Given the current global crisis, with the restrictions on outdoor exercise, more and more of my cycling mates are turning their attentions to indoor cycling solutions. We want to come out of this lockdown in as good a shape as we entered. In my case… fitter!
Different countries have adopted different strategies to reduce the impact of the coronavirus. Mates in the UK are able to participate in one bit of outdoor exercise each day. Here in Spain we are not allowed out!
I have never been one for jumping on my turbo trainer. I prefer to enjoy the fresh air and the stunning Mallorcan scenery. I keep a keen eye on the weather forecast and plan my exercise accordingly. If rain is on the cards, then I head to Palma Sports and Tennis Club for a spinning class or a gym session. After 5 days of lockdown and very little exercise, I decided to dig out my turbo trainer and sign up to Zwift. Mates in London swear by it. One of my buddies, who owns One Pro Sports Events, rode every stage of the Tour de France 2019 (a day before the race) with a large percentage of his training completed on Zwift.
Apart from not really having the need to use a turbo training, one of my other reasons for not using Zwift, is I have never really known where to start. Zwift is a virtual training programme that you sign up to online. Think Mario Kart on bikes, but with more sweat and fewer talking creatures. It is a turbo trainer game that enables you to link your turbo trainer with your computer, iPad, iPhone or Apple TV, letting you ride with other cyclists in a virtual environment. It certainly helps to alleviate some of the boredom associated with indoor riding.
You can Just Ride… sign up to a Training Plan or compete against others riders in Zwift Races. You can also join group rides or set up your own ride and invite mates to come along…. It’s totally bonkers. The training sessions are designed by professional coaches and there are a wide range to sign up to. The group rides involve zwifters completing efforts at the same intensity based on a percentage of their FTP. There are a range of virtual worlds to choose from – including Watopia, New York and London.
The most obvious thing you will need to use Zwift is a turbo trainer and ideally a power metre (though not essential). A smart trainer enhances the experience even more. The smart trainers will measure your power output, then send this data to Zwift to power your online avatar. The variable resistance on these turbos will also allow you to feel as if you’re actually riding on the varying online gradients… When you are going uphill on-screen the resistance will increase, and when you are going downhill it will decrease.
You definitely don’t have to splash out on an expensive smart turbo trainer to be able to use Zwift. I have a basic old turbo trainer & combined with an ANT+dongle plugged into my computer. The data from my power metre is then sent to my computer and transferred into Zwift. A speed sensor on your back wheel will also suffice.
Once you’ve got all the equipment, it’s time to get riding. The first step is to download the Zwift application onto your device and set up an account, providing the predictable personal details. This will give an accurate measurement of your speed when you are riding. You also need the Zwift Companion app to connect with people, join rides, look at your training plan and your history.
Next you need to set up your avatar with different pieces of kit and clothing…. When you first join, you don’t have too much to choose from, but the more time you spend on Zwift, then the more bits of kit are unlocked.
At the start of each ride, you decide on a loop from one of eight maps…. They routes vary in distance and vertical metres gained, but you are free to stop whenever you want. The eight…. the massive world of Watopia, plus smaller maps in London, New York City, Richmond, Harrogate, Innsbruck, as well as two event only maps Bologna and Crit City.
There are numerous user-generated Strava segments, each course contains three different official segments, each shown by an arch over the course. The orange arch measures your overall lap time, the green arch measures your time over a short sprint, and the polka dot arch measures your time up a hill on each course. Your time in each segment is compared to the other riders on the course at that time & your achievements over the last 30 days. It works well as an added incentive every so often.
If you’re looking to use Zwift for serious training instead of just riding around then you’ll probably be interested in Zwift’s workout mode, and group workouts. I have not used the group workouts, but I am 3 weeks into an FTP Builder training plan… There are a large number of workouts to choose from. Prior to starting a plan, you should really complete a functional threshold power test or a ramp test to establish your FTP. All the training workouts are then based on a percentage of this figure. Once you’re riding, the workout is very easy to follow. There is a workout summary on the left and at the top, an indication of your current power/heart rate and the power you should be aiming for during that specific interval.
Races on Zwift are listed either on the main menu screen before starting the game or on their companion app. To join a race, you fire up your Zwift app, join the race – just as you would any group ride on Zwift – and away you go. There are different Zwift race categories based upon your FTP.
There are a few different ways you can ride with friends on Zwift – the best way is to join an organised event or you can create a MeetUp with friends. A mate of mine organised a birthday ride and then on Easter Sunday I joined the Team INEOS event – along with over 14,000 others! (on a variety of different paced rides)… I was hooked. In addition to my training plan, I organise two groups rides a week, with an accompanying a playlist and lots of WhatsApp banter. It’s very simple to set up – you choose your route, set a total distance or time and invite your friends. You can also choose to “Keep Everyone Together” to keep your group whole throughout the ride. I have no idea how it works, but everyone some how stays together and everyone is shattered at the end. You can only invite people to a MeetUp if they’re following you, the maximum number of riders you can invite is 50 and you can schedule a ride up to seven days ahead of time.
All your rides on Zwift are saved onto your computer and it is easy to connect with other applications such as Strava, Garmin Connect & training peaks. Zwift costs around £12 or €15 a month, you can cancel at any time and there is a seven day free trial available to all new members.
As a side note, I cannot mention Zwift without mentioning RSB Steve (Branagh). From a work perspective, during lockdown, RSB has been working hard to accommodate the ever changing plans and are already looking like they will be pretty busy through the summer and into the more traditional winter refit period.
From an exercise perspective Steve was the one to get me into Zwift. With Kate one hand, to mop his brow, during lockdown Steve generally rides between 12-15 hours a week on Zwift. He always needs a goal, the more ludicrous the better. With the Biking Man race around Corsica cancelled, unbeknown to me, he set himself a Zwift challenge…. “Virtual Everesting” seemed like a good substitute and one that he had been wanting to do for some time (haven’t we all?). The banter started on WhatsApp at about 11:00 last Saturday morning … firstly a bit of patter, then abuse and eventually a bit of support… but after 14 hours & 32 minutes (217km) he summited a virtual Alp Du Huez 8 times with a total ascent of 8,900m.
With the Mallorca 312 event cancelled at the end of April, many of us organised Zwift rides with the guys & girls we would normally ride the event with (2 hours was enough for us) – fingers crossed it goes ahead on the rescheduled date of 10th October….