Ten ways cycling IRL is different than Zwift

I started out the pandemic riding inside, a lot, on Zwift. What’s a lot? I rode enough that I got my unemployed badge for 14 days in a row. It’s now changed on Zwift, thanks to the pandemic, to the “working from home” badge. What’s that in distance? More than 500 km a month. So far this year I’ve ridden nearly 2000 km (not including fat bike riding or commuting.) I’ll be curious to see how far I ride this year. I used to aim for 5000 km. See here and here for discussions of cycling distance goals.

Why inside? See Why Sam is still riding inside even though the sun is shining . But also, I’ve really been enjoying racing in Zwift.

This month, with the #VirtualRideForHeart I started riding outside again.

How’d it feel?

Well, good but weird. Like lots of things these days. We packed supplies. We did all the right things. We brought our own stuff–food, drink, and things to fix flats. We were not reckless speed demons. I gave several QOM attempts a miss. We had someone at home to call for a ride in case something worse than a flat befell our bikes. We brought masks in case something unexpected happened.

All of that stuff is pandemic related. But it also felt weird because it wasn’t Zwift! Along the way, in my head, I started compiling a list of the ways in which cycling in the real world was different than virtual cycling.

1. Cars: In the real world, you share the road with cars and trucks. In Zwift, it’s all bikes and runners. Since cars and trucks can kill you this is an important difference.

2. Animals: There are critters in Zwift, some real and some magical, but they don’t run out in front of your bike. Unlike chipmunks and squirrels which here in Guelph so make the occasional dash.

3. Traffic lights and stop signs: My average speed is higher in Zwift and in part that’s because there is never any reason to stop. There are no stop signs and no traffic lights.

4. Downhill: In Zwift I never brake downhill. I’ve got some amazing top speeds. There’s no way to crash so need to worry. Just zoom! You can super tuck in Zwift to recover on long descents but that’s for race strategy reasons, not safety. You still go very fast. Here’s a how to descend guide for Zwift. No braking involved.

Someone, not Sam, doing a super tuck in Zwift.

5. Wind: OMG. I’d almost forgotten about wind. There’s a draft advantage in Zwift that’s a big deal but you don’t feel the wind in your face the way you do in real life cycling. The Zwift wind is also the same everywhere. There’s no headwind on the way out, tailwind on the way home. There’s also no good and bad wind days.

6. Cornering: There’s no skill in cornering in Zwift. You hit a corner at speed and the bike takes the corner. In the real world, that’s something you learn how to do as a cyclist. I have memories of crit racing and the turn we called “collarbone corner” for a reason. Sunday Sarah sprinted for a light and then realized at the last minute she had to turn right and the bike wouldn’t just do it. Braking and turning was required.

7. Speed versus Power: On my road bike while Zwifting the number I care about is watts or watts per kg. Rides aren’t announced with speeds. They’re announced with watts per kg. I know my cruising pace in watts per kg. I know my time trial pace in watts per kg. But in Zwift I don’t pay attention to km/hr. In the real world, I don’t have a power meter and I don’t know my watts. My Garmin tells me my speed and average speed, distance and heart rate, but not watts.

8. Brakes: There’s a lot of braking in the real world. None in Zwift. Except when the ride is over.

9. Uphill: I’m better uphill on Zwift. I can spin slowly. In the real world, I rarely do that. I’m not that comfortable shifting to a spinny gear and going slow. I think I worry about falling. In Zwift, up Alpe due Zwift, speedy runners pass me.

10. You’ve got to make it home to stop: When you’ve had enough on Zwift you just stop. That’s it you’re done. Sadly in the real world you can’t stop until you make it back home.

Bonus: I’m ageless in Zwift. The avatars all the look the same not matter what your age. Some people have their ages in brackets so you know. (J.Smith 12 YEARS OLD) or (B. Anthony 70+). I’m never quite sure why people do that. Only at the extremes which is interesting. And related to age, in Zwift you never get a sunburn. No sunscreen needed.

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