Bike Recommendations for Zwift’s “Road to Ruins” Route

Bike Recommendations for Zwift’s “Road to Ruins” Route

Zwifter Cory Miller recently sent in this question:

Any plans to conduct a speed test for a course like Road to Ruins where you’ve got a mix of tarmac and gravel/dirt and how over the course of that… well, course, one of the faster road setups would fare against faster gravel or MTB?

This is one of those things I’ve considered doing, but haven’t gotten around to. (It’s been “on the list”, as they say.) Thanks to Cory’s inspiration, this week I decided to do some Road to Ruins tests… for science!

Why Road to Ruins?

Road to Ruins begins in downtown Watopia, but makes its way out to the Jungle Circuit before coming back home. Since the Jungle dirt rolls much slower for road bikes, we’re left with the question: would it be faster to ride a mountain bike on this route? Or perhaps a gravel bike?

If you don’t understand how or why different bikes roll at different speeds on different surfaces in Zwift, check out Crr and Watt Savings of Zwift Wheel Types

About the Tests

For our tests we completed one lap of Road to Ruins using a 75kg rider, 183cm tall, holding 300 watts steady in an isolated environment (so no other riders to draft). We tested three different virtual bike setups:

  • Road: Zwift Aero with Zipp 808 Wheels
  • Gravel: Cervelo Aspero
  • MTB: Specialized Epic

We chose the Zwift Aera/808 combination because it’s a decently-fast road setup that is available to most Zwifters. The Aspero and Epic were selected because they are among the best performers in their classes.

Selecting other bikes would have changed the results slightly, but would not have changed the overall rankings – not even close! Using different rider weights or power numbers for the tests would have changed the timings as well (obviously) but would not affect the overall rankings, either.

Test Results

Cory (who submitted the original question) made this guess about what the tests would conclude:

My gut tells me that IRL, a gravel setup on a course like Road to Ruins gives you the best of both worlds, but that may not play out quite the same in Zwift, especially because it seems as though the MTBs are significantly better on dirt than gravel [bikes]. My guess is that your test might bear out that mtb/gravel are about the same for Road to Ruins and road is superior overall just because of the ratio of road to dirt on that course.

Simply put: Cory was right! Here are the Road to Ruins lap times for each of our setups:

With only 8.7km of the 29.6km route being dirt, the road bike has more than enough tarmac time to make up any time lost to the gravel or MTB setups in the dirt.

Here are two quick videos showing Strava time comparisons between the road bike and the other two bikes, so you can see exactly where each bike gains and loses ground:

Road Bike vs Gravel Bike

The gravel bike passes the road bike and actually gets ahead by 23s before the dirt ends and the road bike gains again. In the end, the gravel bike finishes 27s behind the road bike.


Road Bike vs Mountain Bike

As we would expect, the MTB loses more time to the rode bike than the gravel bike did – but it also gains more time in the dirt, because the MTB rolls faster in the Jungle dirt than the gravel bike. Still, the MTB only manages to get 2s ahead of the road bike before the dirt ends and the road bike takes back all those gains plus more, finishing 84s ahead of the MTB.

Bike Swapping

This test wouldn’t be complete without trying one other approach: the bike swap! If you’re not familiar with how this works, the idea is that it may make sense, on a mixed route like Road to Ruins, to change bikes mid-ride, swapping to a bike that will go faster on the upcoming road.

(Some Zwifters don’t want to hassle with swapping, and I get that. Personally, I find it interesting and fun – where else does a mountain bike get to zip past packs of hard-charging roadies? But to each their own!)

Since we know that the road bike is fastest on pavement, and the MTB is fastest on dirt, we can easily formulate a smart swapping strategy to test. Road to Ruins goes into the Jungle then comes back out onto pavement, so when we hit the Jungle dirt we’ll swap to the MTB, then once the dirt ends, we’ll swap back to the road bike.

Using this strategy, our lap time went from our previous best on the road bike (50:06) to 49:24. A savings of 42 seconds (see it on Strava)!

Here’s how that test compared to our previous fastest time on the road bike:

Bike Swap: Road Bike + Mountain Bike

Swapping Gotchas

There are three “gotchas” worth mentioning when it comes to bike swapping. First: you have to stop moving in order to change bikes. Using our method for changing bikes quickly, you will still probably lose 12-15 seconds each time you swap, if you do it smoothly. Practice makes perfect.

Second: you will want to accelerate hard after you stop for the bike swap, to get back up to speed as quickly as possible. Plan on 10-20s of hard effort before you settle in.

