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Updates for the season ahead include updated home screens, to make session choice easier, more club features - including the ability to organise club rides - and the addition of more routes amid the ‘Neokyo’ maps.
The indoor training platform’s new products are due to be released over the course of the 2021/2022 autumn/winter season, and Zwift also shared updates to provide a glimpse into its future planning around both fair competition and fitness testing and training.
Let’s dive in…
New club features
The Covid pandemic meant that many groups of cyclists, be they informal gatherings or more rigid organisations governed by a committee and a ‘club constitution’, were left unable to meet for their regular rides. Whilst outdoor group rides are back on the cards in most countries now, Zwift’s new Club features still aim to provide a valuable resource that will help provide an online home for these organisations.
The feature, which lets users create a club, invite members, communicate with members and organise events, will “close the gap,” according to Zwift, between the current ‘meet up’ capability - used to create 952,961 small scale events over the past 12 months - and more formal community events, of which there have been 50,000 in the last year.
This feature will roll out from 2022, and riders must be at level L20+ to create a club.
And when is it coming? Zwift's director of PR, Chris Snook, told us : "To begin with, small segments of our audience will have the option to use these new products to allow the community to feedback on the experience ahead of a mass rollout in early 2022."
Asked about the possibility of a club jersey, Snook told us: "Club functionality will develop and evolve over time. On the roadmap post-initial launch, the intention is to introduce a selection of jerseys that clubs can choose from to use for their club identification... Customisation will continue to improve on the platform."
Home screen updates
In the past month, Zwift says that 50 per cent of users have signed up less than 35 minutes in advance of beginning a ride. This doesn’t surprise me at all. If anything, it sounds like 30 more minutes than I’d typically give myself between installing an app and anticipating using it. Users don’t want to give up valuable time paralysed by indecision, or searching for suitable rides or sessions, and this has become harder to avoid with more events and rides added daily.
To address this success-induced conundrum, Zwift's new home screens will showcase upcoming activities, with the capability to filter them by duration, effort, distance and more.
Duration is based on an estimate based upon 85 per cent of Zwifters completing the activity in “this time or less”, and effort will be awarded on a scale of 1-5, taking into account distance and elevation. This helps newer riders, who might not have an internal calculator for how long it takes to ride 30km, to choose a ride that suits their needs that day.
As senior producer Anne Walsh puts it, “with over 1,000 workouts, hundreds of events taking place daily, and over 90 routes to choose from it can be challenging for Zwifters to find exactly what they want to do in their next session. As we look at ways we can better recommend content tailored to an individual Zwifter’s needs, this season we are starting to overhaul many of the game screens; that will ultimately make Zwift more accessible by reducing the amount of time it takes you to find and start your next activity and servicing more social activities.”
Walsh says Zwift was also addressing “navigational pain points” for users on platforms such as Apple TV.
The new home screen is currently in development and, like the clubs rollout, implementation will be phased.
“A change is as good as a break,” apparently, so if you were getting bored with the current slew of routes, you’ll be pleased to hear that Zwift is due to launch some new roads.
The Neokyo routes will be a “flat and fast” network, within the Makuri Islands world which launched in May 2021. Tony Yruegas, art director of game at Zwift, said that these were launched to “contrast Yemezi”, which was inspired by the Japanese countryside, and would “almost double” the amount of road available.
The routes will be available from November. We've yet to gain a rundown of the total kilometres gained in these maps, and how many routes there are - but no doubt that information will be made available soon.
In the pipeline: fair racing and gamified testing
The club features, new home screens and Neokyo roads are all due to be rolled out over the course of the coming season, but of course there will be more to come.
Training content manager Shayne Gaffney gave some interesting insight into possible new fitness testing protocols, sampled during the most recent Zwift Academy.
“When we built the new routes, we built each segment to correspond to an energy system, and really testing in this manner allows us to glean more information about our community, show progress across more data points, and.. keep the focus on fun, rather than staring at the clock hoping the time will go faster, as we’ve all encountered in a 20 minute FTP test.”
In the same way that racing yourself (or, better still, team-mates) on an outdoor climb - that happens to take about 20 minutes - can represent a much more engaging FTP test than 20 minutes of hard pedalling, completing fitness tests over a virtual climb will definitely motivate riders to shoot for bigger gains.
“Training and testing don’t have to be dull and tedious - after all, the best training plan is the one you actually want to do,” Gaffney added.
The indoor training brand also touched on the difficult conversation of fair competition.
Zwift has set protocols in play for races where the stakes are higher, but complaints of foul play in amateur events are common.
Discussing this, Cote noted: “We are doing competition… all the way from ‘hop in and do a crit’ [level] to Esports World Championships, and at the centre of it, we want fair racing.
"I’m going to hit this one on the head: we’re not there yet," Cote said.
"There’s a lot of things to do, both in terms of digital elements - is it fair? Is there any cheating? - all the way down to ‘did we understand the athlete and put them into the right category'? Just know that it’s a top priority, it’s very hard problem to solve, and it’s a core focus of ours.”
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
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