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.
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.
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?