Book Club · Book Reviews · cycling

Virtual Sam: On Zwift and other online communities

If you’ve been thinking about riding virtually, now is a great time to try it out. I’m not going to get into argument about the pros and cons of riding outside versus inside in these days of #StayingAtHome and #PhysicalDistancing. Probably during the pandemic and the associated restrictions on movement and activities, I’ll do a bit of both. But for me, right now, I’m saving far and fast for Zwift.

Recently as you might have imagined there have been record numbers of riders on Zwift. This is the month in Canada when most bike clubs start riding outside but all the bike club rides are cancelled. If you want to ride in a group, you’re going to need to find a virtual group. Lately I’ve been riding with the Swarm. See Sam goes SWARM-ing! . And I’ve been thinking about how much group rides there resemble group rides in the real world.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, what is Zwift? (from Wikipedia)

Zwift is a massively multiplayer online cycling and running videogame and physical training program that enables users to interact, train and compete in a virtual world...Zwift allows players to ride their bicycles on stationary trainers while navigating through six virtual worlds (Watopia, Richmond, London, Innsbruck, Yorkshire, and New York – a seventh world, Bologna, is available for certain time trial events, and an eighth, Crit City, is available for short, criterium-style, races). Players may cycle freely around the game world and join organised group rides, races or workouts with other users. Zwift uses ANT+ or Bluetooth Low Energy technologies to transmit data that, in combination with athlete weight and equipment choices, is used to convert the athlete’s efforts as speed and power (watts). “Smart” trainers, which include a built-in power meter, permit accuracy in the measurement of watts as well as enabling an immersive technology experience, where resistance is applied or lessened to simulate the gradient encountered on the virtual course. Zwift estimates the power of users on conventional trainers via the user’s cadence and the power curve of a wide range of specified trainers.”

What’s to like, as a woman cyclist, is that it’s becoming relatively easy to find women to ride with. Also, it’s easy to find groups riding at just about every speed. If you’re a road cyclist on the slower side, don’t panic, there are lots of people riding in Zwift at your pace. There are groups for over 50s and groups for people just getting into riding and groups for people who want to learn how to race. It’s a little mind boggling how many options there are. That’s the advantage of connecting with thousands of riders all over the world. If it’s a thing that’s accessible to you financially, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

Peleton might be the pandemic bike of choice for people who want a community of spin classes. But Zwift is the pandemic cycling option for people who want to join a community of cyclists.

When I ride on Zwift on my own, I tend to go fast (for me). I like the sprint segments. But for all sorts of reasons it’s good to go slow. In real life, I vary my speed by riding with different groups of cyclists. Now that I’ve discovered group rides on Zwift I can do that there too. I’m learning to moderate my pace and group ride virtually. Zwift is realistic enough that I have the same issues–zooming ahead downhill, for example. As in the real world, I’m learning not to wear myself spending too much time at the front. I’ve also just now learned how to play with Zwift’s interactive features–waving, giving fellow riders “ride-ons” and using the chat functionality. All of sudden, look, here’s me chatting with strangers on the internet. Weird. But there it is.

Do you ride in Zwift? Are there groups you like? Any social rides or training rides you recommend? Let us know.

And speaking of virtual communities and chatting with strangers on the internet, I also took part in an online, international book club this weekend, organized by my friend Todd Tyrtle. “Todd finds ways to connect with other humans – probably more than he was before the pandemic and organizes an international book club that you, too, can join.” Read Life Moves Online.

I talked about the book we’re reviewing here, see Book Club Week 1: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 1 and about a book that I’m reading to review for the blog called This Road I Ride.

Here’s our Zoom meeting of the book club!

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