Zwift wasn’t the first virtual cycling platform, but it is the best. Tacx Trainer, Bkool, VeloReality, Kinomap, Trainer Road, PerfPRO (and others) all existed before Zwift–but none of these managed to achieve Zwift’s runaway success. Why is this?
To put it simply: Zwift created a community-driven platform which is a level above anything that existed before. Here are seven ways Zwift has changed the indoor cycling game forever:
#1: A Huge Community of Real People
When you get lots of people together, amazing things can happen. While we don’t have hard numbers to go on, we do know that the Zwift Riders Facebook group has over 56,000 members, and the official Zwift Facebook page has over 255,000 followers. Our guess is the number of active Zwift user accounts is between 300-400k.
What this means is that, while Zwift is a ‘virtual’ world, it is inhabited by real people–lots of them. This level of online participation, while common in the gaming world, was unheard of in the cycling world until Zwift came along.
This thriving mass of riders and runners has self-organized into an active community which leads group rides, holds races, creates innovative tools, and helps its members get the most out of their Zwift experience. Humans thrive on connection, and Zwift has enabled that for hundreds of thousands of people.
#2: An Immersive Experience
You may be on a stationary setup in your garage, but Zwifting can still be a very immersive experience thanks to three important features:
- Variable resistance (smart trainers): the realism increases dramatically when your trainer resistance responds to changes in terrain. Smart trainers came along about the same time Zwift did, and this “perfect storm” helped grow Zwift’s user base significantly.
- Quality graphics: while Zwift’s graphics aren’t on the same level as certain cutting-edge blockbuster games, they are certainly good enough to be convincing, especially with a quality computer and a big-screen TV.
- Real people: riding in a virtual world is nice, but riding with others in real-time is another experience entirely. Much like the difference between a solo ride and a group ride in the real world, cyclists understand that riding with others opens up new avenues of challenge and fun.
Other indoor cycling programs have some or all of the three features above, but Zwift was the first to combined them together effectively.
#3: Virtual Racing… for Real!
When you’ve got an active community of cyclists, it’s a foregone conclusion that racing will happen. Zwift launched with no official “race features”, but the community developed plenty of tools to make the experience enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding. And now Zwift is embracing eSports and taking indoor racing to a new level, with a UCI World Championship planned for 2020.
Thousands of riders participate in races every day on Zwift because there’s nothing like a race to push you to your limits. Today there are hundreds of recurring weekly races on Zwift, and special “one-off” races as well. Just like real life, races vary in length, course type, rider classifications, and other rules.
#4: Plentiful Group Rides
Along with races, the community and Zwift HQ organize hundreds of group rides throughout the week. There are group rides for every type of rider: long rides, short rides, fast rides, slow rides.
Thanks to Zwift’s event tools and those developed by the community, finding just the right event is easy.
#5: Embracing and Creating Cycling Pros
Before Zwift came along the only way to interact with pro cyclists was to attend races. Now with Zwift, we have opportunities to ride and run with some of the world’s top pros.
Sometimes you’ll run into pro riders as you’re pedaling around Watopia–other times they may lead a big Zwift ride. Either way, thanks to the immersive Zwift experience it feels great to ride with a pro!
And while pro cyclists have begun flocking to Zwift, we also see Zwift HQ working with more and more pro teams. The Men’s and Women’s Zwift Academies are the best examples of this, since they’ve allowed super-strong Zwifters to land pro contracts.
#6: Watt Watching
Power meters measure how much actual power the rider is putting out. While training and racing with a power meter have been the norm for professional and highly competitive cyclists for years, many amateur riders never made the investment to purchase a power meter.
This has changed with Zwift, since your speed on Zwift is based on your power output and the game experience leads to many cyclists seeing their power numbers for the first time. Riders who had no idea what “FTP” meant (or what theirs was) are now modifying their training schedule around specific power intervals and levels.
In the end this leads to increased levels of fitness–all part of what has come to be called the #ZwiftEffect.
#7: Advancing Tech
It’s no secret in the smart trainer world that Zwift’s success has essentially built the industry. Zwift made the decision early on to stay out of hardware, preferring to focus on making their software great. This move allowed existing trainer manufacturers like Wahoo, Tacx, and Elite to create better trainers and reap the rewards for doing so.
The result for consumers is all good: increased competition creates better products at lower prices. And while Zwift may be moving into the hardware business, they will continue to work with existing manufacturers to help improve the hardware we all use.
Got any additions to our list? Comment below!