We’ve all been there: stuck on a trainer slugging through intervals while watching the paint dry on the wall in front of us. Whether it’s because of weather, an injury or just time commitments, sooner or later we all have to head indoors. While the general consensus about hopping on a trainer is that it is effective—from a psychological perspective it can be brutal. Zwift, a new virtual multiplayer indoor cycling platform, is hoping to change all of that.
“While indoor riding is generally considered to be not fun, indoor entertainment is often very fun—but it’s a passive experience and not so great for your waistline,â€ says Scott Barger, cofounder of Zwift and VP of Business Development. “We’ve taken the best parts of the multi-user video game entertainment world and combined it with indoor cycling.â€
The set up is meant to be simple, fast and instantaneous. It’s also meant to be for everyone, from the pro cyclist to the weekend warrior and the busy professional looking for an at-home indoor cycling option that’s as effective as it is cost effective. To use the system, you need a bike, a trainer and an ANT+ device (you will need a speed and cadence sensor minimum). For $10 a month, you can subscribe to the Zwift service, log on, connect to your ANT+ device, and either find other Zwift friends/competitors to ride against or ride against ghost avatars.
Zwift is similarly styled to a video game system, from the customized creation of your avatar (do you want to wear a pink kit or a black one with red stripes? Sunglasses or no sunglasses? What type of wheels and what color frame?) down to the realistic and beautifully engineered riding courses. The whole idea is to make the experience as real as possible, so you will hear birds chirping in the background, you’ll see fireflies come out as the sun goes down, and you’ll see the riders up ahead of you and be prompted to “close the gapâ€ as you work against real-time topography changes. If someone is close enough behind you to draft, you will even slightly feel the pull as your resistance is increased.
The sides of the screen are highly data-driven, showing you your power output, cadence, speed and where you are in relation to others around you at all times, keeping you working your hardest to get ahead. You can choose several difference camera views, from the first-person rider perspective to a helicopter view from above (complete with chopper noises for full effect).Like other virtual video game systems, you can also “drop inâ€ at any point of a given course near a friend, so even if you take a time out for coffee or to use the restroom, you can hop right back in the race whenever you’re ready.
The interface is not unlike Mario Kart meets Computrainer’s multi-rider system, and it certainly adds a race-like atmosphere to an otherwise dull trainer session. After 15 minutes and one KOM under my belt, I’ll admit I was more than sufficiently crushed, and as a regular Computrainer class attendee I will also admit that I found the virtual reality and race-like competition very effective at getting me to push my watts far past where I probably would have on my own in the corner of class.
Zwift had its beta launch on September 30 simultaneously at Rapha Cycling Clubs in San Francisco, New York and London, and is hoping to roll out publicly in early 2015. Invitations to the public beta launch are open to the first 1,000 users, and can be requested by going to their website at Zwift.com.