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, iPad, iPhone or Apple TV, letting you ride with other cyclists in a virtual environment, therefore helping to alleviate some of the boredom associated with indoor riding.
As well as competing against others riders in Zwift racers, those seeking specific training sessions can access workouts designed by professional coaches, and these can be completed in groups with riders completing efforts at the same intensity based on a percentage of their FTP.
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’s a range of virtual worlds to choose from – including Watopia, New York and London – and routes for various rides can be found on Strava where there’s a leaderboard for each.
Is Zwift free?
You don’t need to commit immediately, either – as there is a seven day free trial available to all new members.
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?
Zwift can be run on Windows, iOS, iPhone, iPad or AppleTV. A Beta version of the app has also been released for Google Play users.
The most widely used option is iOS, though an iPad does allow for easy transportation and the AppleTV option is the most cost effective way of using Zwift in full HD on a big screen.
Here are the current minimum requirements in order to run Zwift:
- OS: Windows 7 x64 bit, OSX 10.8
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo
- Memory: 4GB
- Graphics: 1GB dedicated GPU, or embedded Intel HD 4000/AMD R5
- Hard Drive: 4GB of free space
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 device.
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 five maps available on Zwift: the huge base map of Watopia, plus smaller maps in London, New York City, Richmond and Innsbruck.
While the Richmond and Innsbruck courses are copies of the courses from the 2015 and 2018 Road World Championships respectively, 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. New York City is the newest of the maps, and features roads built mostly within the confides of Central Park. The twist is however, it’s 100 years in the future.
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).
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, and group workouts.
In group workout mode, riders all train at the same effort level – based on a percentage of their FTP. That means that they can be producing different power values, and still stay riding together.
Workout mode is selected 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 you’re 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.