September 30, 2014 – Do you have an indoor training bunker? Is your Wahoo Kickr hooked up to your lap-top with all of your ANT+ devices streaming data? Big screen TV? Giant fan placed under your bars? Despite all of of this do you still find indoor training a necessary, yet soul crushing, evil? Zwift wants you.

Ben Edwards

Zwift is the brain child of triathlete-data-geek and video game software developer Jon Mayfield. With limited time to train he was forced indoors and hated it like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, he had the the skills to do something about it. He then met Scott Barger, Alarik Myrin and Eric Min, three guys with cycling backgrounds, enterprise software experience and venture capital know how. Zwift was born.

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What is a Zwift? As peloton learned yesterday at the San Francisco Rapha Cycle Club it’s just your typical software based MMPFEP. That’ s a Massively Multi-Player Fitness Entertainment Platform. Zwift’s goal is to simply reinvent the indoor training experience by bringing real video game entertainment to the peloton. Riding outdoors with buddies is better, no question, but Zwift aims to better emulate this indoors by creating an immersive virtual environment you can pedal with your friends when going outdoors is not possible.

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Zwift requires a PC or Mac, a software download, an ANT+ dongle, a trainer and some ANT+ way to measure wattage. Plus $10 a month. You can create a unique user account or simply use your Strava info to log in. There is an app that can be used to display data and control the software, but it cannot run the software – yet. Next year that may change as mobile devices catch up to computers in speed and power.

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Currently the system is in beta mode and will likely launch officially by the new year. The beta version consists of six courses on what they call Zwift Island and does indeed have more in common with the quality of good video game. Zwift graphics are not quite up to the standard of a Call of Duty fire fight but it’s in the neighborhood. It is good enough to trick your body into leaning into corners. Friends you have scheduled training sessions with will show up as fully rendered riders and transparent ghost riders help fill out the road.

Data fields on the screen shows watts, speed and cadence as well as the riders you are online with, on the trainer next door or across the country. Time gaps, sprint points, KOMs and finish lines are all rendered for virtual battle on Zwift Island. Zwift needs riders to input their weight to properly calculate speed, which leads to the inevitable question, ‘Can riders cheat?’ Yes, simply say you weigh 100lbs and your watts-per-kilo go through the roof. Zwift will be adding a watts-per-kilo field soon, so while you can cheat if you like, your buddies will notice something is wrong when you’re putting out 10watts per kilo all day.

Like any good video game Zwift allows you to customize your avatar and even your bike. Like 80mm deep wheels? You can ride them with Zwift even if you can’t afford them in real life. Win more sprints or KOMs and your jersey changes. You guessed it, green and polka dots, there’s even an overall leaders jersey. Zwift offers four POVs, from first person to a helicopter, which you can control with the app.

Zwift is trainer agnostic, they are software guys not hardware guys, but only Wahoo Kickr and Compu Trainer currently offer resistance feedback based on the virtual courses. More will come online soon, and Zwift plans to offer Bluetooth as well. How accurately that feedback, or even Zwift’s wattage calculations, replicate a real world course is yet to be seen.

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Zwift calls this beta version the ‘minimum viable product’, meaning it works well and shows off the graphics and capabilities, but it intentionally leaves out a lot of bells and whistles. Zwift wants to foster a vibrant community of users and is waiting for them to dictate where it goes next.

Where might that be? Why not a virtual l’etape du Tour with 250,000 riders taking on the Tour’s queen stage? Zwift could even render the Tour de France field on Alp d’Huez, in real time, and let you jump in and see if you can hang on as the riders race for yellow. Two-way chat will come soon so riders can talk trash just like they would on a typical group ride.

Of course all this brings us to the real issue, which is simply this, riding outside is better, a lot better. Right now Zwift hopes to convert riders already doing a lot of training inside due to weather or schedule. Will others follow? Will the need for wattage numbers keep it a niche product? Could the chance to ride with a buddy across the pond or participate in a virtual Italian Gran Fondo keep riders from a sunny day out their own front door? Based on Zwift’s sizable investment in the technology, they hope riders are ready to pedal indoors a lot more.

Want to give it a try? Only 1000 beta slots exist. Head over to zwift.com to sign up for information.