With Zwift’s recent-released mountain bike rolling faster over dirt than all the road bikes in game, racers hitting the Jungle Circuit or Road to Ruins routes would be wise to plan a smart bike-choice strategy beforehand.
The mountain bike is significantly slower on tarmac in comparison to road bikes, but the reverse is true on dirt. That leaves us with a few potentially winning strategies:
- Ride a road bike, going hard at the start to drop anyone on a mountain bike so you have a significant lead going into the Jungle.
- Ride a mountain bike, planning to close any gaps to the road bike riders once things get dirty.
- Swap from a road to mountain bike when you hit the dirt, hoping that the time lost in making the bike switch is made up by increased bike speed.
A Brief History of Bike Switching in Zwift
Bike switching is a strategy which appeared in the early “Wild West” days of Zwift racing. Riders might switch to a climbing bike at the base of a long mountain, or a heavy, aero TT bike before a long descent.
Zwifters even began using macros to make the switches instantaneous and simple. Macros allow you to “record” a set of actions (such as mouse movements and clicks) on your computer, then “play” those actions easily. So instead of manually clicking through menus to change bikes, savvy Zwifters could hit a macro shortcut and instantly be on a new bike without ever slowing down.
Zwift put a stop to this eventually by requiring your avatar to stop moving before switching a bike frame or wheelset. (Fair play, since this is how things work in the real world.) This change effectively ended bike switching in Zwift races, because very few race situations existed in which the benefit of a bike swap was worth the time penalty.
How to Switch Quickly
Today, a bike switch can easily be done in 12-15 seconds. It involves these simple steps:
- Stop pedaling
- Hit “A” to bring up the pairing screen, which also applies the brakes on your rider
- As your rider slows to a stop, hit “OK” to close the pairing screen, and hit “T” to bring up your garage
- Select your bike, then start pedaling
- Hit OK to return to the game
If you aren’t a computer, you can perform similar steps by clicking “Menu” first, then accessing the pairing screen and garage from the menu. It’s a bit slower, but not much.
Here’s a demonstration video showing what this looks like. We recorded two riders chugging along at 300 watts (4 w/kg), so you can see what sort of time gap may be created if you are in a race pack and decide to switch bikes. It appears that time gap will be approximately 20 seconds, but this will vary depending on the speeds everyone is traveling when the switch happens. (Slower is better!)
With the mountain bike turning in a Jungle Circuit lap time 73 seconds faster than the Tron bike (at 4 w/kg), a 20-second gap can easily be made up.
Note: while a macro program could be used to make this process a bit faster, we did the switch above manually.
Real Race Example
Tom Gakes of Bolt Racing Team may have been one of the first races on Zwift to do this, just a couple days ago. He says, “First change was a bit messy (started pedaling again too early) but the tactic worked out well. Too bad I just didn’t have the legs that day.”
Watch below as he makes the switch, and even with taking too long to do it, ends up catching the front group that was well ahead on road bikes.
Have You Tried It?
Have you tried the bike swap strategy yet in a Zwift race or group ride? How did it work out?