Third: if you’re going against packs of riders in a double draft race, the MTB probably won’t provide enough of an advantage on the descents. (I discuss this more in this post.) I would recommend staying on your road bike and sitting in the draft until you begin climbing after reaching the bottom of the Jungle. This lets you benefit from the double draft on the fast descent (where drafting matters much) as well as over the wood and paved portions at the bottom of the Jungle, where road bikes roll faster than mountain bikes.

Conclusion

An aero road bike setup is your best best when racing Road to Ruins, unless you’re up for being a little crazy and doing a bike swap.

Wondering if you should choose a climbing bike or an aero bike for this route? Go aero, for sure! Simply choose the most aero frame and wheels available to you.

Your Thoughts

Questions or comments? Share below!

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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Kevin
Kevin
1 year ago

At the moment, I’m struggling to see the point of gravel bikes in Zwift. Personally I think they should be quicker than MTBs on the packed dirt surfaces. It would then make it a closer call between road and gravel when riding Road to Ruins and, potentially, more interesting/strategic racing.

Hybrid Noob
Hybrid Noob
1 year ago

Interesting stuff, thanks. The problem with any swap strategy in a race situation is losing whatever draft you were in to make the swap. How does the advantage of the mountain bike compare with the advantage of just sitting in whatever draft you were in? I prefer a simpler life and not fumbling around with my fat sausage fingers so I’m going to go with the draft every time! 🙂

As I say the what if is nonetheless very interesting.

Joe Bolan
Joe Bolan (@bolanbiker)
1 year ago
Reply to  Hybrid Noob

I have used the swap strategy at least three times on large Zwift group rides (like Fondos) and every time I have come out ahead after both swaps. Admittedly, i probably put out some extra watts out after the first switch, and continue to do so as I catch other riders. I am not the fastest swapper, either.

Cameron Allan
Cameron Allan (@cam_allan)
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Bolan

Yeah, I think the “large group” thing is a potentially important point – so that there are lots of groups spread out after the dirt climb. I’ve only tried the swap once. Came out well ahead, but it’s a long way to the finish on tarmac on Road to Ruins. By chance I was isolated and my old group caught me pretty easily, so no gain in the end.

Chikken
Chikken
1 year ago

Fantastic article Eric!! Loved the info

James Eastwood
1 year ago

I think for group rides and races, bike swapping should be disabled mid-ride (or it forces you to wait longer). This will force people to think strategically about which bike to pick. BIke swapping is not a fair tactic, because it is not possible to do it quickly if you run Zwift on a non-PC platform. Any benefit like this that is built in to the game should be equally accessible to all users.

Cory Miller
Cory Miller
1 year ago
Reply to  James Eastwood

Although, the pros do do it occasionally, especially during TT’s with major climbing sections, so it’s not a completely unrealistic option limited just to the gamified environment of Zwift. I say leave it in…if you are willing to try and absorb the “time penality” for stopping and switching and the loss of draft because you think you’ll gain enough advantage to make up and surpass those losses by executing the switch, then that’s certainly another racing strategy to consider. Where that kind of thing would REALLY get interesting is if in the future, there are more courses that have a… Read more »

Carl Scholtz
Carl Scholtz
1 year ago
Reply to  James Eastwood

Having these dynamics is for me what makes Zwift unique and fun from a gaming perspective. It’s fun to play a bit sometimes, swapping bikes, trying different things, just fooling around.It’s boring enough to sit indoors, I like to see Zwift as a virtual playground. Leaving flexibility to experiment and explore is what makes games fun in general.To your point though, maybe there can be a “real life mode” to disable swapping for certain events where fairness and real life realism is required. My 2c 🙂

Richard Kennard
1 year ago

Yeah I found the arrow bike pretty good almost courses Zipp Wheels

Cory Miller
Cory Miller
1 year ago

Great, great stuff Eric. Really appreciate you taking the time to execute this test…it’s something that actually came up for me as I was reading through the descriptions of the courses for Tour of Watopia early on before the full set of info on the courses had come out. Zwift was advertising stage 4 as “The Jungle” but without much early on and so I was anticipating a Road to Ruins type route or maybe a rebel type route that incorporated a more even distro between tarmac and non-tarmac and it got me to thinking about what I was going… Read more »

jules
jules
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

The rain changes my speed. 😮 It slows me to a dawdle and I sometimes even give up.

