The indoor cycling season is heating up as the temperature dips in the colder in parts of the world, but the battle to elevate the standard is heating to a boil.
In the next phase of virtual cycling's one-upmanship, the two major players, Zwift and Wahoo, have released significant game updates in the span of two weeks.
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On October 25, 2022, Wahoo RGT (opens in new tab) announced the release of several highly prized upgrades (opens in new tab). "Daylight savings mark the start of the indoor training season for many," according to a Wahoo spokesperson, "so we timed our exciting new features and updates to launch at this time." The release included the first-of-its-kind Voice Chat feature and several other elements.
Zwift (opens in new tab) responded on November 9, 2022, with a package of improvement upgrades highlighted by the addition of never-before-ridden virtual roads to the delight of its subscriber base.
The November 2021 introduction of Neokyo, Zwift's take on the neon lights and hustle-bustle of urban Tokyo, included the serene coastal landscape of the fictional Makuri Islands.
The newly introduced Urukazi is an expansion of the Makuri Islands consisting of 27.2km of roads portioned into eight individual routes.
Zwift opens Urukazi Roads
"Urukazi (woo-roo-kah-zi) is the combination of two Okinawan words - “uru” means “shore,” and “kazi” means “breeze,” Zwift explains, and "the combination of the two words is meant to evoke the serene, untouched character of the southern Japanese archipelago."
From the popular Makuri Island roads, users descend 60m through a slot canyon or a cavern to the sea-level shores of Urukazi. There the intriguing scenery and ambient game sounds stimulate the senses providing a pleasant distraction from the physically demanding terrain.
From the comfort of their indoor cycling space, Urukazi transports riders to a workout world where they can hear kites flapping in the wind and discover "easter eggs" like bats, cats, and ocean monsters at every turn. Zwift's interpretation of the island's scenery takes riders over varied surfaces, including pavement, gravel, and the newest reveal - sand.
It may not mean much until you discover that each has a unique rolling resistance and there's a "best" virtual wheel and bike combination for every route. It also may be lost on the traditional cyclist whose time on the turbo is only for stimulation of one kind. However, the "getting is good" if you're a virtual cyclist who "gets it" when pedaling the winding roads of Urukazi.
There are eight new routes for Zwifters to get:
Mech Isle Loop
The 2.5-mile (4km) lap around an industrial loop has only 127ft (38.7m) of elevation gain, making it a good meeting spot for a social ride or a potential crit course.
Bridges and Boardwalks
The 3.9-mile (6.3km) route with 195ft. (59.5m) elevation with two sprint points explore the largest island in Urukazi.
Riders can visit all of Urukazi's islands when riding this 11.2-mile (18km) single lap with 421.6ft (128.5m) of elevation and three intermediate sprint segments.
Fine and Sandy
As the name suggests, the 6.5-mile (10.6km) off-road route with 253ft (77.1m) elevation explores mangroves and sandy beaches.
Riders can tour the shoreline of Urukazi on this 7-mile (11.3km) route with 295ft (90.1m) of uphill.
The longest of the Urukazi routes, the 24.9-mile (40km) loop around Makuri has 1,006ft (306.6m) of climbing to challenge riders.
Country to Coastal
Riders take a trip from open fields to oceans on this 20.7-mile (33.4km) route with 899ft (274m) elevation gain.
Turf N Surf
Zwifters can race from city streets to sandy beaches on this 15.3-mile (24.6km) route with 642ft (195.8m) of uphill.
Wahoo RGT's first gravel experience and 2023 Worlds course
Wahoo RGT subscribers have had a two-week headstart exploring the platform's virtual road addition. With the recent update, Wahoo RGT launched the Dunoon Crossover, adding more variety and the chance for their members to preview Scotland's 2023 UCI World Championship course.
According to Wahoo RGT: "This innovative new 'Real Road' becomes the first realistic gravel and MTB experience in the virtual riding category. Singletrack off-road sections and resistance changes based on the road surface bring a new experience to virtual riding and racing, as riders must now time their sprints and overtakes."
The update expands Wahoo RGT's Real Road offering to 13, including routes through the iconic cycling regions of the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, and the USA. In addition, members can upload their courses via a GPX file and make a Magic Road of their creation to ride and share.
The collective virtual cycling community stands united in the magic of exploring novel routes, including elite eRacer and co-host of The Wrap podcast, a weekly Zwift wrap-up, Anna Russell.
"It just looks very beautiful," is how she describes Urukazi, and "whenever I go free-riding on Zwift, it's only on the Makuri Islands because I love looking at the cherry blossoms and the aesthetically relaxed feeling of the mountains and the sand. They've done a great artistic job with it."
Wahoo RGT adds Teleportation, and Zwift responds with Join A Zwifter
Russell's co-host on The Wrap, creator of the streaming broadcast outlet Zwift Community Live, called The Voice of Zwift, Nathan Guerra, had a different take on the recent improvements. "My favorite is definitely the reintroduction of "Join A Zwifter," he says of the feature's return following months of wondering why Zwift had removed it.
Both virtual cycling platforms have pace bots now
It's also not unusual to find pacers on Wahoo RGT. They've had them from the beginning and now have enhanced bots called Real Bots. The interactive Real Bots vary their behavior to mimic real-world cycling scenarios. To imitate the classic rider styles, like all-rounder, time trialist, puncheur, climber, and sprinter, the Real Bots differ by FTP and power curve.
The customizable experience sparks specific triggers prompting the Real Bots to vary their power output. They can sprint, ride a tempo pace, and slow down to recover. When combined with Wahoo RGT's steady pace bots, imagine the added dimension, turning a solo ride into an intense unstructured training session.
Also, imagine the incredulous glance when virtual cyclists discovered that Zwift Pace Partners are now called RoboPacers. Is it a coincidence? Um, possibly. One thing is for sure. The competition is a good thing.
And the winner is...
Is the Urukazi expansion a prelude to bigger things like the oft-requested Mout Fuji? Are the improvements made by Wahoo RGT the next step in the evolution of Wahoo X and its unique ecosystem of year-round riding, structured training, racing, and challenges, indoors and out?
It's fair to say that this level of competition is accelerating the virtual cycling experience more than if a single platform was implementing updates at their leisure.
Indoor cyclists hope the high-stakes leapfrog game continues - it's another giant leap for virtual cycling and the winner is all of us.
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