Opinion: Let Me Feel the Draft on Zwift

Opinion: Let Me Feel the Draft on Zwift

Now that Zwift has rolled out FutureWorks, I find myself thinking of new cycling features they could release for us to test. And I keep coming back to the draft.

Drafting Today

We know drafting on Zwift comes with its own set of challenges. If you doubt that Zwift drafting is a unique skillset, just watch an experienced outdoor racer hop onto Zwift for the first time and try in vain to hang with a hard-charging pack. They’ll fly off the front, then ease up and get spit out the back.

Why does this happen? Because drafting on Zwift is very different than drafting outdoors, for several reasons:

  • No braking: without brakes, you can only change your pack position by increasing or decreasing your power. While this is what experienced racers do outdoors, a little bit of braking still comes in handy.
  • No steering: when the game moves your avatar right and left, you don’t get to choose where and when you “slot in” to the pack.
  • Riding through others: it’s too easy to ride through others in the Zwift pack, while in the real world if you tried the same tricks you would need to move around riders to avoid crashing.
  • No draft “feel”: when you move out of the draft outdoors, you feel the air hit you immediately. On Zwift, you feel no change, as resistance does not change based on your drafting status.

From the items listed above, braking and steering are certainly coming down the road–the new crop of smart bikes already has buttons and levers to make it happen once Zwift to adds it to the game.

Riding through others is an issue Zwift can change in their positioning algorithm.

But I want to focus on the draft “feel.” Let’s dig into this a bit.

Feeling the Draft

Most cyclists understand the basics of drafting, since its an integral part of group riding and racing. Being “in the draft” means you experience reduced air resistance, because riders ahead of you are blocking some of the wind.

Typically, cyclists will tell you that drafting another rider reduces air resistance by 30%. But a recent supercomputer-powered study said that drafting in a large pro peloton can reduce air resistance by as much as 95%. Amazing!

What if your smart trainer’s resistance automatically dropped a bit when you entered the draft in Zwift… and increased when you left the draft? What if drafting behind twenty riders felt different than drafting behind just one?

Would that make the experience more intuitive and realistic? I think it would.

(It’s worth noting that other indoor cycling platforms support some sort of “draft feel”–Tacx Desktop Software and Veloton are two which come to mind.)

Slowing the Pack

One potential benefit of “feeling the draft” may be a reduction in overall group speeds, especially in double draft races. Currently, the “churn” at the front of the pack leads to artificially high speeds–I would guess 2-3mph too fast.

Perhaps if riders could “feel” their position in the pack things would calm down a bit, group speeds would drop, and breakaways could stand a better chance of sticking.

Those Devilish Details

Of course, implementing this in Zwift is not as easy as Jon Mayfield snapping his fingers. Ideally, Zwift would be able to send a simple “drafting factor” to our smart trainers, just as they send wind resistance, slope, track resistance, weight, and other parameters. (Smart trainers combine these parameters to set overall resistance multiple times each second.)

Here’s the thing: smart trainers use two different wireless protocols: ANT+ FE-C (ANT) and Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Bluetooth). The ANT specification does include a drafting factor. But the Bluetooth specification does not.

So Zwift would have to hack the Bluetooth side of things for now, perhaps just dropping overall wind resistance to mimic drafting. Perhaps Zwift could push for an update to the Bluetooth FTMS service, which hasn’t been revised since February 2017.

But for now, I would just be happy to see Zwift roll it out under FutureWorks for ANT+ FE-C users, so we could give it a go. It’s just one parameter, which hopefully means it would be easy to add much like Zwift added the weight parameter to ANT+ FE-C trainers almost exactly one year ago.

Your Thoughts

What about you? Do you think feeling the draft would improve the Zwift experience?

Note: I’ve sent this over to Zwift for comment, and if they chime in I will issue a follow-up post with that information.

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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1 year ago

Draft feel would be nice, but in a way, it’s sort of there. In the draft, to keep behind the rider, I have to lower the resistance manually by shifting one or two gear easier (whereas outside I’d be able to stay in the same gear, it’d just feel easier). I think having the resistance change to make it more like outside would be a good thing, but I don’t know if it would change how the pack works. Would the pack calm down, or would riders end up shifting one (or more) gear harder and keep hammering? We’d have… Read more »

Benjamin Wakefield
Benjamin Wakefield
1 year ago

I would love it if Zwift decreased resistance when drafting. It just gets it that much closer to that realistic feel

jordan fowler
jordan fowler (@jfowler)
1 year ago

How about Wahoo’s $10,000 fan cuts back a hair when you are in the draft along with resistance drop? That’d be some tactile goodness (though I might ride up front to get the airflow from the fan.

1 year ago

How about making you just that bit faster when you are being drafted and the rider behind is pushing the pocket of aid behind you. That would also make it just a bit more like real life.

gert munch
gert munch
7 months ago

I simply do not understand why Zwift do not attempt to create as realistic a sensation as possible. I realise that it is not possible to breake and stear as in real life, but still it should be possible to simply reduce the resistance when you are close behind another rider or a group of riders no matter your sideways placement on the road. This would be much better than the existing effect in my opinion.
Gert Munch

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