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Zwift changes are coming - Is it what you've been waiting for?

Zwift group ride
(Image credit: Zwift)

Indoor cycling is almost exclusively Zwift. There are other players, both big and small, but there's no one else who dominates the discussion in the same way that Zwift does. 

The platform hosts over 1000 weekly races and its riders have covered over 3.37 billion virtual miles. Eight out of ten of those shopping for one of the best turbo trainers available will be doing so only for use on Zwift. 

Whole communities of people use Zwift to come together across the globe to ride, race, and train but, most importantly, to connect. Some of those riders have even been able to transform the landscape of professional cycling by breaking barriers while racing without the support it once took. 

It's been an equalizing force for under-represented groups and it's been almost three years since the UCI added an esports world championship on the platform. Zwift is a force for change in cycling and they are a part of the culture of modern cycling.  

That kind of influence is what every company might dream of but it's also a heavy weight to bear. Those of us who are users of the platform have a deep relationship and strong opinions but there's also an ongoing need to grow the platform. 

Zwift has had to navigate the expectations and continue to push forward. Today Zwift is ready to discuss what that means for the upcoming season. The aim is to build the base and remove barriers for new users but also introduce ways for existing users to connect even more deeply. Now, and in the future, Zwift is aiming to help Zwifters find and create community, make it easier to find great content for you, and continue to bring the outdoor experience indoors.

Zwift workout UI

Zwift has been rolling out an updated home screen and card based UI that will continue to expand (Image credit: Zwift)

Discoverability 

Zwift has been successful because of the communities it's possible to build on the platform, and it's only when new users are able to tap into that experience that the platform makes sense. For Zwift as a brand, the biggest challenge has always been finding ways to help users find new content experiences and tap into the community. 

If you haven't been on Zwift lately the first login with the new user interface is going to look a lot different and it's all centred around improved discoverability. That is unless you are using Apple TV, where support is still in development for the new update - it's in the works, don't worry. 

Back in April Zwift introduced a new home screen UI with a gradual rollout. At this point everyone on Mac and PC and 90% of tablet users will have made the switch. Expect Apple TV rollout this fall, but even as the last of the user base switches over it's only the beginning of the larger vision. 

This current phase has brought more controls to the home screen experience and switched to a card based visual design. The next phase aims to take that foundation and lean even more heavily into helping users find something that feels right on every login. Specifically, that's going to mean better presentation of the training library through easier searching and more information on the workouts. In the future, workouts will get their own row in the UI and the first workout will be what Zwift thinks is right for you. 

Zwift companion onboarding experience

The Zwift companion isn't going away and there will be a focus on helping people understand what it can do (Image credit: Zwift)

This functionality won't come at the expense of the companion app. Rolling out soon will be a guided introduction to the companion app and it's through the companion app that Zwift is looking to expand the community experience. Since launch the experience has added the ability to expand a club to as many as 10,000 members, join up to 10 clubs, create your own clubs or search for clubs, and there are push notifications for chat. These features have meant that 74% of all scheduled content on Zwift is now member generated with club activities making up 9% of all Zwift activities in the last 3 months. As those stats continue to expand, Zwift plans easier communication and a more optimised search system for greater expansion of user generated events. This is the heart of what Zwift is and the brand is leaning hard into it with the companion app experience front and centre. 

Zwift Clubs event settings

Community is central to Zwift and the options are continuing to expand. (Image credit: Zwift)

The solo Zwift experience

Zwift community is the driver of the platform. It's what keeps people coming back and revisiting the virtual world through the years, but it's not the only experience to be had. There is a solo experience on Zwift and it's getting better in some important ways. The first piece of that puzzle is actually about a feature that bridges the divide between solo and community riding: Pace Partners. 

Pace Partners have been in the game since the middle of 2020 but so far, they've been an experimental project and part of the Zwift Future Works. Despite that label, they are exceedingly popular and ~30% of engaged Zwifters do at least one Pace Partner ride per week. The draw is obvious as it's a way to ride socially without any community investment. 

Anytime, day or night, you can jump on Zwift and ride with a group at your chosen pace. You can ride for as long as you want and you can pick your pace. There are people there to follow, and chat with if you want, and there's flexibility you won't find with scheduled events. Now it's time for the training partners to graduate and start working on earning their Tron bikes. You can look for the Pace Partners on the first row of the home screen and there will be a total of 16 options. Eight pace partners will ride in Watopia and eight will ride in Makuri Island. 

Zwift Pace Partner Graduation

The Zwift Pace Partners are graduating from Future Works (Image credit: Zwift)

If you'd prefer to truly avoid your fellow Zwifters, there are more options coming for you as well. There are lots of opportunities to race on Zwift but what about racing yourself? There's potentially no better challenge and with the Future works introduction of Holographic replay, you'll now have that opportunity. When turned on, any segment on Zwift will trigger a ghost version of yourself riding at your 90-day PR and/or your most recent segment attempt. You can race yourself steadily getting faster each time you come through the Volcano Circuit loop until your legs fall off.

