Cycling is my primary sport, and it’s also my favorite thing to do to keep myself healthy. The Coronavirus pandemic made it very hard for cyclists like myself to continue riding our bikes because of the quarantine ordered by the government. It’s not just the “stay at home” directive that keeps us from riding our bikes, but the scare of contracting the virus whenever we go outside. In this post, I will discuss what is Zwift and how it helped me to stay fit in the middle of a pandemic.

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My dummy direct-drive magnetic trainer. You remove the rear wheel of your bike and attach it to the cogs of the trainer. The wire connects to the magnets inside the trainer, which controls the pedaling resistance (how light or heavy).

Luckily, there are stationary trainers we can attach our bikes to continue working out, but it’s boring. I usually watch my favorite anime or Netflix to keep myself entertained for an hour or two of working out, but since I’m focusing on my pedaling, I can’t understand what I’m watching anymore.

…working out is boring.

I might sound like a whiner when I said working out is boring – because it is. Time is in slow-mo when you’re working out. You’re going to feel the pain of every effort you make. Having some kind of entertainment can make your workout session much more enjoyable. That is why people in the gym always have their Airpods and Spotify playlist with them.

But there’s this fitness app I use that not only makes working out so much enjoyable. It also makes it a lot more immersive!

What is Zwift?

The app is called Zwift. It’s a subscription-based fitness app designed for cyclists (and runners). They’ve been around for quite some time but got a massive boost in popularity because of the pandemic. The app can work in two ways, depending on your budget and trainer setup.

What is Zwift?

Dummy Setup

This is the cheapest and more accessible way to enter the world of Zwifting. Aside from your bike (obviously), It requires you to have a speed sensor, a dummy trainer, and a phone, tablet, or laptop. The not so good part about this setup is you will not feel any resistance when pedaling. The app will only rely on the speed of your rear wheel to move your in-game avatar. It is not accurate, and there’s zero immersion, but hey it works.

Smart Setup

This is the recommended way if you want to experience the full potential of Zwift. This is also the most expensive. It requires you to have a smart trainer with Bluetooth or ANT+ capability. The smart trainer will directly communicate with Zwift using one of these protocols and will transfer vital information that Zwift will then interpret in-game.

A smart trainer can read all kinds of data known to cycling…

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Smart trainers from Italian cycling brand, Elite.
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They’re called “smart” trainers because of their ability to simulate real road conditions based on data sent by cycling fitness apps like Zwift. These data are transmitted via ANT+ or Bluetooth protocols.

A smart trainer can read all kinds of data known to cycling like your power (how hard you pedal – measured in watts), cadence (how fast you pedal – measured in rpm), heart rate (measured in bpm), and your speed (in mph or kph depending on your settings). Zwift will then translate these data to move your avatar in-game, making it the most accurate (and immersive) way to experience Zwift.

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Zwift is like any other PC game. The powerful your rig, the nicer the graphics. Here I’m using my gaming laptop plugged into a 65” monitor via HDMI.
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Just how immersive? Here are a couple of cycling scenarios.

  • If you’re riding uphill, the trainer will simulate it by changing the resistance. Depending on the steepness of the road, the trainer will accurately simulate the “gradient”, and you will feel it in your legs ^^;
  • If you’re riding downhill, the same concept, the trainer resistance will be lighter and pedaling easier.
  • If you found another cyclist or group of cyclists and decide to draft behind him/her, the resistance of the trainer will automatically adjust, making pedaling a bit easier – just like in real life (because you’re not taking any headwinds).
  • The same thing when you decide to pull a group of cyclists by taking the lead position, pedaling will be a bit harder because you’re taking all of the headwinds.
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Zwift is available on iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS.

The feeling is not 100% accurate. You won’t feel the bumps in the road, and you can’t control your avatar’s exact position in the peloton (the game does that for you). But the fact that you get to play with your gears (depending on road situation), apply tactics in races, and cooperate with fellow cyclists is an incredible feat in the world of interactive fitness. You also get to experience riding with the author of manga/anime Yowamushi Pedal, Watanabe Sensei!

Zwift is free to try for your first 25km (no credit card required). If you think that Zwift if for you after your free trial, you’ll have to pay $14.99 a month for the service.