Yesterday, Zwift, a “fitness entertainment platform” launched in Rapha stores across the globe (SF, NYC, London). In San Francisco, a crowd of onlookers, mostly men with the wiry build of committed cyclists, watched as professional track cyclist Korina Huizar climbed aboard a Pinarello F8. The bike was anchored by an indoor trainer, and perched on its handlebars was an iPod synced with a laptop. Onscreen, a digital cyclist sat waiting. Huizar started to spin. The cyclist onscreen matched her pedal for pedal. The question of how useful a digital cycling game could be for riders left the onlookers’ minds.
Zwift has married the video game and your stationary trainer to produce something like Wii Fit, but with considerably more hard data, visual appeal and sweat puddles. The platform syncs with any ANT+ device, and requires a simple setup: bicycle, trainer, laptop and a speed and cadence sensor (you can also add on a heart rate monitor and power meter). After a download from the web, creating a profile and syncing, riders are free to customize their athletes and create personal kit configurations; then they choose a course to ride and hit the road. Onscreen, with a full set-up, riders see wattage, BPM, RPM, current MPH, distance traveled, elevation gained, percentage grade of current climb, and estimated time to complete the course. After the ride, Zwift syncs easily to Strava, logging your miles.
Watching a digital version of yourself ride through streets pleasantly devoid of cars was nice. In fact, it was more than nice: it was mildly cathartic. The game’s smooth, realistic graphics showcased well-paved roads that careened past beaches, climbed into the redwoods, and descended back to the coast. The scene felt a bit like Hawaii meets Northern California — a vacation on the bike. The designers, led by Eric Min, have logged decades of gaming experience; the layout and interface they’ve created are intuitive and appropriately informative without overwhelming the rider. The goal is to get users easily and quickly spinning the pedals. That works. But that alone isn’t worth Zwift’s projected cost of $10 a month. The money’s in the community.
The crew believes the platform will revolutionize indoor training. And it should. It’s taking a dull experience and giving it life.
Friends on Zwift can log in and “drop in” on your ride, competing on the same virtual course, battling for Sprint points and KOM accolades. Or if friends aren’t up for the challenge, you can race against computer-generated “Artificial Intelligence” riders, calibrated to perform at different physiological levels. There’s a catchiness to this concept. In inclement weather, you can still ride with neighbors. In total darkness, you can compete for the KOM. With friends from anywhere in the world, you can meet for a casual spin.
Zwift isn’t set to overtake your outdoor rides, but it compensates for the times that weather, or daylight or time constraints keep you from the pavement. And by tapping into the addictive quality of gaming, cycling, community, and smart gear, there’s a good shot that any cyclist who logs time indoors will quickly crave their fix of Zwift. The crew believes the platform will revolutionize indoor training. And it should. It’s taking a dull experience and giving it life. What’s more, Zwift went beyond simply upgrading the experience; they’ve created an entire world of digital community that can make your indoor rides rewarding in their own way. Maybe that comes in the form of crushing your pal in Wichita, KS, or coasting along the Road to Hana when it’s 20 below outside. Either way, it’s a grand improvement from pedaling hard while staring at your workbench, pondering how to reorganize your tools. And there’s one more perk of the digital world: no flats.
Zwift launches a Beta version today (10/1), and plans to launch to the public in time for the winter long-haul, in January.