Zwift was only launched in 2015 but in the short time since has revolutionised indoor training for cyclists. Indoor training was once a necessary evil for committed cyclists escaping winter weather, but Zwift’s virtual worlds offer an engaging and addictive experience, helping more riders get fitter than ever before.
Whatever your budget and level of expertise, there’s a Zwift setup for you - but the more you spend, the more realistic the experience, with more impressive training gains as a result.
In this guide, we’ll run through how the app can give you the competitive edge on the bike, before recommending three setups to help you make the most of Zwift.
How can Zwift give you the competitive edge?
Zwift is an indoor training app popular with sportive riders, amateur racers and professional cyclists alike. By connecting your turbo trainer or indoor training bike with the app and your smartphone, tablet or computer, you can choose from five virtual worlds to immerse yourself in.
Zwift’s own fantasy island, Watopia, is complemented by virtual courses in London, New York, Richmond and Innsbruck, with the latter two options modelled on the routes of the 2015 and 2018 UCI Road World Championships.
In simple terms, the harder you ride, the faster your virtual avatar will go. If you’re using a smart turbo trainer or indoor training bike, the app will automatically adjust the resistance as the gradient changes. “Smart trainers allow you to become fully immersed in the landscape of platforms such as Zwift, with the resistance increasing as you go uphill and decreasing when descending,” says Pav Bryan of Spokes Personal Performance Coaching.
You can ride solo or join a group event, with everything from social spins and group rides set within a predefined power range, all the way through to full-gas races with prizes on the line. “Zwift adds an element of competition that some riders need to be able to produce their best efforts,” according to James Spragg of Spragg Cycle Coaching.
On top of that, Zwift also offers training plans and workouts - ideal if you’re training for an event - all set against the ever-changing backdrop of climbs, descents and vast vistas found in the app’s virtual worlds.
Structured sessions on the indoor trainer remove the external variables you might find when riding out on the road. Zwift ups the ante again by keeping you engaged - dare we say it, entertained - during an interval sessions.
Using a smart trainer comes into its own here by automatically controlling the resistance for each interval, ensuring you get the maximum training benefit from every pedal stroke, even if you have little time to train.
“Riding on the turbo is so controlled,” says Dean Downing, a former professional cyclist turned coach. “You can stick to a predefined power, with no variables like the wind or traffic to contend with. You can easily plan a session and see your progress every week and month.”
What are the best Zwift setups?
Zwift uses your power output (and weight) to calculate your speed in the game. A smart trainer or indoor training bike with a built-in power meter will automatically transmit that data from the device to the app, while also being capable of automatically controlling resistance.
But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune to get started on Zwift. Here are three recommended setups to get started, regardless of your budget.
Budget: CycleOps Fluid 2, £250.00
The CycleOps Fluid 2 is a conventional turbo trainer so doesn’t have the built-in electronics to record (and transmit your power data), nor can it automatically control the resistance (you’ll need to use your bike’s gears for that), but it’s still fully compatible with Zwift.
All you need is a ANT+ or Bluetooth speed sensor, which works in conjunction with the trainer and app to estimate your power. If your smartphone, tablet or computer is Bluetooth-enabled, you can connect the speed sensor direct, otherwise you will also need an ANT+ dongle.
Mid-range: Wahoo Kickr Core, £699.99
The Wahoo Kickr Core is one of our favourite turbo trainers, offering the accuracy and realism of a direct-drive trainer at a mid-range price.
As a direct-drive smart trainer, the Kickr Core requires you to take your bike’s rear wheel off, but that ensures an extremely realistic ride quality and excellent power accuracy (a claimed +/- two per cent). Like all smart trainers, the Kickr Core offers automatic resistance control.
The unit offers a maximum power output of 1,800 watts and can simulate a gradient up to 16 per cent, making the Kickr Core ready to handle the worst Zwift’s virtual roads can throw at you. Up the ante with Wahoo’s Climb simulator, which attaches to the front of your bike and rises/falls as the gradient changes.
