Let’s assume you’ve got the bike, a trainer, a towel, some water bottles, a fan, a heart rate monitor, and the rest of the Zwift set up. Tunes are blaring too, if that’s your thing.
You’ve got an account and you log in. What next? What’s a beginning Zwifter to do?
I’ve been Zwifting for awhile now and there’s still lots to learn and new tricks to try. It’s an incredibly rich virtual experience but it can be overwhelming for newcomers.
Here are some of my suggestions of ways to approach the increasingly complex world of virtual cycling. You do you, of course. Find your own way. But here are some things to try to get started.
Avatar: Of course the first thing is designing your avatar. You get to choose your avatar’s hair and skin colour. Other factors, such as size, match the numbers you’ve given Zwift. At first you won’t have a lot of choices about shoes, helmets, sun glasses, and kit. You get those by accumulating kms, leveling up, and doing events. My avatar wears the pink hat I got from completing Zwift Academy this year and a pair of Pride socks I got from doing one of the Pride rides this year. We’ve blogged about avatar selection before, since we have some issues, see here and here.
Friends: You can follow your friends who Zwift and allow others to follow you. Or not. Zwift’s privacy settings allow you to opt for ‘private’ in which case people need to request permission to follow you. I like it that Zwift notifies me when friends start Zwifting. My Garmin watch even allows me to give them a “ride on” from my watch. You can follow me if you like…
Challenge: The very first thing you might want to do is select the Everest Challenge so that you can work towards getting the Tron bike. Why? The Tron is the fastest all round bike on Zwift. I have the bright pink version but you can change the colour. You can’t buy it with drops. What are drops? See here. Short answer they are the virtual currency of Zwift, drops of sweat earned for effort that you can spend on new bikes, wheels etc. But the only way to get the Tron is to select the challenge and complete it by climbing 50,000 m.
Ride with a pace partner: A good way to get a sense of your pace on Zwift is to try riding with the pace partners. I usually ride with Dan Diesel the slowest of the pace partners and Sarah rides with Coco Cadence who is just a bit faster. Dan weighs 82kg and rides at 125w (1.5 w/kg) and Coco weighs 65kg and rides at 165W (2.5 w/kg). That makes sense as Sarah races in the C category and I race in D.
It’s Zwift so everything is expressed in watts per kilo, or wpk. Cycling is a weight specific sport and it’s all about weight to power ratio.
“Your speed in Zwift is controlled by your power number, the level of effort you’re putting out at any given moment. Power is measured in watts and you can always see the watts you’re putting out by looking up in the top left corner of Zwift. If you remember back to physics class, it takes more effort (power) to move bigger, heavier masses around than lighter ones. And that’s why we look at power not just as an absolute number, but as one relative to a rider’s weight: watts per kilogram (power-to-weight ratio). To work out your power-to-weight ratio figure, simply divide your power output (in watts) by your weight in kilograms (kg). For example, a 125lb/56kg rider with a power output of 195 watts, is riding at 3.5 w/kg. Don’t feel like doing the math to find your number? Zwift automatically calculates this for you in game.” from Zwift
Why? The pace partners allow you to practice riding at a steady pace and you get extra drops riding with them. I enjoy practicing moving around in the pack, dropping off the back, catching back up, and then riding through the group.
FTP test: The pace partners are a good way to see what pace you normally ride at but if you want a more precise answer, and you might, you can do an FTP test. Why? “FTP – your “Functional Threshold Power” – is the wattage you can stay below and sustain for longer durations, while going above it causes fatigue to occur very quickly. The number is an indicator of your fitness, and also helps shape your training zones, racing, and group ride category in Zwift.” (from Zwift) Zwift will automatically adjust your FTP as you get more fit but it’s also good to do the actual tests for accuracy.
Group rides: You can ride alone on Zwift or you can join in on a group ride. Here’s a list of some of the tides I like. Read the descriptions on the Zwift companion app. Pick one that suits your pace. Why? You don’t want to be a flier, someone who rides off the front and pushes the pace above the one that’s advertised. Rides aren’t races. The big advantage of the group rides is going faster together. The ‘together’ bit is key. Rides have both a yellow beacon, the group leader who sets the pace, and a red beacon, who serves as sweep and helps the dropped riders get back to the main group. Some rides have a red fence as well that marks the front of the ride. Why ride in a group? I like the motivation of riding a certain distance at a certain time and I enjoy the social aspect of group rides. There’s some texting back and forth but also, there’s voice chat that happens on Discord.
Workouts: You can do workouts on your own in Zwift using your trainer’s ERG mode and the Zwift library has lots to choose from, including some for new and expectant parents. You can do workouts individually or as part of a series with specific training goals in mind. And you can also choose to workout as part of a group event. The nice thing about the group ones is that everyone stays together regardless of the watts you put out.
Route badges: One approach to Zwift that many people take is riding all the different routes and collecting all the badges. See Cate’s post on badge hunting. Different worlds are available to ride on different days and you can usually find a new route that matches what you want to do that day, at first at least. After a time you might find yourself with only the biggies left, like the PRL Full, which is 173 km and 2290 m of climbing or the Uber Pretzel which is 128 km and 2335 m of climbing. True confession: I haven’t done any of the biggies. The most I’ve ever ridden on Zwift is 60 km though I keep thinking I would like to join my teammates on their regular weekend metric centuries.
Do some races: Once you’ve got the hang of riding in Zwift you might want to try some Zwift racing. Here’s some of my fave races. Before you start out, def do an FTP test and join in the right category. You’ll also need to join Zwift Power which is the official results site for all Zwift racing. It also does a bunch of analysis of your riding and your strengths as a rider which you might find interesting. Why race? You might find it fun and motivational–I do!–or not, in which case, move on. For most of us it’s recreational gamified bike racing meant to be fun. Where else can you deploy the burrito power up, which makes you undraftable for 10 seconds! Here’s an explanation of the Zwift power ups.
Join a team: If you like racing and want to get more out of it, then the next step is to join a team. Sarah is a member of ZSUN and I’m a member of TFC. There are lots of them! Both teams participate in race series and host social rides. TFC also hosts two regular race series, the event the team was named after, The Friday Criterium, and Mad Monday. It’s a great way to meet riders from all over the world and find people who share your approach to training and racing. My favourite team event is the team time trial.
Meeting up: Another kind of ride you can do on Zwift is the meet up, which just as it sounds involves inviting other riders and meeting up with them. You can elect to just see your group in the world, and you can elect a banded meet up so you stay together regardless of putting out different amounts of power. Some people organize meet ups with people they know and ride with in real life. Others use them to ride with teammates to scout out race routes in advance.
Giving ride ons: When I first started riding in Zwift I had no idea what those things were that were filling up my jersey pockets! Turns out they were ride-ons given by other Zwifters. I wasn’t sure at first how to give ride ons, or if that was a weird thing to do. Now I am the Queen of Ride Ons and know how to give ride ons to lots of people at a time.
Ride on fit feminist friends! See you out there on the virtual road!
Also, what would you add to this list of things to try? What’s your approach to the world of Zwifting?