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An Old Man’s Take on Zwift

I’ve been riding indoors for almost 30 years now and most of those years were spent staring at some kind of movie, video, show, webinar, etc.  Sometimes it was less than exciting, but it was effective and got me through the cold, dark months of winter.

Around 2014, I started hearing about this thing called Zwift, back when it beta and was just the island.  I was intrigued and listened intently as it was described by some of my friends who got on the beta release, but it  seemed unnecessary to me and just added a layer of complication that I didn’t want.

After it moved out of the beta version and started gaining some momentum and membership, I felt even stronger that this wasn’t something that I needed and always got  

a good workout on my trainer with no problem.  Admittedly, I was also concerned that I would indeed develop a dependence and not be able to ride indoors without the gamification of Zwift.  Quite possibly it was a bit of grump old guy not interested in the new-fangled gizmo.

As a TrainingPeaks Coach, several years ago I was given the tools to create workouts that are downloadable to all the major online platforms, and I learned everything I could about them and the “new” smart trainers that were quickly becoming ubiquitous.  But I still felt this wasn’t for me.  To add to this mentality, I heard more than one story of connectivity issues, frozen screens, deleted workouts and the like.  Again, all aggravation that I wasn’t looking at add.

Fast forward to 2019 and I’m still off Zwift, despite the thousands and thousands of users, many of them my friends and racing colleagues.  Everyone seems to be raving about it.  Then, late fall of that year, another virtual platform called RGT reached out to the top level TrainingPeaks Coaches and asked if we would pilot their software.  It sounded like a good opportunity to me and with it came a lifetime free membership to their premier service.  So I downloaded the app, created a profile, and I was off.

It was a cool experience for sure, and it was fun providing feedback and seeing what changes they could or would make to the platform.  The graphics were great, the courses were fun, and it has a super cool feature where you can upload a GPX file and it would recreated the course for you.  Now, it was in this magical land where the roads were kind of clear and there wasn’t much terrain, but it’s a cool tool to practice a real life course like a road race or a TT course.  If nothing else for the elevation profile which would be recreated accurately.

The greatest downside with RGT was a fairly “small” membership base.  I did a few events and often there were less than 20 people registered.  Meanwhile, I’m hearing of Zwift events with hundreds of participants.  I would drift on and off of the RGT platform and had no problem just “riding” and doing my workout without logging in.  OK, so a cool experience but I wasn’t hooked.

Then we all know what happened in March of 2020 and as a result more and more people started training indoors, or training more indoors.  The pandemic cycling explosion had happened.  Well, I also rode inside a bit more but spent plenty of hours riding out of doors as usual as outdoor riding was permitted in my area.  I wasn’t going to hop on the Zwift train…yet.

Late summer in 2020, one of my clients asked if he could hire me to do some Zwift rides with him.  At that point it seemed like a no brainer, so I got an account as I was off.  I had some fun with my client and my original plan of only being on for a short while quickly went out the window.  As a child of the 70s and having lived through the birth of video games, I was having fun earning the different badges and learning more about the platform.  Group rides were kind of cool, and I tried a race to see what that was all about.
Zwift does a great job of peppering in those dopamine hits  very frequently and you really crank through the levels in the beginning.  As you ride more, you start earning new frames, helmets, glasses, shoes, socks, etc.  I certainly felt like I could still ride indoors without Zwift, but now, why would I?

It’s been a full two years since I signed up for Zwift, and I have to admit it’s added to my enjoyment level when training indoors.  On days when I’m a little low on motivation, I’ll scour the group rides to find one that meets my target intensity goal of the day, but I’m also fine getting spit out the back if it’s harder than what I’m looking for. It’s fun just doing a workout on an open world and getting some PR’s, KOM’s, Green Jerseys, or Course Leader Jersey’s when your intervals line up with the sections.

I also create meetups and will get together with clients, friends, teammates, and so on.  It’s weird that that becomes even more motivating, but it does.  Just cruising around some Zwift world in the winter, texting back and forth, rubber band is on (no one can get dropped), and getting in time spinning our legs.

Finally, I have strategically put in a handful of races when they fit my training goals.  I can tell you that they can be very, very HARD if you want them to be.  I’ve set some 5, 10, 20, and 30 minute power records chasing some avatar on the screen which is just downright silly.  But they’re “free,” there’s many to choose from if you get dropped, and results just don’t matter.  For the most part at least.

Indoor training is not what it used it be.  Interactive online platforms and smart trainers have changed the game for the most part for the better.  But unless you’re a sponsored e-sports cyclist, I do hope you use the indoor trainer as a tool to enhance your outside riding, not as a substitute to your outside riding.

Just this past weekend it was in the low 30’s with wind in the teens, and I considered staying indoors and banging out a few hours on the trainer.  It’s convenient, a great workout, very focused, efficient, and effective.  And makes for a lot less laundry.  After a quick gut check and mental head slap, I suited up with my five layers and burly gloves and got outside for two great rides.  Maybe I’ll see you on the roads of Wattopia, but I hope to see you out on the roads and trails IRL!

If you’re interested in listening to an in depth discussion about the future of online racing, check out:
What’s your take on indoor training?

What’s your favorite online training platform or are you “old school?”

Leave a comment, question, or answer below.

Thanks for reading!

Coach Brian

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