Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Zwift For Dummies

Ok so I don't think you're Dummies :) But I thought a post that explains the very basics of Zwift for people who have just started (or are thinking of getting into it) might be helpful. Of note- I have no affiliation with Zwift other than being a paying subscriber. I am not trying to convince you to sign up but rather just going to explain how it all works so that if you do, you'll have at least a basic understanding of what you're doing. 

NOTE: I am SURE there is WAY more to Zwift than I am going to mention here. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to Zwift. If you want that, go to This is just information from the perspective of an athlete who just recently started figuring it out! 

Set up: There are a bunch of different ways to set up Zwift for yourself, and lots of info already published about this so I'm not going to dive into it. I'll just share my personal experience- its best for me via iPad. I tried it once with my laptop and the connection (bluetooth) dropped out a few times. If your laptop has better bluetooth than mine (it might! Mine is old) then laptop might be fine. My phone says it doesn't have enough space to load the Zwift app. So my set up is typically to use the Zwift app via my iPad and then sometimes I have the Zwift Companion app running on my phone. 

Zwift uses a ton of battery to run itself. I have to make sure my iPad has plenty of battery and even then it needs to be plugged in while running the program or else the battery dies out quickly. If I start a ride with 80% battery life and ride 2 hours with it plugged in, I finish with like 65% battery life. So heads up on that. Zwift Companion on your phone also uses a solid amount of battery so potentially you might need two power sources depending on how long you plan to ride.

I tried Zwift once a few years ago when I first got my Kickr and I didn't like it at all. To be fair, I didn't understand it at all! And I didn't try very hard to understand it... Generally I'd say I'm not much of a video game person and I don't need a lot of interaction with other people to get my training done, so Zwift didn't hold much appeal to me at the time. 

NOW THOUGH, it's a different story! I suspect my change of heart has a lot to do with the fact that we're not training specifically for races this year but rather training because we enjoy training as a lifestyle... and along with that looking for little carrots we can earn/achieve along the way. Zwift absolutely meets this need in many really great ways. So keep that in mind- ZWIFT IS A GAME. And turns out, a fun game at that! The developers of Zwift have done a great job tapping into the addictive brains of athletes. 


When you first start, Zwift gives you 3 bike frames (in your garage). I did not know this for the entire first month I rode on Zwift! But depending on what route you're riding, you can choose a road bike or a TT bike or a mountain bike (my Zwift Mountain bike is still brand new I wish I could sell it lol). Zwift calculates your speed in the game based not only on the watts you're pushing but also according to the bike you're riding! So if everyone seems to be riding faster than you, know that its possible they have a better faster lighter bike (or wheels!). As you earn points in the game, you can accumulate enough to upgrade your bike frame(s) and wheels several times over. I'll leave it there for now but just know that if you want more detailed info about any of this, find it at that Zwift Insider site.

Like most video games, Zwift uses levels to motivate us to ride more... (LEVEL UP!!). Commonly when you Level up you "unlock" options and prizes... Things like jerseys, helmets, socks, sunglasses, etc become available to you at different levels. For some bike frames and wheels you also need to achieve certain levels in the game. You level up by earning points and typically you get points for distance ridden so the more you ride, the more points you earn! #addiction

You can choose to do workouts (these can be standard or custom but I'm not going to go into all those details here) OR can free ride in different Routes. Zwift uses several 'Worlds' where you can choose to ride. Watopia is always there then the others switch out day to day or week to week. You can plan ahead by checking the calendar on the home page when you first open Zwift. They color code each day so you can see what worlds will be offered on what days.

If you're trying to earn points and level up, a good way to go about things is to specifically ride ROUTES. If you want to geek out on it you totally can- research your route ahead of time via Zwift Insider so you have an idea what you're getting yourself into. Some routes are way more challenging than others and you can't always tell just by looking at distance and elevation. If you want to get credit and earn a badge for completing a route, you need to specifically choose that route before you start riding. Then you need to know how long the lead in is for that route- sometimes there's no lead in or very short lead in... other times the lead in is long! If you didn't research ahead of time how long the lead in is, you can tell when you've hit it if you're on a road bike bc you'll get a 'Power up' once you officially start the route. So for example, if you chose a route that said it was 26k long and the lead in is 3k, then you'll need to actually ride 29k before earning the badge (and the bonus points!) if you want the badge, you have to keep riding until the 'Achievement Unlocked!' note shows up on your screen. If that alert hasn't popped up, you're not done so keep riding. If you weren't paying close enough attention though, you might miss it. I think that alert shows up on your screen for maybe 10 seconds or so then its gone... IF you miss it and want to know if you passed it, you can hit the iPad screen to get to menu (can do this while you are riding) and from there can check your badges to see if it gave you the badge. This happened to me one time so I'm glad this option is available! The last thing you want to do is get almost to the end of a long route then stop unknowingly and miss the bonus points for the badge because you didn't' know where the end was! One last note about Routes- if you're trying to earn a route badge, you need to ignore all the options to make turns along the course as you're riding. After you get notice that you completed your route, if you want to ride more you can keep going and from there can choose to turn and explore different areas. You'll get points for the extra distance you ride but not for another specific route.

