Here’s an idea that’s been knocking around the Zwift community since early days: what if riders located anywhere in the world could virtually partner up to ride a tandem in-game? It could be used for free riding and group rides, but would get really interesting for races.
The first reference we could find to this idea comes from early Zwift race organizer Christian Wiedmann in August of 2015. But there are multiple Feature Request forum posts on the topic as well, with the earliest being from Andrew McLennan in December of 2018.
The beauty of this idea isn’t in replicating the outdoor tandem experience for a niche group of riders. Instead, think about how this would bring next-level teamwork to Zwift riding.
Sure, you can work with teammates today – sitting in their draft, letting one attack off the front while you recover in the group, riding in a TTT. But imagine if your speed in Zwift was directly linked to the power output of another rider. If your watts were simply added to your partner’s watts, and this power determined your in-game speed. Now that is what we call working together!
Just like outdoor tandem racing, it’s teamwork taken up a notch. Or perhaps several notches…
How Would It Work?
The physics of real-world tandem cycling would need to be implemented in Zwift for the idea to work. That means combining the power and physical characteristics of both riders in way that makes their in-game speed fairly realistic.
- Power: the riders’ power would be summed, so one rider holding 300W with a partner holding 200W would result in a total of 500W
- Weight: riders’ weights would be summed
- Frame/wheel physics: aero and weight values for just one tandem frame plus one wheelset would be used in the speed calculations
- Height: this is perhaps the most interesting calculation Zwift would make. As we know, rider height has a major effect on your Zwift speed, since it’s used to calculate your CdA. How would Zwift calculate a CdA for two riders in a virtual tandem setup? There are various options here, none of them terribly complex.
In-game functionality would need to be developed which allows Zwifters to pair up into tandem teams. Chances are this would start as something simple, like being able to invite any of your followers to partner with you in an upcoming event or free-ride, Meetup style, on a course of your choosing.
But it could evolve into an automatic matchmaking tool. Perhaps a tandem group ride or race would allow individuals to sign up, then dynamically pair them in the final minutes (based on historic performance numbers) to help ensure each pair’s speed is close to the others.
The ability to communicate with your partner would be vital in a virtual tandem situation. Third-party solutions like Discord or even a simple phone call could fill the void, but it would be really nice to see Zwift develop a one-to-one voice chat functionality which could be baked into the product.
For the purpose of training, your individual rider data would still be recorded – power, cadence, HR. The only change to recorded info would be your virtual speed, which means some changes would need to be made in terms of Strava and in-game leaderboards (see below for more on this).
To Do List/Roadblocks
Obviously, a feature like this comes with some challenges. Each of these would need to be addressed in order for virtual tandem mode to be successful long-term:
- Strava segments and activity type: tandem rides on Zwift would, of course, be much faster (at least on flat ground and descents) than solo rides. Strava would need to support a new “Virtual Tandem Ride” activity type in order to make sure leaderboards don’t get ugly and our Zwift times for solo efforts don’t get muddled with tandem times.
- Split leaderboards: in-game leaderboards would need to filter out tandem efforts. Giving tandem teams their own leaderboards would be ideal.
- ZwiftPower categories and data handling: tandem race results would need to display as such on ZwiftPower. This may be as simple as indicating which riders are paired together. Their individual data (power, HR, etc) could still be displayed. Additionally, race categories would need to be tweaked to work for a pair of riders.
- New Zwift physics calculations: as mentioned above, Zwift programmers would need to add some modified physics calculations for tandem teams in order to ensure realistic in-game speeds.
- New frames required: Zwift’s art team would need to create at least one tandem frame.
- UI Changes: in-game interface elements would need to be added to allow riders to team up, display their names properly, etc.
Does this idea interest you? Does it seem doable, or are there roadblocks which would make it a non-starter?
Share your thoughts below, and if you think the idea has merit, be sure to vote for it on the oldest tandem feature request post we could find.