Misused Zwift Powerups: The Draft Boost (Van)

Misused Zwift Powerups: The Draft Boost (Van)

Welcome to the third 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 Draft Boost, aka “The Van”: How It Works

Every rider in Zwift punches a hole in the virtual air, leaving a drafting “wake” behind them just like outdoors. As long as you’re in a draft-enabled mode, your avatar can ride in this wake and save power by drafting behind other riders.

Little-known fact: the “size” of your draft wake is based on your in-game height and weight. Just like outdoors, a bigger rider will have a bigger draft wake than a smaller rider. So tuck in behind that big domestique and let them tow you to glory!

For more on Zwift drafting, read “Drafting In Zwift: Power Savings, Tips, and Tricks” and the TTT-specific “Speed Tests: 4-Rider Drafting“.

When the Draft Boost powerup is activated, any draft effect you are experiencing is increased by 50% for 30 seconds. This means the Draft Boost lets you reduce your wattage in the draft while maintaining your speed.

Example: our tests show you receive an approximate power savings of ~25% when drafting behind one rider in standard draft mode. That means if two identical riders are together on a flat road in Zwift with the front rider holding 300W, the drafting rider could stay on their wheel at ~225W (25% less). Activating the Draft Boost would increase the draft effect by 50%, meaning the drafting rider could hold just 188W and stay on the wheel. That’s a ~38W savings (225-188) provided by the Draft Boost!

Join a double draft event and the Draft Boost has even more of an effect. Double draft mode has a much stronger draft effect than standard boost mode. Then the van powerup doubles that draft effect, giving you a very cushy rest sitting in the draft.

Speaking of rest: the Draft Boost is most commonly used as a recovery aid in races, because it lasts a relatively long time and lets you sit in with significantly less work. A well-timed van can also help you move up through the pack more quickly/easily, perhaps in a slingshot attack heading into a final sprint!

How It’s Misused

The most common and obvious misuse of the Draft Boost is from riders who aren’t drafting. Yup. This powerup only works if you are drafting another rider. Using it when you’re off the front or riding solo is a complete waste.

A wasted Draft Boost

On top of this obvious misuse, the van is often misused in the same way the Aero Boost is misused. Specifically, the Draft and Aero Boost powerups don’t help much when you’re traveling at low speeds. Both of these powerups are designed to reduce air resistance, which is only noticeably helpful when you’re moving at higher speeds.

If you’re slogging up the Radio Tower at 9kph/5.6mph, the Draft Boost will not help you.

At what speed does the Draft 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 Draft Boost is much more noticeable at high speeds like 40-50kph (25-31mph)+.

To maximize your Draft Boost benefit, use it when you’re in the draft moving at high speeds – typically on a flat or descent. It can also prove helpful on short climbs where speeds remain high.

Off the Front, Accidentally

One common mistake you’ll see in races is a rider near the front who activates their Draft Boost powerup, then rides off the front and into the wind while the powerup is still active.

If you’ve read this far then why this happens should be fairly obvious: activating the Draft Boost lets you stay in the draft at lower power. But if you keep your power as high as it was before, you’ll probably move forward in the group. Keep your power up long enough and you’ll be off the front, where your draft boost isn’t doing you any good at all!

So what should you do? If you’re using the Draft Boost as a recovery tool, then as soon as you activate it, ease off the power a bit so you maintain your desired group position at the lowest possible effort level.

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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David Cooper
David Cooper
6 months ago

And … if you have a trainer that takes a second or three to respond to power changes, make sure you start to ease off the power before hitting the van.

I have fallen foul of that one a few times!

Steve R
Steve R
6 months ago

The trouble is I normally only get the Van when I’m riding solo (probably having been dropped by the lead group), so I just burn it immediately as soon as I get it, even if it’s gives me no benefit that way. Never seem to get it when it might be useful like when I’m still in the blob…

Tony Lane
Tony Lane
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve R

Exactly. Sometimes I am sure that Zwift has an evil sense of humour – when you get given the Van when you’ve already been dropped i can almost hear the chuckling in the background

Ilari Koivusalo
Ilari Koivusalo (@ilari-koivusalo)
6 months ago

Nice to get guides like these.
I am one of those who thought that Van power up will create draft effect like Van IRL.
But now I’m wiser and won’t waste it anymore! Thanks 😀

Dave
Dave
6 months ago

I use the draft boost as a way to attack. Breakaway from the group just before a climb to stress people out, or as you are coming into the final sprint!

Alex
Alex
6 months ago
Reply to  Dave

Me too. Van or Helmet are great right before a climb. Sometimes to try to break away but more often just to create some chaos behind you. Not only does that make people push hard when they didn’t expect to but also often times leads to one or two riders fall off the back of the group. The only other use for the Van for me is finish line sprints. Otherwise I just dump it and wait for the next one. Saving a couple watts for a couple of seconds in a group doesn’t do anything for me. Some people… Read more »

P Sauve
P Sauve
6 months ago

Good advice in a race setting.
For those of us who primarily ride solo, it’s not quite so obvious when to use it. I’m rarely in a pack, so am not in the position to get the best benefit. Typically I use the van when when I see a series of individual riders ahead of me that I’m catching. I use it in order to leap-frog across each gap. That tactic can very much look like your “wasted” illustration.

Tony Lane
Tony Lane
6 months ago
Reply to  P Sauve

or throw it away just before a banner, in the hope that you’ll get given something more useful for a solo ride

Chris Greenway
Chris Greenway (@chris-greenway)
6 months ago

As said, it’s less effective at lower speeds, but does anyone know if it has benefits in overcoming the dreaded sticky draft? The S’draft is my least fav part of Zwift, and any tips on passing people at slow speeds efficiently (esp. on the Alpe/Ventoux) would be grateful. Couldn’t see an article on it Eric, but it woukd be great to better understand the effect…

Edward Armitage
Edward Armitage
6 months ago

It is well over a year now and I have never had a powerup other than the helmet. Does anyone know why that is? I ride 4 or 5 times a week.

Olly Horne
Olly Horne
6 months ago

Well that sounds like a nice problem to have!

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