Twelve months ago, no one could have predicted the meteoric rise of indoor cycling and eRacing as a whole. Zwift has been around for a number of years already but, in 2020, it reached new heights because of global lockdowns and thousands of race cancellations. With fewer places to ride safely, cyclists had no choice but to jump on the smart turbo trainer. And it wasn’t just Zwift that gained hundreds and thousands of new users – platforms such as BKool, Rouvy, and Peloton grew in popularity, too, and indoor training equipment was sold out for months. With new stringent lockdown protocols currently in place across the globe, we may see a similar pattern play out for the first half of 2021.
Even the pro peloton headed to Zwift for the Virtual Tour de France in July, and many of the same riders returned to the platform in the winter for the inaugural UCI Cycling eSports World Championships. Community specialists raced alongside WorldTour pros, cyclo-cross champions, and Olympic mountain bikers; but it was a rower in the end, Jason Osborne, who took top honours in the men’s race, while Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) dominated the finish of the women’s race.
Among Zwift’s competitors is an ultra-realistic and free platform called RGT Cycling which is gaining traction across the indoor cycling landscape. Claiming to be the “world’s most realistic indoor cycling simulator,” RGT offers virtual racing and riding on real-life road replicas, the ability to upload custom routes using gpx files, and a massive library of workouts and training plans for cyclists of all abilities. RGT also houses a unique physics simulator that creates a much more realistic ride feel than competitors such as Zwift - and, of all the platforms currently available, it's RGT and Zwift that caters for the purist, both in terms of workout and racing offerings. The ride experiences on RGT and Zwift are quite different, and there are plenty of pros and cons to each when it comes to workouts and virtual races.
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RGT vs Zwift: Workouts
With the free version of RGT, users can choose any workout from the RGT Structured Workout Partial Library, and complete a ride on one of RGT’s available roads. Upgrade to the Premium version of RGT (priced at £6.99/$9.99 vs Zwift’s monthly subscription of £12.99/$14.99 per month), and users now have access to RGT’s Full Workout Library where you can upload your own custom workouts, complete a ride on any road of your choosing – including custom “Magic Roads” – and you can even add bots to chase along the route.
Complete customisation is one of the biggest factors that separates RGT Cycling workouts from Zwift workouts: the ability to upload your own custom workout using a fit file, and then complete the workout on your own custom route, called “Magic Roads”. With RGT’s “Magic Roads,” users can upload a gpx file from anywhere in the world, and RGT will auto-create a rideable route in-game that matches the real-life route in terms of distance, elevation, gradient and corners. This is a massive tool for serious cyclists who are looking to pre-ride a course ahead of time.
For example, users could upload the Nationals Criterium course to RGT, upload a racer’s fit file from the previous year as their workout, and then put bots on the course that match the effort and speed expected in the real-life race. What's more, race organisers have begun virtually replicating real-life courses to offer eRacing editions of real-world races. Something that, in our experience, will continue to thrive even after the real-world events return; and could even help those real-world events to draw in new participants.
In summary, RGT is a really comprehensive race simulation tool that allows users to closely mimic the physical efforts of any course in the world, all from the comfort of your own home.
Zwift offers a workout library that is comically big – 2,171 workouts are on offer – with a helpful search tool where you can find workouts from 20 minutes to two and a half hours in length. Once you’ve chosen your workout, there is an easy-to-read display which shows your current interval, power output, time remaining, intervals remaining, and more. Choosing a workout on Zwift is simple and easy, and with so many workouts to choose from, users will never run out of options.
The breadth of Zwift’s workouts is its strongest asset, with a seemingly infinite number of workouts to choose from, and the ability to create your own workouts using Zwift’s workout builder. Within the usual range of workouts (e.g. sprints, tempo, threshold), there are a number of workouts and training plans exclusive to Zwift. RGT Cycling also offers a number of training plans, but not quite as many as Zwift. The Zwift Academy workouts are a standout feature on Zwift, as well as race simulation workouts from Paris-Roubaix, for example.
All in all, the customizable features offered on RGT give it clear separation over Zwift within the workout world. Zwift workouts are perfect for users focused on improving fitness, and nailing each interval distraction-free. While RGT workouts can be done in isolation, the customisable additions of courses and bots add a whole new element of realism. For dedicated racers, there is no better race preparation than riding the course itself, and mimicking the physical efforts of racing in training. And, on RGT, you can do exactly that. Just don’t forget to go outside and practice your cornering.
RGT vs Zwift: Racing
In addition to bringing hundreds of thousands of new users on-board, both RGT and Zwift have been making huge strides in the world of eRacing. RGT recently launched the Pro-Am Echelon Racing League comprising eight weekends of virtual racing from November 2020 through March 2020, and featuring “Magic Roads” from the North American pro cycling calendar, including the Redlands Cycling Classic and UCI Tour of the Gila.
The RGT racing community has made great strides in recent months but also recognises that there is room to improve as it looks forward to the 2021/22 season. Known for its realism and responsiveness to the community, RGT seems to roll out updates on nearly a daily basis in an effort to create the ideal online bike racing experience. Participation in the amateur/community events has continued to grow, as has interest from real-life race directors and various professional road and eRacing teams to participate in the pro series. Alongside the growth in participation is the growth in viewership, a consistent rate of 3-5% in viewership across the Echelon Racing League YouTube and Facebook channels every pro race day.