The most frustrating thing for me has been to not really know how long different sections are (climbs, specifically). Some are short and some are really really long... Yes, you can research routes beforehand and get an idea, but when you're new to it, there's definitely an element of needing to let go of knowing what exactly is coming up. #justkeepriding Zwift does give you hints- I recently just figured this out and it helps a lot- if there's a sprint point or QOM section coming up, you'll see a box pop up on the left of your screen with the name of the section... It'll also show you the distance and avg grade if its a climb. If you've done that specific section in the last 30 days, it will remind you of the your splits. It will also then show you the splits of others who are currently riding who have also done that section... This can be motivating! I'll use an example... A box pops up on the screen indicating that a sprint point is coming up. It says that the fastest current female time is 28.6 seconds. It says that I did this section a few days ago and hit 29.2 seconds... So depending on how I'm feeling and what my purpose of the ride is, I might opt to go for a green jersey on that sprint! IF I am riding a road bike and have a "power up" to use, I might hit it if its an aero advantage or a drafting advantage... Don't hit that until the sprint actually starts... you'll see a colored/dotted line when the segment starts and you'll see an arch indicating the finish. I was super stoked the first time I figured out how to use a power up to help me earn a green jersey! #strategicgameplay Yes, it's dumb, but you guys we NEED these carrots right now! :) 

So on Zwift you can choose to do a specific workout in erg mode, free ride route on your own as you feel, jump into a 'group ride' at a specific time, or do a race. You can also initiate more private 'meet ups' where you can arrange to ride with your friends who are also on Zwift. (The meet up is one I haven't actually done yet so I cannot comment on how this works.) 

Group rides are pretty fun! You can find the options for what's available in the Zwift Companion app. I've done a few groups rides now and this is what I've learned... Something like 200 people might show up from all around the world. Sometimes they're grouped by levels according to watts/kg you push, but commonly in a group ride, all levels are there are people who are fast and want to race it start super hard and everyone else is more relaxed at the start. So depending on your goals for the day, you can choose to start hard and find the fastest group you can stay with, OR you can be more relaxed at the start and see what kind of group you land in after a few minutes of riding. Zwift gives drafting advantages, so just like real world you'll be at an advantage and riding faster with a group vs if you're riding alone. Don't use a TT bike in a group ride. The game will not allow you a drafting advantage if you are on a TT bike. You also don't get power ups if you're on a TT bike. I've found group rides to be pretty fun and entertaining! There's something pretty cool about riding "with" people from all over the world and trying to hang with a group... You might get dropped but if you do you can be pretty sure there are more riders coming up behind you so there's pretty much always someone to ride with on Zwift. Depending on your personality, group rides on Zwift might get you in trouble. Just like in the real world, group rides can end up being hard efforts bc people just naturally get competitive (even when they SAY they are just going to ride easy #lies) so I'd def say the fastest way to overtrain yourself would be to jump into group rides all the time. Be strategic about how you use these.

I've only done one race so far. I cannot say I really understand these that well but I'll note a few things then maybe come back and edit this post once I have more experience racing on Zwift... Races tend to have fewer people than group rides. If you're looking to just ride hard with people, a group ride might be better option than a race. The race I did there was some confusion about which 'group' I was in (at one point I accidentally ended up at the start line of an "A" group race... I def had no business being there and I have no idea how that even happened but I managed to leave that start line before the race started... I ended up in the "D" group (again not sure how this even happened) but figured I'd go with it and just see what happened... Ended up a very diverse group but only 8 people total. I rode with the front group of 3 guys for maybe 12min before getting 'dropped' and finishing by myself. It was for sure a way harder effort than I would have given on my own, but I'd say maybe not as much fun as the group rides I've done. There are races specifically for women. I might play around with those more in the future, but racing on Zwift is not my priority so doubt I'll give a ton of energy to that. If you want to get serious about racing on Zwift you totally can... There are teams and everything! But given that this is a 'Zwift for Dummies' post, we'll leave that for another day.

Anyway, will leave it at that for now. I'm sure there's 100 other things to know about Zwift but these are the things I've learned so far... Just keep in mind that ZWIFT IS A GAME and if you play it strategically, it can be a super fun way to really bump up your bike fitness even in this crappy year we're calling 2020. ;)

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