This week Zwift announced a set of test events for the community to put a new FutureWorks feature through its paces. Currently called “Hardware Requirements”, the big idea is that Zwift wants to be able to restrict who can participate in certain events based on the devices (trainer, power meter, heart rate monitor) they are using.
There are currently 5 possible event configurations:
- No rules; the event is open to all hardware types
- Smart Trainers/Power Meters only allowed
- Smart Trainers/Power Meters + Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) only allowed
- zPower (classic trainer + speed sensor, spin bikes, etc.) only allowed
- zPower + Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) only allowed
This is considered a FutureWorks feature, which essentially means it’s in public beta.
What It Does… and Does NOT Do
Zwift has informed us that their Hardware Requirements feature isn’t meant to restrict events to a particular make or model of device (like having a race just for Tacx NEO users). Rather, it’s to differentiate between people with and without a heart rate monitor, as well as those using a classic trainer (sometimes called zPower or virtual power) vs those using a smart trainer/smart bike/power meter.
Zwift says, “In other words, that means smart trainer/power meter-racers will race with fellow smart trainer/power meter-racers and zPower-racers with race with fellow zPower-racers.”
While we don’t see classic-trainer-only events ever taking off (there just aren’t enough racers on classic trainers) we definitely could see race organizers choosing to disallow classic trainers from racing, since the virtual power computed from classic trainers+speed sensors is notoriously inaccurate.
Category Enforcement has moved “zPower Rangers” out of the lower categories for the most part, but that just means they’re racing in the A category, which isn’t exactly fair to legit A riders, either. While the vast majority of Zwift Racers use a smart trainer or power meter, the implementation of Hardware Requirements should be able to stop a few race flyers, improving the experience for everyone else.
Will Hardware Requirements fix all power inaccuracies? Of course not. Riders in the smart trainer/power meter category can still calibrate their wheel-on trainer cold, then get a wattage boost as their tire warms up (or loses air). And many direct-drive trainers and most power meters can be miscalibrated or configured improperly so they over-read power. This is just one of many potential steps Zwift can take toward more fairness in racing.
Rolling out Hardware Requirements as an event option will be a positive development for Zwift racing. But there’s one thing about this new feature which I think Zwift needs to fix, and that’s this: if you’re in a Hardware Requirement event and you go to the pairing screen, you are only allowed to pair the same hardware you joined the event with.
(Although we haven’t tested it yet, Zwift assures us that if you entered the event with, say, your Wahoo KICK paired via ANT+, you could re-pair the KICKR via Bluetooth and that would be allowed, since it’s the same device. That’s good.)
But what about riders running two power sources (such as the popular combination of a smart trainer + power pedals), and one of those power sources keeps dropping out? You should be able to pair your other power source and finish the race, since it still meets the requirements of the event. But that’s not possible with this iteration of Hardware Requirements.
Similarly, we’ve all hard heart rate monitors crap out mid-ride. If it’s an HRM-required event you will be entirely out of luck unless you can put a new battery in your HRM. (Having a backup HRM won’t do you any good, since you can’t pair that new hardware mid-event.)
While the trainer power drop and dead HRM situations aren’t common, they do happen (I’ve had both happen, multiple times). It would be a pity of riders had a replacement device on hand that still met the event rules, but were unable to pair that device and instead had to take a DNF.
Availability for Community Events
Zwift hasn’t said when Hardware Requirements will roll out for use by community race organizers. The forum post says, “After our initial testing phase from 2-9 Aug, we hope to have Hardware Requirements rolled out as soon as possible, though we can’t say for certain when that will happen.”
See the Zwift forum topic, which includes lots of additional details and a helpful FAQ. (Nice work as always, Flint!)
If you participate in one of these Hardware Requirement events, Zwift wants you to fill out this form to share your experience.
Got further thoughts? Feel free to share below!