Your complete guide to the Zwift turbo trainer game
If you need a way to make your turbo training sessions more enjoyable, then it might be worth giving Zwift a go.
Zwift converts sing its praises – but one of the most commonly cited reasons for avoiding stepping over to the ‘Zwift side’ is simply not knowing where to start. So if you’re thinking of giving it a go, here’s everything you need to know about the turbo trainer game that is taking the cycling world by storm.
What is Zwift?
Zwift is a turbo trainer game that enables you to link you turbo trainer up your computer, your iPad and iPhone, letting you ride with other cyclists in a virtual environment, therefore helping to alleviate some of the boredom associated with indoor riding.
Zwift also says that the game can be better than outdoor riding, where “weather, traffic, time constraints and distance from other cyclists can take the fun out of it.” We’re not sure about that, but if it’s wet or cold outside, then an online world may well be preferable.
There are three virtual worlds to choose from: Watopia, Richmond and London – with a selection of route options available in each. The routes can be found on Strava, where there’s a leaderboard for each.
Is Zwift free?
In a word, no. Zwift introduced a monthly membership fee of £8 or $10 towards the end of 2015. However, you don’t need to commit immediately, as there is a 50km or 14 day (whichever comes first) free trial available to all new members.
On top of this, Strava Premium members can extend that free trial for an additional two months.
What equipment do I need to play Zwift?
The most obvious thing you need to use Zwift is a turbo trainer. If you want immersive gameplay, are going to be using Zwift regularly, and can afford it, then a smart turbo trainer such as the Wahoo Kickr or Tacx Neo Smart could be a good option.
These turbo trainers generally have a direct drive design, with a built in power meter and variable resistance. These turbos 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 in the online world, so when you are going uphill on-screen the resistance will increase, and when you are going downhill it will decrease.
Watch: buyer’s guide to turbo trainers
However you don’t have to splash out on an expensive smart turbo trainer to be able to use Zwift. At the most basic level you can use any old turbo trainer combined with an ANT+ or Bluetooth speed sensor (although the system will work better with a power meter).
Data from the speed sensor (or power meter) is then sent to your computer and transferred into the game.
Finally you will probably need an ANT+ dongle, which is a small USB stick that you can plug in to your computer to allow it to communicate with your ANT+ speed sensor, power meter or smart turbo trainer.
The only reason you won’t need this is if you are a Mac user with a Bluetooth sensor, in which case your computer will be able to communicate with the sensor without the need for a dongle,
What are the computer requirements for Zwift?
Of course apart from the turbo trainer you’re going to need a computer on which to play the game. The minimum computer requirements for Zwift are as follows:
- OS: Windows 7 x64 bit, OSX 10.7
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo
- Memory: 4GB
- Graphics: 1GB dedicated GPU, or embedded Intel HD 4000/AMD R5
- Hard Drive: 4GB of free space
However it’s important to note that those are the minimum requirements, and Zwift would recommend that you have 8GB of memory and a 2GB dedicated GPU if you want to play the game and see the virtual worlds in all their glory.
In September 2016 Zwift launched its iOS beta version available for iPad and iPhone, while the app will fully launched by the end of the year.
How do I set up Zwift?
Once you’ve got all the equipment, it’s time to get riding. The first step is to download the Zwift application onto your PC or Mac.
You are then prompted to set up an account, and give details such as your gender, height, and weight, which will be used to create your avatar and to give an accurate measurement of your speed in the game.
The next step is to set up your avatar to give him or her some nice kit and your dream bike. If you’re new to the game then you won’t have that many jerseys and bikes to choose from, but as you ride more you will gain achievements and move up through the levels, letting you unlock more outfits, bikes and wheels.
Once that’s done you’re ready to ride.
Where can I ride in Zwift?
There are three different ‘worlds’ on Zwift: Watopia, London and Richmond.
While the Richmond course is a copy of the course from the 2016 Road World Championships, and London uses the route of the Prudential RideLondon Classique, Watopia is a made up course which has been plonked down somewhere in the Solomon Islands according the Strava. You might struggle to find it on a ‘real’ map, if you get us.
Although 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, and if you’re the fastest rider out there then you will be awarded the respective jersey for the rest of your ride (unless somebody beats you of course).
The key existing options are below – most can be ridden in a different direction or with a different start/finish but the Strava profiles give you the idea…
- Watopia Flat (see it on Strava here): 6.3 miles
- Watopia Figure 8 (see it on Strava here): 18.4 miles
- Watopia Hilly (see it on Strava here): 5.6 miles
- Watopia Mountain (see it on Strava here): 18.3 miles
- Watopia Mountain 8 (see it on Strava here) 19.8 miles
- Watopia The Pretzel (see it on Strava here) 44.8 miles
- Watopia Three Sisters (see it on Strava here) 29.6 miles
- Watopia Volcano Circuit (see it on Strava here) 2.5 miles
- Watopia Volcano Flat (see it on Strava here) 7.6 miles
- Richmond Full course (see it on Strava here) 10 mules
- Richmond Hilly (see it on Strava here) 5.7 miles
- Richmond Flat Loop (see it on Strava here) 3.1 miles
- London Classique (see it on Strava here) 3.3 miles
- London 8 (see it on Strava here) 12.6 miles
- Greater London 8 (see it on Strava here) 14.7 miles
- London Loop (see it on Strava here) 9.2 miles
- Greater London Loop (see it on Strava here) 13 miles
- London Pretzel (see it on Strava here) 34.5 miles
- London Prudential RideLondon half (see it on Strava here) 42.8 miles
- London Prudential RideLondon full (see it on Strava here) 107.5 miles
Can I use Zwift for structured training?
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. This is done by selecting workout mode at the start screen instead of just pushing ride.
There are a large number of workouts to choose from. You’ve got a functional threshold power test, plenty of other individual workouts based on the amount of time you’ve got available or the sort of workout you’re after, as well as full training plans designed by the likes of Marco Pinotti and Chris Carmichael to help you work towards various goals.
Once your riding, the workout is very easy to follow. On the left of the screen you have the overall structure of the workout, at the bottom a graph of your power through the whole of the workout, and at the top an indication of your current power, and the power you should be aiming for in that specific interval.
If you’re doing those workouts with a smart trainer then it will adjust the resistance to help you stick at the target power, but if you’re just using a standard power meter, then you will have to change the power yourself.
Can I race on Zwift?
Yes! Enter: virtual racing.
Races on Zwift are published on their calendar. 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.
Zwift do ask that you edit your name with your rider category and the abbreviation of the race name.
Yes: there are Zwift categories. These are based upon your FTP (read about training with power here if you don’t know what FTP, or functional threshold power, is):
A: 4.0 w/kg FTP or higher
B: 3.2 w/kg to 4.0 w/kg FTP
C: 2.5 w/kg to 3.2 w/kg FTP
D: Under 2.5 w/kg FTP
This is just a guide – you can join a race for any category you like – if you find it’s too hard or too easy, you can always drop back or up a cat.
Race results are published on ZwiftPower.com, here. There are even e-bike World Cup events, and for those after a longer event, e-fondo events are starting to crop up. The biggest race organiser is ‘KISS’ – launched in 2015, they started with the ‘Zwift road racing series’ and were effectively the promoting organisation behind the Zwift World Championships and Tour de Zwift.
How do I upload my Zwift rides to Strava?
All your rides on Zwift are saved onto your computer .fit format, meaning that they can be uploaded onto any training website you care to name.
However, if you just want to upload your rides to Strava then there is an option to connect Zwift with your Strava account on your Zwift dashboard. This will mean that all rides you do on Zwift will be automatically uploaded to Strava.