Ben Haggett
Ben Haggett
1 year ago

I zwift on my iphone going by hdmi adapter to a tv…works great. But all the bike swap instructions I’ve seen have been using keyboard shortcuts. For bike swaps on iphone/ipad, remember you need to tap menu, then tap the bluetooth pairing icon to stop quickly. It can be tough to see when you’ve fully stopped behind the pairing popup, but only takes a few seconds. Then tap ‘lets go’, tap your garage, do the swap (nice if the bikes are very close in the list) and close, then back to the ride. If you do it all cleanly 12… Read more »

Paul Smith
Paul Smith (@smithpauld1501)
1 year ago

Eric I was just told by someone on our FB page that there’s no draft with MTB bikes. Is there a thought to repeating this test with groups of – say 10 – of the same type bike? Clearly, if there’s no drafting the disadvantage to MTBs in a blob would be huge. I don’t know the MTB info for a fact.

anderfo
anderfo
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Smith

There’s definitely draft on MTB.

Chuck Walker
Chuck Walker
1 year ago

I did the bike swap method and gained 50 places on one of the recent group ride events. The haters were out in force though… it’s just a game folks.

KCface
KCface
1 year ago

There’s a small hill early into the dirt that is great to swap at (stop faster on inline and rapid return to speed off the descent).

i swap back at the top of the far end of the bridge, to get up on speed fast as well on the down side.

Taylor Gonsoulin
Taylor Gonsoulin
1 year ago

During the Tour de Zwift Stage 3 I rode on three bikes: started with Trek Emonda & Zipp 202s for the Epic climb, switched to Canyon Grail gravel bike for the Jungle Circuit, and finished with the Zwift Concept (Tron) bike. Lost about 40 seconds in the transitions, but made up for it on the dirt section. Distanced myself from the chase group other than one rider who beat me in the heads-up sprint. In retrospect, I should have switched to the MTB rather than a gravel bike.

June
June
1 year ago

I think it would be fun if Zwift could add some wheel set ups to swap out on the gravel bikes. Some of the gravel bike descriptions mention that they can accept a wider tire. It would be sweet if we could put a mountain bike wheel or even a road wheel on the gravel bike. (But that being said we’d still have to switch out the wheels or bike to gain a PR on the Road to Ruins route) Maybe the gravel bike though would allow a bit of an aero advantage, perhaps.

jules
jules
1 year ago

Oh it’s the default Male again (scarily close to the default Male car crash test dummy – 76kg 177cm). Are you sure results of your tests (not just this post) hold for all weights and powers?

Mark C
Mark C (@rdcyclist)
1 year ago

I did the bike swap on today’s short course Tour for All race this morning. Started with the Allez Sprint with the Enve climbing wheels. This paid off on the introductory climb that usually kicks my ass and did so again. I botched the switch and lost another 45 seconds due to accidentally hitting a pedal and rolling a bit. Had to start the process over again hence the lost time. I was pretty deep in the cave at this point so I may not have been the sharpest bulb in the chandelier… When I stopped for the switch I… Read more »

Eibert Van't Hof
Eibert Van't Hof (@e_vanthof)
1 year ago

I am also really curious about the tron bike on this route. Could you test that one as well? As I have had multiple occasions that when I was on a mtb, got passed by a tron bike and even needed the same wkg while drafting such riders. If gives me the feeling that the Tron bike doesn’t get slown down on the dirt. Curious if it is still due to weight differences (the Tron being ridden by a heavier rider) or that the Tron is actually not/less affected by the dirt. As the jungle climb is fairly flat a… Read more »

Richard Mattinson
Richard Mattinson
1 year ago

I must have had a funny day…… rode it on MTB & Madone, Watts within 10 but Madone lost me 5 minutes around the loop!

Stuart Lynne
Stuart Lynne (@sl)
8 months ago

Eric, can you revisit this WRT to the Serpentine 8 route? Effectively (I think) that is all gravel all the time with the new start pens avoiding almost all of the climb to get to the Jungle circuit.

Could we assume that the Cervelo Aspero would be the best choice?

Diederik Westerhof
Diederik Westerhof
7 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Lynne

I indeed have same question. During last weeks TdZ I got passed left right and center on my Canyon Aeroraod 2021, with Zipp 808. Difference seemded to be app. 0.8 w/kg. 2nd lap I was about 15 s faster incl swap and lower w/kg using the zwift MTB

Stuart Lynne
Stuart Lynne (@sl)
30 days ago

As I was pre-riding Road to Ruins today was contemplating where the best spots to do a bike change would be. Ends up mattering which is the fastest bike on the downhill section into the ruins. I suspect that the more aero bikes would have no trouble keeping up in a race, so changing at the pass going into the jungle area might not be optimal. As the road from the bottom turns up to 3%, I’m thinking that gives you a good spot to stop quickly and swap to the gravel or mtb for the uphill section. Ride that… Read more »

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