Zwift launched FutureWorks Pace Partners back on August 25th, so by now the community has had the chance to ride with Dan, CoCo, Bowie, and (if you’re fast enough) Amelia.
The general consensus seems to be: we love the Pace Partners idea, and there’s a pile of improvements that could make them even more useful. This is all good news, because it means that as a minimum viable product (MVP) launch, Pace Partners are a success. Zwift now knows there’s interest in the feature, and this will justify further development.
Let’s talk a bit about how Pace Partners currently function, fun things you can do with them right now, and ideas for improvements.
Pace Partners: the Basics
There are currently four Pace Partners, but only two have been active at a time. Generally we’ve seen them rotate by gender, with Diesel Dan and Bowie Brevet riding one day, then CoCo Cadence and Amelia Anquetil the next. Here’s more info on each bot:
- Yellow avatar
- Weighs 82kg
- Rides between 82-197w (1-2.4 w/kg)
- Green avatar
- Weighs 82kg
- Rides between 263-320w (3.29-3.9 w/kg)
- Blue avatar
- Weighs 65kg
- Rides between 163-202w (2.5-3.1 w/kg)
- Red avatar
- Weighs 65kg
- Rides 260w+ (4+ w/kg)
Zwift has stated that Pace Partners will be turned off for “maintenance” from 8:30-10:30 and 20:30-22:30 Pacific time each day, but this hasn’t been the case every day. (For example: as I write this, it’s 9:00 and CoCo is still active.)
Pace Partners are only active in Watopia right now, so to ride with one, click “Watopia” in the world choice tab of the join screen, then click the Pace Partners block at the top of the rider list. This will bring up a list of active Pace Partners. Select which Partner you’d like, click “Next”, then click “Ride”. Start pedaling! You will be dropped in next to the Pace Partner with a bit of pedal assist to get you up to speed.
Hang around near the Pace Partner long enough and you should get a Ride On from them. They like spreading the Ride On love!
Even though Zwift’s current Pace Partner functionality is very basic, it still adds useful and fun elements to the game. Here are some ways I’ve been using Pace Partners lately…
Always-On Group Ride
This is the most obvious use of Pace Partners, but it’s still worth mentioning. All the partners except Amelia (she’s too fast!) have consistently been surrounded by a group of 10-60 riders, meaning Zwift Pace Partners have created a sort of always-on group ride. If you’re looking to just ride at a steady pace and want the company of others, hop in with a Pace Partner group.
Race Warmups and Cooldowns
It’s often tough to find a group ride that works for a race warmup or cooldown, and I always feel a little guilty jumping out of the group ride before it ends. But I can hop in and out of Pace Partner groups with zero guilt, and they’re (mostly) always active.
Dan moves slower than I would typically ride for a race warmup, but if I have the time, riding with him is a great way to get my legs spun up. CoCo seems to ride in the best range for my warmups and cooldowns, where I can sit in with the group at an easy pace, or push it off the front as I ramp up my heart rate in warmup.
Bowie is often moving a bit faster than I’d prefer if I’m starting off cold, but once I’ve warmed up for 5-10 minutes his pace is a good warmup effort as well.
Efficiency Challenge (Drafting Practice)
If you’re just getting into racing on Zwift, learning how to draft is hugely important. The Pace Partners are the perfect way to work on these skills without the worry of getting dropped in a race or group ride. Try to maintain your position on the Partner’s wheel, or just stay in the draft of the group surrounding the bot.
On a recent ride I decided to attempt riding as efficiently as possible with Bowie Brevet’s group, which was riding on the Sand and Sequoias route. Bowie was riding at 270 watts (3.3 w/kg) steady, which made things interesting on the ups and downs of Titans Grove! I found that our group would surge ahead of Bowie on the climbs (because our smart trainers would apply more resistance, which naturally increases our wattage). But Bowie would hold steady wattage on the descents when our wattage would drop – so he would move ahead on the downhills.
I was able to do a full lap at 225 watts average (2.8 w/kg), staying in Bowie’s draft the entire time. Can you do better?
Playing Keep Away
Looking for a more demanding challenge? Join a Pace Partner riding at a solid pace, then see if you can stay away off the front:
If you really want to keep yourself honest, do it on a TT bike.
Now that we’ve had time to ride with the Pace Partners, there are lots of ideas for improvements. (The best place to post these, by the way, is on the FutureWorks/Pace Partners Forum.)
The community seems to generally agree that the current automated messaging from the Pace Partners is a bit annoying. (One rider counted 73 messages from Coco in a 1-hour ride!)
To their credit, Zwift has begun to modify these messages – CoCo uses distinctly Australian phrases (although some of what she says doesn’t sound Aussie at all). And Amelia, fittingly, has become quite French!
Having the bots speak more intelligently could be really fun. Perhaps they warn everyone when a timed segment is coming up, or occasionally welcome one of the new riders that just clicked to join the group.
Lots of possibilities here, but I don’t see Zwift putting significant resources into this any time soon. Until the bots can speak more intelligently, I think Zwifters generally agree that fewer messages would be better.
Change of Pace
Right now, each bot begins their “shift” at a set wattage within the windows stated above. The bots seem to remain at that wattage throughout their shift.
In talking with Wes Salmon at ZHQ, it’s clear he and his team are considering some sort of intelligent pace changing in future versions of Pace Partners. The most logical approach would be to bump up wattage on climbs, and drop it a bit on descents. This would make the group pace feel a bit more natural.
But there’s much more that could be done with pace changing! For example: what if some pace bots did interval efforts, either randomized or in set times? Randomized intervals would be excellent for race training. Bots could even use messaging to warn of pace changes: “Going to ramp it up to 250 watts for 5 minutes. Here we go!”
Surely the number of bots will be increased in the future. Hopefully they will make the journey from Watopia to other maps and routes.
Some Zwifters have complained that the bots are offline during their normal daily ride time. Since the “maintenance window” is just a temporary measure that is necessary due to Zwift’s bare-bones approach to this FutureWorks MVP, future versions should see Pace Partners online around the clock.
With only two Pace Partners online at a given time, and no screen displaying their current precise pace until you drop into the game, many Zwifters have found that they click to join a Partner but quickly get dropped. This is especially true when the rider hasn’t warmed up, or is on a TT bike!
The obvious “solution” here is to start a ride by yourself, get warmed up, and make sure you’re on the right bike before starting a new ride with the Pace Partner. But since Zwift still requires a reboot in order to start riding with a Pace Partner, this solution involves more hassle than it should.
The solution I’d like to see: a button while we’re in the game which takes us to the join screen, where we can choose an event, click to join another rider, or cancel out and continue with our current activity.
Zwift has said that Pace Partners are coming soon for running, and that’s great news! With less runners around than riders, I’m sure runners will be happy to have a little company.
Roll Your Own
This is what Zwifters have been requesting for a long time (the Personal Best Bot feature request has 512 upvotes on the forum, and was one of the earliest feature requests made.) What if I could choose to ride with a bot that was simply “replaying” my effort from an earlier ride? Or perhaps I could start up a personal bot that rides at whichever route I choose, at the pace I select?
Do you have other ideas for what Pace Partners could do next? Share below (and don’t forget to share them on the FutureWorks forum, too).