Zwift has several types of bike frames in game:
- Road bikes (the most popular, by far)
- TT bikes (very aero and can only draft in special TTT events)
- Mountain Bikes: the slowest and heaviest, but they look pretty sweet on dirt
- Gravel Bikes: dropbar bikes with wider tires, just like IRL
I wouldn’t blame you for being a bit confused about which bike setup to use on a particular course, when that course involves dirt or gravel sections like Watopia’s Jungle Circuit, Makuri Islands’ Sea to Tree, or Scotland’s City and the Sgurr.
Most of our route detail pages include a recommended bike setup (start by clicking your desired route here). But I see one common mistake when folks choose to ride a gravel bike in game.
Don’t blame yourself: it’s a mistake many have made, because the way Zwift has set things up is confusing. Let’s take a peek behind the curtain…
A Bit of Gravel History
Zwift released its first gravel bikes in their December 2019 game update. The Cervelo Aspero, Canyon Grail, Canyon Inflite (actually a cross bike), and Zwift Gravel were built in game similar to how they’re built outdoors: to perform well on dirt while also zipping along nicely on pavement. Later more frames were added, and there are now 10 gravel frames available.
The frames are fine. It’s nice to have a selection of brands available, and if you want to learn how each frame performs in terms of climbing or aero performance, just read this post.
But things got confusing in February 2022 when Zwift added two new gravel wheelsets to the Drop Shop. Before this, only one gravel wheelset was available – the default Zwift gravel wheelset. But now Zwift was offering three wheelsets. Which one should you choose?
The answer, it turned out, wasn’t so easy to come by. Because the new wheelsets were rated the same as Zwift’s default gravel wheels (3 stars aero, 1 star weight) one might think they would perform the same. But Zwift got sneaky! They assigned a new, custom Crr for the new gravel wheels, but only when rolling on the “dirt” surface.
Crr is rolling resistance, with lower numbers being faster. Read all about Crr on Zwift >
The newer name-brand gravel wheels have a Crr of .016 on dirt, while Zwift’s gravel wheelset has a Crr of .018. How do those different settings affect performance? Name-brand gravel wheels are about 17s faster than Zwift’s gravel wheels on a loop of Watopia’s Jungle Circuit at 4 W/kg, and about 10s faster climbing the Temple KOM in Makuri Islands.
As of today, there are 4 name-brand gravel wheelsets available in Zwift. They all perform identically:
- CADEX AR 35
- ENVE G23
- Reserve 25 GR
- Roval Terra CLX
So what’s the mistake people make with gravel bikes on Zwift? They use the default Zwift gravel wheelset, instead of spending a few drops on a name-brand gravel wheelset.
If you’re going to be racing in dirt, spend a few Drops. The performance gains are well worth it!
Zwift: Please Fix Gravel
The Crr difference between Zwift’s gravel wheelset and all the others seems like a confusing choice on Zwift’s part, and one that penalizes new riders. As much as I like the idea of rewarding people for doing their research and reading Zwift Insider posts, if one wheelset is slower than another that should be made clear in Zwift’s garage/Drop Shop UI.
My recommended fix: just make all the gravel wheelsets have the same Crr on dirt. No other wheelsets in game have custom Crr settings, so let’s consider this an experiment that didn’t pan out, and swap back to simple settings.
Now, if Zwift wants to make certain gravel wheelsets perform better because they’re more aero or lightweight than others – that’s sensible, and inline with what happens with road wheels. Just show the difference in the star ratings so it’s clear.
Lastly: there’s a bug when it comes to setting the gravel wheelset. On my personal account, when I select a gravel frame, it shows the frame with CADEX AR 35 wheels. Problem is… I don’t own those wheels!
Zwift needs to save whatever gravel wheels I last selected, so when I swap to a gravel bike, it has my favorite gravel wheels in place. (This saving needs to work for road bikes, too.)
Questions or Comments?