You may have seen the #doubledraft tag on various races and group rides in recent months. It was featured prominently in the Zwift Aussie Crit series just a few months ago, and recently we’ve been seeing it all over the place. In fact, if I search Zwift events via ZwiftHacks right now, I see 112 upcoming events using #doubledraft!

Drafting is a key part of bike racing, both indoors and out. Therefore, it’s a big deal when Zwift modifies the way drafting works. This post digs deeper into how double draft works, and the ways it may affect races.

What is Double Draft? How Does It Work?

I asked ZwiftHQ this very question. Game designer Jordan Rapp got back to me with some very specific details that explain exactly what is going on. He said:

Double draft essentially just turns on the “draft van” power up for all riders, all the time. In a double-draft event, then the draft van actually makes things easier than they would be. The “draft van” power-up is actually less of a boost – nothing like the feather or aero boost – and more just bringing the draft benefit more in line with real world physics. Given that drag is – aerodynamically speaking – a cubic function, it’s not really as simple as saying the draft benefit is doubled (or halved); so in that sense, double-draft isn’t precisely a 2x (or 1/2x) multiplier to the drag. That’s important to note. It’s a more complex equation because of the nature of aerodynamic drag.

But basically, turning on double draft made the Zwift race more like an “IRL” race, which makes tactics and race savvy more important. In the simplest terms, “regular” Zwift operates on a “half-draft” model; so double draft isn’t really doubling the benefit; it’s just reducing the penalty we impose to 0.

When I’ve asked ZwiftHQ in the past, I’ve been told that the draft van powerup (see our Guide to Powerups) increases the draft effect you are experiencing by 50%. But it appears that this may not be exactly correct anymore, based on Jordan’s response above. Regardless, the important takeaway here is that double draft mode is meant to mimic real-world draft physics, whereas the “standard” Zwift draft only gives you a portion of the typical IRL drafting benefit.

What Does It Mean for Races?

The organizers of KISS Zwift races (arguably the top “race organizers” on Zwift) recently chose to adopt the doubledraft in all their races. To explain their reasoning, they posted the following to Zwift Riders on Facebook.

We are excited to take the tried-and-true Zwift racing stimulus to the next level on an ongoing basis for all KISS races. Working closely with Zwift HQ, we will use an alternative Zwift draft (Draft 2.0, TruDraft, Full Draft) effect to bring Zwift racing even closer to the real life experience.

When the dev team originally set up the drafting physics in Zwift, they actually ratcheted down the benefit that you’d get in the real world behind a rider of a given size. The decision was made to scale back drafting for a few reasons:

  1. One is that there’s no ability to position one’s avatar left and right on the road. And there’s no braking. So the ability to really fine tune your position is a challenge.
  2. The main reason is that most people riding indoors are doing so because they want a quality workout. Picture yourself in the Tour de France. The peloton is moving in excess of 50 kph with most riders sitting in the draft at less than 200 watts. That’s great on the road if you have to ride 3,000km. But if you’re trying to make the most of an hour on the trainer, it’s not ideal.

Racers still want a quality workout from a Zwift race, but not to the detriment of the intense mental stimulus Zwift racing has to offer. Attacks mid-race are hard to justify if rolling in the bunch only offers Zone 3 or Zone 4 for recovery. Ouch. Breakaways, one of the best features of real life racing, are few and far between. Rolling courses, mountainous courses, and flat courses almost always come down to who has the most w/kg in the finishing sprint. This is the Zwift racing we all know and love, but it’s about to get better.

Let’s look at breakaway riding as an example. Strong riders who are working less in the main group will have more reserve energy to attack the group. Attacking power is not equal among all racers and thus the likelihood of an attack sticking is increased. Once established that breakaway group also benefits from Draft 2.0 and therefore will have actual respite. This recovery is converted into more power to drive and extend the breakaway gap. It opens up more options giving riders more energy to work with. Are you the Mark Cavendish in the chasing peloton waiting for the bunch kick? It will only come back if you can convince the Tony Martin in the group to pull on the front to bring back the breakaway move. More variables and opportunities. Not less. We hope this will lead to increased tactics, added teamwork, and fresh strategic opportunities.

Race commentator extraordinaire Nathan Guerra likes the double draft, and had this to say about it:

Riders who are working less in the main group who are stronger than others will have more to give to get away. Everyone’s “more to give” is not equal and breaks will get away easier. Then once established that group also has more draft… not just the main group behind and therefore will have actual respite and then power to give to form and extend the break. It opens up more options giving riders more energy to work with. More variables and opportunities. Not less.

KISS organizers are seeking input from racers on what they think of the new drafting setup. I am hopeful that the effect of double draft on Zwift racing will be exactly as described by KISS and Nathan above, letting riders rest more in the peloton, then make strong attacks which stick.

I do think this will make it very difficult for a lone breakaway to stick, given that the peloton will probably be rolling along even faster than it does in standard draft mode. But if a small group of riders can jump off the front and benefit from doubledraft, things could get interesting indeed.

My guess is that it will take a little while for racers to modify their strategy to work with double draft physics. Instead of sitting in and holding on for the final sprint, some racers will learn to sit in then attack as a breakaway group. Teamwork will come into play, which is a very good thing. And all of this should make Zwift racing more exciting and interesting, and that’s also a very good thing.

A Better Name

As KISS alluded to in their post, Zwift may need a better name than “double draft” for this new draft mode, since calling it “double” is misleading. I suggest TrueDraft or FullDraft. Because that’s what it is!

Your Thoughts?

Have you tried racing in double draft mode? What did you think? Share your feedback below!