cycling · fitness · racing

Six Things I Love about Racing in Zwift

Mostly these days, for most of us, even those of us privileged to live in houses with decks and yards, with dogs, in cities and towns where there aren’t that many people getting sick and dying, there’s a sense of loss as we go about our lives. I know I’m pretty privileged in that I love my job even in this very strange working from home state. I’m still doing lots of meaningful work and I live with loved ones and we play word games and cook meals and bake desserts and watch movies. It’s not all bad.

But even for me, there is so much that I am missing. Mostly I miss my kids in a city a few hours away. I am not going to dwell on that. I am not going to talk about the list of cancelled events and trips and postponed plans.

Instead I am going to tell you about a new thing that I am doing that I am really enjoying, that might not have been possible in, as Cate calls them, the before times, and that I might keep doing after this is all over.

I’ve been riding my bike on a trainer in the virtual world of Zwift, casually, on and off, for a year or so. But mostly I’ve been riding with real world friends side by side, exploring Zwift’s virtual worlds.

When the pandemic became physically distancing and then that morphed into staying at home, I started riding in Zwift more seriously. I started riding in groups and even doing some races. Now I’ve even joined a team. And I love it.

What do I love?

  1. In the world of riding with friends we all have tendency to default to a comfortable speed. It’s easy to end up always riding in the same heart rate/exertion zone. It feels comfortable. Instead now that I am back doing time trials and crits, there is definitely a lot of time in that uncomfortable, very hard zone. When I do social rides where we’ve agreed to stay at the same pace, it’s easy. Going slow is important and it can be hard to do. On the social group rides I’m happily in the endurance zone. I do some training events that are in the middle. It’s deliberate and the variety in pacing is good for me.
Here’s me racing, solidly in zone 4 with bits of zone 5.
Here’s me cruising in a workout ride.
Crit racing where zone 5 is my friend.

2. Now everything I’ve said about different paces would be true in the real world. But there are also things that are fun about racing in Zwift. No crashes! You can accelerate downhill without fear of death. I hit some ridiculous max speeds that just aren’t on the table for me in real life. I like descending and I like descending fast but in Zwift there’s no fear which turns out to be a nice thing. There’s no worrying about cornering too aggressively on the crit courses or getting tangled up with other bikes. It’s true that some of the skills are missing too but it turns out, in my fifties, I really like the no crashing part. Who knew?

3. I’ve been enjoying some of the gamification of bike racing in Zwift. Again, that’s new to me. It starts with my avatar. I liked choosing her hair and her sunglasses and she wears different clothes for different events. Now I’ve been riding for awhile I have a choice about bikes and wheels. I also like the features in the game like the power-ups. These include feather that makes you lighter, a draft boost that increases the draft effect you are experiencing by 50% for 30 seconds, and my favourite a burrito makes you undraftable for 10 seconds.

PowerUps in Zwift: Advanced Usage Tips
Image from https://zwiftinsider.com/powerup-usage/

4. I like the community. There are cyclists from all over the world and while in real life I struggle to find people my age, my size, my speed etc riding and racing bikes, not so on Zwift. I like the chatty women’s group rides, especially The Swarm, but also the community rides, like the Herd with their goofy in ride games and quizzes.

5. Maybe it’s because we’re all avatars, maybe because the chat is heavily moderated (I don’t know about this) but I haven’t encountered any sexist, homophobic, racist banter. Again, I wonder about how much avatar limits affect this, but there aren’t even very many comments about size other then the self-deprecating sort.

6. The schedule of group rides and races is kind of awesome. There are events everyday, all day, for all different abilities, across all of the time zones. I’m writing this on Monday evening and I’ve just finished a Monday night race series and tonight’s event (3 of 6) was an 8 km time trial in Bologna. It ended with a solid 2 km of climbing with the tough bits at 14% grade. Ouch. But on the weekend I had a chatty social ride with the Swarm. Friday night is crit night. And I might do a midweek team trial. Don’t get wrong. I miss riding my bike with groups of real people in the real world. But racing? I think I really life Zwift and will stick with it.