Whatever appeals to your sense of torture, it's an excellent way to build XP as we head towards the newly expanded level 60 cap. That's right, a new level cap for the first time in nearly four years should be landing this fall. Those who quickly moved from 25 to 50 back in late 2018/early 2019 will remember the accelerated level up system and its making a return. The years you've been riding at level 50 haven’t gone unnoticed and while your level hasn't changed, your XP has continued to count. When the level expands to 60 that built up XP will accelerate your levelling up. For everyone who's currently under level 50, you will soon have a new goal to work towards. 

New Zwift roads

Urakazi will expand Makuri islands bring new roads and new challenges (Image credit: Zwift)

Another good way to work towards that new goal will be new routes. Early 2021 was when Makuri Islands made its debut and between Nov 4 and Nov 30 the Tour Makuri will highlight Zwift’s second largest and most-popular world. Unlike past Tour of Zwift events, this will be the first fully on-demand tour with Pace Partners leading each of the six stages at designated times. The tour of course highlights existing routes but there are also truly new routes coming with the Urukazi expansion. 

Perfect for badge hunters, and route motivated solo riders, Urukazi will expand Makuri Islands. There will be more Japan inspired tropical islands with 10-12 miles (16-19 km) of new road, connecting all of Makuri. The 8 new launch routes, including an uber route that stretches to 25+ miles (40+ km), will see new road types combining asphalt, dirt, and sand plus segments and a new event paddock.

Outside of building XP, another exciting new way to use the new routes as a solo rider is the incoming route-based workout mode. One of the biggest challenges for new riders is understanding FTP. At some point that challenge then morphs from understanding FTP to test avoidance. In both instances the fix is for Zwift to skip the need for an FTP and that's what they've done with the route-based workout mode. Instead of intervals based on a percentage of FTP, just ride a route and you'll get instructions as you ride based on the route. It's like working with a coach in real life. 

Zwift UCI header

Look for the UCI eSports Championship to come back to Zwift for 2023 with a new format (Image credit: Zwift)

More racing

So far, the focus has been growing the base. More users, more community, more things to do on Zwift. There is another piece though and Zwift refers to it as the pointy end of the stick. At the very top of that hierarchy is a third year of the UCI Esports championship happening February 18. As the experience evolves, so does the format. 

This year the UCI Esports Championship race will cover a series of three races that steadily narrows the field. Race one will see roughly 100 starters take on a rolling route around 14.5km in length with PowerUps active. The top thirty finishers will then move to a climbing route with roughly 200 meters of climbing and an 8.8km length. PowerUps will once again be active and this time only 10 competitors will move on to the final race. For the final race the format will switch to elimination with a rider eliminated every arch and the last three contenders making their way to the podium.  

Also returning this year are the Super League Arena Games. For those who may be unfamiliar these events are a blend of eSports and real-life competition and are an official World Triathlon event series. At in-person events, athletes race each other in a 200m pool swim, a 4km bike leg in Zwift, and a 1km run in Zwift. For 2022 host cities included Munich, London, and Singapore (Grand Finale) with all in-venue tickets sold out. 2023 will expand the racing to an additional 4-5 cities.

Zwift TTT Update

Zwift is finally updating the TT experience and there will be new functionality for TTT events as well as individual TT races (Image credit: Zwift)

The pointy end of the stick isn't only limited to elite athletes. There are also features for the rest of us in the Zwift racing league. The series comprises 1,800 teams, 15,000 riders, ~130 divisions across all time zones, and all abilities. This year will add to that with increased simplicity and fairness through improved category enforcement, and hardware required events. 

Zwift has been rolling out auto-categorization to make Zwift racing fairer. Auto categorization ensures Zwifters are matched against riders of similar abilities, based on their most recent ride data captured in the platform. In addition, time trial events have also gotten some attention with TTT start pens and drafting with TT bikes. You'll no longer have to time your start with a watch and TT races will be available on any course. 

For those that prefer racing without a team, format Z Racing is expanding as well. Look for a thematic race series for each month of the year with one stage per week. You can race for your position on the stage or race for your position over the month (GC on ZP). Everything will be category enforced for fairness. 

This year’s racing calendar, and other details, can be found on a new dedicated racing website.

Zwift Pro-Training Camp

(Image credit: Zwift)

High level training 

For many riders, Zwift racing is less about winning and more about training at a high-level. If that's your focus Zwift has some training specific programs that will give another option. The first is another year of the Zwift Academy. 

Zwift Academy isn't new and it's one of the most visible ways that Zwift has provided opportunities for young riders. If you've always dreamed of making it to pro-level racing this is your opportunity to show it. The program starts with a baseline ride on the Legends and Lava route that's used to determine a rider’s phenotype. After that there will be six Structured Workouts, with both short and long workout options, and one Finish Line Ride available only during the last two weeks of the academy. For those interested in attempting to win a pro contract there will be two additional Pro Contender workouts. 

The second intense training opportunity will be Zwift Pro-Training camp. This program isn't about dreams of a professional career but rather an opportunity to engage with your cycling heroes and heroines. There will be workouts based on, developed with, and led by the biggest stars of the sport. If you prefer a group format, sign up for Zwift Pro Training Camp group workouts or if you prefer doing it on your time, the workouts will be available via the workout menu in-game. 

Zwift infographic

Zwift is big and only getting bigger new features promise to help us all find new opportunities to ride and train both alone and together (Image credit: Zwift)

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