Ultimate: Wattbike Atom, £1,599.00
The Wattbike Atom smart bike provides a first-class indoor training experience thanks to its connectivity, adjustability, accuracy and realism.
The Atom offers ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity so is fully compatible with Zwift, with automatic resistance control as a result. Whether you’re climbing, descending, drafting or completing an interval session, you’ll get a road-like ride.
The built-in power meter samples data 100 times a second with a claimed accuracy of +/- two per cent and a power range of 0-2,000 watts, while the Atom is also able to replicate gradients of up to 25 per cent.
The Atom is a dedicated indoor training bike so, unlike a turbo trainer, there’s no need to attach your regular bike - it’s ready to ride whenever you want to hop into Watopia. The position is also fully adjustable, so multiple riders in the same household can benefit.
Five tips to make you a better Zwift racer
eRacing is hard – no question – but the following tips will help you gain an edge over your competitors, writes Aaron Borrill
Racing on Zwift can be a real shock to the system – especially if it happens to be your first time – but there are several tricks to help you perform at your best.
The races are divided into categories from A-D based on your power-to-weight ratio or FTP, which keeps riders of equal ability together. And while it’s advisable to start in a lower category, this doesn’t always mean the racing is going to be tame.
In fact, the start is always brutally tough no matter the category, as nobody wants to get dropped, but the pace will eventually subside to a more bearable intensity. The goal here is to suck it up, find a rhythm and learn how to pace yourself.
To help you gain an added advantage over your rivals, we’ve compiled a list of tips to improve your race craft and make you more competitive.
1. Use power-ups
You’ll be surprised at just how many Zwifters have no idea how these valuable little icons work or what they do. In layman’s terms, using a power-up can be the difference between winning and losing. Power-ups are randomly awarded as you pass through a start/finish, sprint arch or summit a KOM. Of the five different power-ups available, three of them are of a performance-enhancing nature and can be used to your advantage in critical moments in a race.
- Feather Lightweight (feather): Reduces your weight by 7kg for uphill attacks. (Lasts 15 seconds.)
- Truck Draft Boost (van): Boosts the draft you are getting off riders by 50 per cent. (Lasts 30 seconds.)
- Helmet Aero Boost (helmet): Handy for attacks off the front or contesting the sprint. (Lasts 30 seconds.)
2. Use the super-tuck
The super-tuck is all about free speed – just like in real life. Your avatar will automatically assume the super-tuck position when you’re freewheeling at speeds in excess of 58kph (36mph) on a negative gradient of at least 3 per cent. Using the super-tuck on quick descents during a race will help you recover quickly, but could also potentially backfire on you should any moves go off the front, which could result in you getting dropped quickly.
3. Race more, improve your start
The only way to improve is by racing as much as you can in different categories and terrain types. Yes, you may get dropped initially, but you’ll slowly start to get a grip on how things work, where moves happen and how to place yourself within the bunch. One of the best ways to ensure that you get a good start is by signing on early; the sooner you enter the start chute, the closer to the front you’ll be gridded. Another secret is to slingshot yourself off the line by spinning up the turbo trainer as the clock counts down.
4. Upgrade your Zwift bike
Not all Zwift bikes are created equal. There are some really fast machines available – some of which will need to be unlocked while others need to be purchased. The fastest bike currently available is the Concept 1 ‘Tron bike’, followed by the Cervelo S5, Trek Madone, Canyon Aeroad and Zwift Aero.
5. Plan your fuelling and set-up strategy
Make sure you prioritise your fuelling strategy and set-up arrangement before the start of the race. Also, ensure that you’ve eaten something and are well hydrated. Indoor riding tends to generate more heat than riding outside, which increases body temperature and sweat rate, so you might want to re-think where you place your fan, towel, bottles and energy gels. Always be prepared.
This article is part of a series on indoor cycling, supported by Wattbike