RGT Cycling utilises and implements constant feedback from the racing community, a welcome act for all participants, investors, sponsors, and production teams. In addition to the constant improvements to the platform, RGT will be expanding its community and pro events for the next season of the Echelon Racing League. Events will be divvied up into multiple start times for each event race day, with the possibility of a championship round being added on to the end of the series. RGT is also looking to expand the production of their races – professional and community – to ensure that every field includes commentary and a livestream, just as they do today. The ultimate goal of RGT Cycling is to provide an entertaining and fair venue for all racers, and for both community and professionals riders to have fun and showcase their talents in a new cycling discipline.
While RGT’s race calendar continues to grow, the Zwift racing calendar is in full swing. The recently launched Zwift Racing League (ZRL) hosted by World Tactical Racing Leagues (WTRL) included more than 58,000 racers from over 1,000 teams during its first season of racing. The famous WTRL Team Time Trials (TTT) see hundreds and thousands of participants racing on Zwift every single week, and the numbers only continue to grow.
With increased popularity comes increased controversy, and in the sport of cycling, there is never a shortage of accusations. But rather than typical PED-testing, Zwift and the eRacing community is, at times, plagued by weight-dopers and data manipulators. In response, the community has created a number of pages, forums, and data transparency checks that include weigh-in videos, height checks, mandatory heart rate monitors, data calibration, and dual recording. For races at the top of the ZRL – and at the UCI Cycling eSports World Championships – these checks are required for each and every rider, and the refusal to do so will result in immediate disqualification. Weigh-in videos and height checks measure the rider themselves, while data calibration and dual recording verify the rider’s equipment, ensuring that the rider’s performance is as accurate as possible.
Zwift is by far the most popular platform for indoor training and racing, but the in-game physics are a common complaint from many. The drafting effect is significant, but not at all close to in real-life. First-time users often complain that “the draft doesn’t do anything!” And while that’s not completely true, I do see where they’re coming from.
During a Zwift race, for example, it is impossible to sit in the middle of a 100-rider group and just ride easy. The drafting effect is not as strong as in real-life; as in this scenario, you would hardly need to pedal in the middle of the group to hold your position in real-life. But in Zwift, it is rare that you can drop below ‘tempo’ and still maintain your position in the field. A Zwift race is a lot like holding your tempo-to-threshold power for half an hour, with above-threshold surges every time the road tilts up. It’s a painful style of racing, and one that can take months to get used to, even for the most experienced real-life racers.
Racing on RGT, on the other hand, is more realistic in this regard thanks to its in-game physics that, in addition to drafting, also include cornering and bunch positioning. Whereas Zwift allows you to ride full-gas through every corner, RGT will apply the brakes and ignore your pedalling input as your avatar approaches a sharp corner, and only allows them to accelerate after they’ve gone through the apex. Similarly, accelerating into the back of another rider will cause the same braking effect.
RGT’s in-game display includes a power graph that will turn red when you are wasting energy like this. It adds another level of gamification and another skill to learn, but one that mimics real-life racing well. It is a fascinating metric and dynamic tool that can be mastered for each and every course, and a standout difference for RGT.
Overall, the differing physics of RGT give it a much punchier and more realistic ride feel, especially on tight crit courses or technical descents. Whereas Zwift allows you to maintain a steady effort for the entirety of the course, RGT rewards decelerating for corners (i.e. coasting on your trainer) by giving your avatar the better line, and putting you ahead of riders who rode too hard and went wide through the corner.
The ‘blob’ effect is present in both RGT and Zwift, in that it is almost impossible to regain contact with the main peloton if you lose the draft. All it takes is 10 or 20 meters, and suddenly the draft is gone. There have been many times – more often on RGT than Zwift – when I have lost focus for just a second, realised that I fell out of the draft, and had to do 700w for 20 seconds just to catch back on.
So what is the answer then: RGT or Zwift? It all depends on what your goals are. For road and crit racers looking to mimic the complexity, focus, and intricacies of real-life racing, RGT is the way to go for both workouts and racing. The customisable features that RGT has on offer put it five steps ahead of Zwift in terms of real-life race simulation on your home trainer.
On the other hand, Zwift has the numbers: races, courses, leagues, competition, workouts, and more. The platform is easy-to-use, but hard to get used to. Once you do master the in-game nuances, however, Zwift racing is one of the hardest and most thrilling things I’ve ever done on a bike. The community engagement is up and down, but in the past couple of years, we have seen hundreds and thousands of people posting their data to create a self-policed eRacing community on Zwift. Both platforms continue to grow at a rapid rate – with the UCI Cycling eSports World Championships on Zwift being a huge step towards recognition and legitimacy – and it’s impossible to say what will come next.
Zach is a freelance writer, the head of ZNehr Coaching, and an elite-level rider in road, track, and e-racing. He writes about everything cycling-related, from buyer's guides to product reviews and feature articles to power analyses. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science at Marian University-Indianapolis, Zach discovered a passion for writing that soon turned into a full-fledged career. In between articles, Zach spends his time working with endurance athletes of all abilities and ages at ZNehr Coaching. After entering the sport at age 17, Zach went on to have a wonderful road racing career that included winning the 2017 Collegiate National Time Trial Championships and a 9th place finish at the 2019 US Pro National Time Trial Championships. Nowadays, Zach spends most of his ride time indoors with NeXT eSport.
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