts on a climb than lighter riders.  Similarly heavier riders will have an advantage on the descents. 

Here's a video of me climbing the mountain in Zwift Showing the different views you can switch between.

How to Get Started

A Zwift setup includes:
  • Your bike
  • A stationary trainer 
  • A Computer (laptop, PC, iPhone or iPad) to run the Zwift application and communicate with your trainer and bike via ANT+ or Bluetooth.  You download the app from Zwift.com and the first week is free.  From there on it is $10 a month.
Optionally you may consider 
  • A large screen TV or monitor for a more immersive experience
  • A cadence sensor to accurately reflect the cadence of your avitar
  • A heart rate monitor to know how hard you're working
  • The iPhone Mobile App which also lets you control the game and look up rider profiles during the ride.  It also has the schedule of events and let's you join in advance.
You will want to pick a good place for your Zwift "pain cave."  The setup should offer access to your keyboard to control the game (I use a separate bluetooth keyboard) and a fan to keep you cool (I actually use 3 fans, one in front and one on each side)

Here is a picture of my setup in the garage.

Here are some suggestions for your setup.

Your Bike
It is most convenient to have a bike dedicated to Zwifting. This greatly reduces the time it takes to get going.  Your bike should be a road bike with 700c wheels.  You may also consider mounting a trainer tire on the back wheel.  These tires are a lot quieter and last longer than standard road tires.

Your Computer
Most late model computers (Windows or Mac) will be able to run Zwift which requires 64bit.  Zwift is a video game so high performance graphics enhance the experience.  You'll also need an ANT+ USB that plugs into your PC or laptop. I use the Garmin one: ANT+ USB Stick  If you have a computer you can test it out by downloading Zwift and running it without any other equipment. Zwift has recently added support for the iPhone and iPad which only communicate via bluetooth which means they only work with Smart trainers that support bluetooth.

The Trainer
The least expensive option is a Zwift supported "dumb" trainer with a speed detector on your back wheel.  A dumb trainer is one that does not communicate directly with the game.  With a dumb trainer you communicate with Zwift by transmitting the speed of your wheel. Zwift estimates the power you are putting based on the speed of your wheel and the power curve of the trainer.  Here is the setup I started with. Travel Trac Comp Fluid -  I think this is the best least expensive option. For a speed sensor I use the Garmin Speed Sensor Link

For a more immersive experience you may want to go for a smart trainer like the Wahoo Kickr.  With a smart trainer Zwift controls the resistance so when you climb it's harder to pedal. After well over 1000 miles in Zwift using the Trac Comp Fluid I upgraded to the Wahoo Kickr SNAP.  The advantage of smart trainers like the Kickr SNAP is that they communicate your actual power directly to Zwift. DC Rainmaker has a detailed evaluation of trainers here. and the Zwift site has the complete list of supported trainers.

Here are some other resources you will find useful
You can follow me on Strava at https://www.strava.com/athletes/8196543 and I hope to ride with you in Zwift soon.