Zwift: Make Riding a Bike Trainer Fun Again

Keeping fit over the Inland Northwest winter is tough. Despite being blessed with outdoor winter recreation options, cyclists often relegate themselves to the pain cave, both a state of mind and home to the indoor trainer. Until the last few years, the pain cave was all about suffering. But with the advent of smart trainers and Zwift, the pain cave has become considerably more pleasurable.

Zwift, according to BikeRadar, “is an interactive training game where your pedaling on a trainer drives your avatar around a course. The harder you pedal, the faster you go.” This has taken indoor cycling to a level that mimics outdoor riding. When climbing a virtual hill, it gets harder. When riding in virtual groups, drafting happens. Zwift is so realistic that two professional squads—men’s Team Dimension Data and women’s Canyon//SRAM—have taken Zwift Academy winners into their folds.

But few of us are looking for a pro contract. We are past our prime, committed to other pursuits, or we simply don’t have the ability. But one local rider who is shooting for greatness is Meghan Henry, who has raced for both Baddlands and Team ODZ. Henry, a veteran of seven Ironmans and two Ironman World Championships, recently took first as a Cat 4 in the Inland Northwest Cyclocross series in her first season. At 26, she’s setting her sights high. “I use Zwift to complete my workouts, but they could be done without Zwift and just the trainer. I started using Zwift a year ago when I decided to solely focus on cycling,” she says. “I really want to go to the Olympics. I just want to put everything I have into this one dream.”

Another local cyclist who uses Zwift for his training is Baddlands racer Scott Starbuck. Last winter he used Zwift to train for the Joshua Tree Double Century in California. He incorporated a TrainingPeaks double-century training program designed for use with Zwift. Starbuck’s longest Zwift ride was 217 miles over 9 hours. Zwift helped him finish the double century in 11 hours and 42 minutes, sixth overall. This winter he is back on Zwift.

The social element is key for many users. Zwift is as social an experience as one wants to make it. Henry finds Zwift “a place to be recognized, such as riding with friends and people giving me thumbs up.” At any given time, there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people from around the globe riding or running. One can ride with friends, join a group ride, or join group workouts and races. Along the way, competitors earn points that allow them access to advanced challenges, clothing choices, faster bikes and wheels, and fancier socks, glasses, or helmets.

For many users of Zwift, focused workouts are important. Henry says Zwift “helped immensely when I didn’t have a coach because I would simply find structured workouts and complete them. Plus, Zwift allows me to quantify my success.”

Zwift provides dozens of free training options. There are six and twelve-week FTP (Functional Threshold Power, a common measure of cycling fitness) programs, a 12-week winter plan, a 10-week century training plan, racing, climbing and distance challenges, plus climbing and sprinting workouts.

There are five virtual realities in which Zwifters ride: London, Innsbruck, and Richmond, Virginia both offer the World Championship courses from the last few years, along with options of routes that share those courses in whole or part. The original world is Watopia and the most recent is an occasionally futuristic New York Central Park.

Some, like Starbuck, will ride solely indoors with Zwift following a regimented training plan. Others, me for instance, will augment winter riding with workouts several times a week. As Starbuck put it, “Zwift has transformed indoor training from being the embodiment of torture to being a fun, engaging, competitive virtual reality experience.” //


Zwift Essentials

A bike and trainer are required. A smart trainer makes the climbs, descents, and drafting real. Classic trainers and rollers with cadence and speed or a power meter work. Some stationary and spin bikes work as well. An iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, or the computer of your choice, either a Mac or PC, are also necessary. Zwift doesn’t work on Android devices except for its companion app. After a 7-day free trial, it’s $15 a month. If you want to ride with and be seen by others, you’ll need Internet. For effective workouts, an FTP test (included) is required. //


Bradley Bleck last wrote about winter fat biking for the December Out There. Doing what he can to keep fit over the winter months includes riding and training with Zwift.


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