I’ve been on Zwift for close to 18 months and I really enjoy it. A couple years ago I could not imagine riding on an indoor trainer for more than 20 minutes, but after relocating from California to Vermont, I knew I had to figure out how to ride indoors. It turned out to be a life-saving change that has become my primary training mode.
Looking for new things to keep it interesting, I wanted to learn how to organize events on Zwift, so I approached Gordon Sloan of Rhino Racing to teach me the basics of event organizing. He generously agreed to take me on as an apprentice and let me experiment with one of the team’s longstanding event series: Rhino Racing Crit City.
It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, so race field sizes are down. Zwifters love short criterium races, so turnout for the Rhino Racing Crit City events has been pretty good. However, we haven’t put much effort into developing these events to maximize participation. I wondered if there were changes that would increase race entries without abandoning the riders who already enjoy these events. We started by creating a design document with ideas for improvement.
- Increase participation and compete with more popular events on the calendar such as the ZRacing Monthly Series and Zwift Crit Club which are organized by Zwift HQ. We don’t expect to beat the field sizes in those events, but small increases would be a win.
- Increase racers’ awareness of the Rhino Racing club and attract people interested in team racing. The off season is a good time to start talking to riders about team events that dominate the fall and winter racing calendar in the northern hemisphere.
- Retain both casual and devoted racers who participate in the events we’re currently running.
We kicked around ideas to meet the goals we discussed, and arrived at this approach:
- Vary routes and distances each week. Currently we simply alternate between the two Crit City routes, Bell Lap and Downtown Dolphin. These are very popular criterium routes, but maybe adding a little variety will increase the appeal.
- Don’t change too much. Keep the short scratch race format. We want the events to appeal to both casual and dedicated racers, but maybe a general classification competition for the series will help.
- Solicit feedback from racers about the routes and the races they enter. Most Zwift races don’t try to involve participants in the planning process, but maybe we can learn something by surveying racers about their preferred routes, distances, and race times.
- Write a better race description. The text that racers read about our Crit City events is minimal, so we’re wasting an opportunity to promote the team and increase engagement.
- Put more effort into promoting the series through social media channels and popular sources of race information such as Zwift Insider.
Starting With Racer Input
Since these are short races, expected to finish in 20-30 minutes, it helps to use routes of 5km or less so there are some laps. The development process began with a survey on the Zwift Forum asking racers to vote on their favorite short criterium routes (the survey is still open and we’d love to hear your input).
The survey results showed that Crit City remains popular, but it’s clear that Glasgow Crit Circuit is also a winner. That route didn’t exist when we originally set up these events in September 2022. To avoid losing the racers enjoying the Crit City events, we settled on a rotation that includes 50% Crit City routes, 25% Glasgow Crit Circuit, and 25% other popular short routes.
We’ll rotate the routes each week, and run the series over 12 weeks to give us some time to understand the effects on participation. A racer’s best time on each week’s route will count toward the general classification over a four-week period. After four weeks we’ll start a new ZwiftPower league to produce a new general classification for the next four weeks. After 12 weeks we’ll reassess the design and decide to either continue or make further changes.
Analyzing The Calendar
When we introduced the Rhino Racing Crit City events, Zwift had recently replaced their Crit City events with the ZRacing Monthly Series. Despite the success of Zwift’s new series, many racers were disappointed by the loss of Crit City events. We stepped in to fill that gap.
Eventually, Zwift introduced another series, Zwift Crit Club. Aside from small differences in the number of laps, there isn’t much to differentiate our events from the Crit Club events. Their events benefit from greater name recognition and nine races every day. Our existing events are scheduled on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with two race times on each of those days, plus one more on Friday. We need a few more race times, including some on the weekend.
The Zwift events team manages the calendar for public Zwift events, so I approached Zwift’s main event planner, James Bailey, to get his feedback on our series design and race times. He suggested adding a race time that would be more appealing to riders in the Asia-Pacific region, and he agreed to create events on Saturday.
Although the calendar is pretty packed and race entries are down, we’ll host four races per day on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, at 9AM, 11AM, 8PM, and 10:30PM UTC. Hopefully the availability of Saturday events will help riders who want to compete for GC rankings despite the large gaps in our schedule. If we get enough entries we’ll be in a better position to ask for more race times in the future.
Once events are created, the organizer has control over route selection, distance, race format, and other configuration settings without further interaction with the Zwift events team.
We want to see if racers find the route choices and series format appealing. Will we get more race entries by adding Glasgow Crit Circuit to the rotation? Will we get more repeat entries by adding a general classification element? Will casual crit racers join our team? Will the race schedule changes help?
We developed another survey to get more detailed feedback from racers about their experiences in the events. Most Zwift race organizers don’t ask for participant feedback in the event description, and it’s often difficult to know how to contact the organizer. We’re making that easy because we want the feedback and we want to adjust our plans based on that information. In addition to the racer feedback, we’ll review the number of event participants to understand if the changes are working.
Series Starts August 12
On Saturday, August 12, our Rhino Racing Crit City events will become the Rhino Racing Crit Series, with a week of races on the Glasgow Crit Circuit! In week 2, we’ll be back on Downtown Dolphin. For week 3, our flavor of the month will be Neokyo Crit Course. In week 4, it will be Bell Lap. Then we’ll start a new GC competition for the following 4 weeks.
You can find the full calendar of Rhino Racing Crit Series events at zwift.com/events/tag/rhinocrits
Will these changes increase field sizes in our events? If you join one of our Crit Series events, please fill out our post-race survey and let us know how we’re doing. If you want to chat about our series design, drop into the Rhino Racing Discord or leave a comment below.