I want to be clear here: I’m not an experienced rower. I’m also not an experienced software or hardware hacker. But I do enjoy rowing workouts (although I’ve found them rather boring compared to Zwift’s indoor experience.) And I do enjoy a useful tech hack (but if if requires much research or testing, I usually don’t have the time to complete the project.)
So when I first heard of a few Zwifters who had figured out how to row in game (that is, use their rower to power their Zwift cycling avatar) I was intrigued. This was early in my Zwift life, and I spent some time poking around online, tried to get myself hooked up… and gave up after a couple hours. It was all doable with little or no extra hardware/software needed–but it would require too much time and learning on my part to implement. Not worth it.
Fast forward a couple years, and astute Zwift Insider reader Victor Bastiaansen emails me with news about a new feature in the PainSled app which makes it easy to connect your Concept2 to Zwift. It got my attention, so I headed down to the garage and spent 15 minutes setting it up. Viola! I was rowing on Zwift.
What You Need
- A Concept2 rower with the PM5 head unit
- An iOS device (iPhone or iPad) to run the PainSled app
- A device to run Zwift. This device must either support Bluetooth in Zwift (so you are limited to iOS devices, Apple TV, and Mac) OR you can use the Zwift Companion app to pick up the Bluetooth power signal and send it to your Zwift session, so you can Zwift on a PC or other device.
- Make sure your PM5’s firmware is up to date. (If you’re like me, you never updated it after purchasing the rower.) I connected the PM5 to my Windows laptop via USB, downloaded the Concept2 Utility, and updated the firmware. It’s a simple process.
- Install the PainSled app on your iOS device, then enable the ZWIFT option in the PainSled Log Settings page. (Click on the log icon, then “Settings” in the upper-left corner of the display.)
- Connect PainSled to your Concept2’s PM5. To do this, click More Options > Turn Wireless On on your PM5. Make sure Bluetooth is enabled on your iOS device, then your PM5 should quickly connect to PainSled. If you start rowing, you will see your wattage on the iOS device.
- On your Zwift device, connect to your PainSled iOS device as your power meter. You can also pair other sensors on your Zwift device (such as your HR monitor).
- Get Zwifting!
And that’s all there is to it. For me, I’m running PainSled on my iPhone, and Zwift on my iPad. It’s quick and easy to jump on whenever I’d like… faster than signing into Zwift on my PC, in fact.
Note: there are other ways of hooking this up (via Zwift Companion, the CABLE ANT to Bluetooth bridge, etc): see comments below for some of these ideas.
The Future of Rowing on Zwift
While rowers have had “Zwift-like” software available for years, bringing rowing into Zwift would surely take virtual rowing to a new level. ZwiftHQ has been toying with rowing since its early days, but chose (wisely) to concentrate on cyclists and runners first.
My hope is that we’ll see actual rowing avatars in Zwift within the next 3 years. But until that happens, rowing my bike up a hill is quite fun anyway. And while I can’t pull 1000 watts to win a sprint, I can sustain decent power (130-210w) for a good 30-60 minute workout which includes my upper body and keeps my avatar putting along nicely. And that’s a win in my book.