Cycling is my primary sport and my favorite way to stay healthy. The Coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for cyclists like me to continue riding our bikes due to the government-mandated quarantine. Not only does the “stay at home” directive keep us from riding our bikes, but the fear of contracting the virus when going outside also plays a role. In this post, I will discuss what Zwift is and how it has helped me stay fit during the pandemic.

What is Zwift? How to stay fit during the pandemic. 1
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My dummy direct-drive magnetic trainer requires you to 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 control the pedaling resistance (how light or heavy).

Fortunately, we can attach our bikes to stationary trainers to continue working out, but it can be quite 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 no longer understand what I’m watching.

…working out is boring.

I may sound like a complainer when I say working out is boring – because it is. Time seems to move slowly when you’re working out. You 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 playlists with them.

But there is this fitness app I use that not only makes working out more enjoyable, but also more immersive!

What is Zwift?

The app is called Zwift. It is a subscription-based fitness app designed for cyclists (and runners). It has been around for some time, but gained a massive boost in popularity due to 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 most 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 downside of this setup is that 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 is zero immersion, but it works.

Smart Setup

This is the recommended way if you want to experience the full potential of Zwift. It 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 related to cycling…

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Smart trainers from Italian cycling brand, Elite.
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They are referred to as “smart” trainers due to their capacity to replicate real road conditions based on data transmitted by cycling fitness applications such as Zwift. This data is sent via ANT+ or Bluetooth protocols.

A smart trainer can read all kinds of data related to cycling such as 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 more powerful your rig, the better the graphics. Here, I’m using my gaming laptop plugged into a 65” monitor via HDMI.
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Just how immersive is it? Here are a few 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 applies; the trainer resistance will be lighter and pedaling easier.

If you find 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 happens 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 is for you after your free trial, you’ll have to pay $14.99 a month for the service.