Misused Zwift Powerups: The Aero Boost (Helmet)

Misused Zwift Powerups: The Aero Boost (Helmet)

Welcome to the second post in a series aimed at helping you avoid n00b powerup mistakes in Zwift races.

Powerups add a fun element of randomness and strategy to Zwift racing. While some purists deride their use, most racers welcome their addition to an indoor racing experience which can feel a bit oversimplified since it has fewer variables than outdoor riding.

Experienced Zwift racers understand how powerups work, but we see them used incorrectly over and over again. Hopefully this series can help.

Still learning? Read our “Guide to Powerups in Zwift” >

The Aero Boost, aka “The Helmet”: How It Works

Every rider in Zwift has a CdA based on their weight and height plus other constants controlled by Zwift. This virtual CdA is a key part of Zwift’s physics, greatly affecting your in-game speed.

When the Aero Boost powerup is activated, your CdA is reduced by 25%.

What’s the effect? You’ll go faster for the same wattage. Quite a bit faster, in fact: there’s a reason Zwift racers say the aero helmet is the best powerup to have when you’re heading into a sprint finish!

The Aero Boost lasts for 15 seconds, which means you need to time things just right. A bit of trivia: it used to last for 30 seconds, but was revised in May 2019 because it was simply too strong of a powerup.

How It’s Misused

The most common misuse of the Aero Boost is on climbs. When you climb, you move slower. And like IRL riding, when your avatar is moving slower on Zwift, it is encountering less virtual air resistance. The Aero Boost powerup is designed to reduce air resistance, but if you use it while moving slowly, it’s lowering something that isn’t really there (or, more precisely, isn’t significant enough for you to notice.)

If you’re slogging up the Radio Tower at 12kph/7.5mph, the Aero Boost will not help you.

At what speed does the Aero Boost become noticeably helpful? That’s a good question, but it’s one we can’t answer precisely. Our educated guess is it’s somewhere around 30kph/18.5mph, but of course the Aero Boost is much more noticeable at high speeds like 40-50kph (25-31mph)+. That’s why riders find it especially useful for sprint finishes, attacks on descents, and unlocking the Daredevil achievement badge.

To maximize your Aero Boost benefit, use it when virtual wind resistance is the highest. That means at high speeds, especially when you’re out of the draft, perhaps attacking off the front of a group.

Judgment Calls

The Aero Boost, perhaps more than any other powerup, forces us to make judgment calls about its deployment. It’s the powerup most commonly “held” because riders want to make sure they have it going into the final sprint. Because a helmet on the head is worth two in the bush…

But what are you losing by holding your helmet instead of using it? That’s the judgment call.

A course like Crit City really brings this into stark relief, since you’re receiving a new powerup every lap and races often end in a pack sprint. With a lap lasting approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and most races lasting 6-12 laps, you know exactly when you’ll get another chance at a powerup if you use the one you’ve got.

But what if you have three laps to go, and you get an aero helmet? Do you use now, or hold? What if there are 6 laps to go? What if you’re struggling on the brick climb each lap, and really need a helpful powerup each time around to stay in touch with your group?

As you can see, there is a very real strategic element in play. You may not always make the right call, but that’s all part of the game. Just make sure you aren’t using your aero powerup during a slow climb. Because that’s just silly.

Questions or Comments?

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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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14 days ago

How does the Aero Power Up interact with draft you may already be getting in a group?Same question for the Draft Power Up. Thanks for all of your very useful information!

rdcyclist (Mark Crane)
rdcyclist (Mark Crane) (@rdcyclist)
13 days ago
Reply to  Rob

I’ve wondered this very thing. Does the Aero work in a pack draft? Does it work behind someone with a bus?

rdcyclist (Mark Crane)
rdcyclist (Mark Crane) (@rdcyclist)
13 days ago

BTW, I like the guy in the picture riding the Buffalo Bike. The ultimate middle finger to those of us struggling to stay on with a Tron or a Canyon. 😄

Chris G
Chris G (@chris-greenway)
13 days ago

The other day, doing a repeat of the London TdZ stage, I was excited to be going into the last 2km in the chase group (~p15-35) with an aero ready for the sprint. But… a moment later my wheel had let a gap appear and we were off the back, and getting dropped! I hit the aero, and just made it back to the group in the 15s, with not too much extra effort expended. I got out sprinted by a few (a couple with powerups) but still top25 – and racing to the line – as opposed to ‘limping… Read more »

Dan Connelly
11 days ago

While the aero helmet may not have maximum speed benefit on a climb, consider this. NP is calculated by taking power to the 4th power. This represents a physiological stress from producing power. So suppose I’m in a race and the majority of the race is going to be on a flat road, but there is a gradual (5%) climb where things will become ballistic. At 1400 VAM, 5% corresponds to 28 kph. The reduction in power from an aero boost may be only 34% as strong as it is @ 45 kph. So it would appear the aero boost… Read more »

5 days ago

Hi Eric,
along the same theme as these questions , which power up gives you a greater advantage in attempting a short flat sprint such as Richmond hairpin when riding in a big group? The aero or truck? I was trading green jersey attempts with other riders in a group ride and wondered if I should use up the aero and hope for the truck or vice versa? The question of a compounding draft reduction came to mind as already asked. Thx, and great info , learn so much. -Steve

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