If you participate in group rides on Zwift, you’ve probably noticed that the fence hasn’t been in use for the past few weeks. What happened, and is the fence returning? We reached out to Zwift HQ for answers!
Intro to the Fence
The fence’s functionality is quite simple from an end-user’s perspective. The ride leader is able to set how far ahead of themselves the fence appears (default options are 2 seconds, 5 seconds, or 10 seconds). They can also turn the fence off.
If you are far enough behind the fence you won’t see it at all, but if you get close enough you’ll see the red “wall.” Ride through the fence and a countdown warning pops up telling you to return to the group within 1 minute.
If you don’t return to the group within a minute you are automatically booted from the ride.
The Broken Fence
On February 20th, 2020, ride leaders were informed that Zwift was disabling the fence immediately. Here is what Zwift said about the reasons for disabling the fence:
Why did we turn off the fence?
In certain situations and conditions, a non-trivial number of users were being removed from events, even though they were well behind the fence or the leader. In other words, even though some users were riding well, they were still getting removed. Since this is not a good experience for those users, we temporarily removed the fence feature from group rides.
Any Zwifters who regularly participate in group rides can confirm the truth of what Zwift said – there were definitely riders getting booted by the fence even though they were staying behind it. And nobody wants that!
The fence still exists in-game, it’s just disabled for all events. A few events, in fact, have accidentally had the fence enabled in recent days! But this isn’t Zwift testing anything – it’s just an event that wasn’t quite set up properly.
When Will the Fence Return?
This is the question many Zwifters and especially ride leaders are asking. Here’s what Zwift told us yesterday:
We have tracked down a few issues that we feel were impacting event fences and fixed those issues. We’ve also added telemetry specifically for fenced events to get more data if new issues arise. We will be turning the fence back on for select rides with the upcoming game release scheduled for the end of March.
ZHQ will be actively monitoring the rides to evaluate the fixes we’ve put in place. Once we are confident that we’ve solved the issues, the fence will be made available to all rides that wish to use it.
So that’s good news: Zwift has obviously prioritized fixing the fence, and it looks like we’ll see it when the next update arrives at the end of this month.
Do We Need the Fence?
The fence being turned off has led to discussions within the community about whether or not the fence is needed. Some riders like the “freedom” of no fences, while others like the more controlled groups created by the fence. Who’s right? Do we need a fence?
To be sure, some group rides don’t need a fence: long events like Zwift centuries, for example, typically work better if groups are allowed to form naturally. And a small number of group rides use categories as pace groups, allowing riders to select the pace they want to ride.
That said, group ride leaders are overwhelmingly in favor of bringing the fence back. Why? Because without it, group rides get strung out, gaps form, and someone will inevitably complain that the pace is too high even though they’re riding off the front well ahead of the leader’s group.
Here’s a screenshot of me leading this morning’s Pacific Sprintapalooza ride. As you can see, our group was rather small (64 riders), and it routinely split, with half the group riding several seconds ahead. This isn’t what we want for a ride like Sprintapalooza, where the intent is to spin together between group sprint efforts.
In this morning’s ride, the front group was pretty good about returning to the beacon group when I messaged and asked them to ease up and join us. But that’s not always the case, and I would much rather have the group just stay together without constant messaging. (Ride leaders prefer to use their messages to provide encouragement and banter, not to corral those off the front.)
With the fence enabled, group rides stay together as a pack. With it turned off, group rides split into multiple pace groups. For some rides that’s ok – for others it is not. Simple as that!
Have you missed the fence, or are you happy it’s gone? How can ride leaders best control their rides in the absence of a fence? Please share your thoughts below!