Nat’s Saturday post from a few weeks ago outlines low, medium, and all out costs for Zwifting and explains why she and her sweetie/life partner Michel made the choices they made. In light of Nat’s post and in the interests of full disclosure, I thought I’d share the details of my home set up and why we made the choices we made.
We’re in the middle of the road group here with a wheel on wahoo kickr snap. We bought it from the Bike Shed where we used to go and ride on Zwift. I had a monthly membership, $100 a month for unlimited riding. A perk of the monthly membership was that I could leave my trainer bike there. But when COVID-19 hit, they had to close. I asked about borrowing a trainer and eventually bought it when the likely length of the pandemic started to dawn on me.
We run Zwift on an iPad which we hook up to a giant TV. Other expenses? A giant honking fan!
The downside of our set up is we can’t ride and race at the same time. I’d love a direct drive set up–wheel off rather than wheel on– except it’s a lot more work swapping bikes. Right now this is a pretty good set up for us and the trainer is used most days for a couple of hours a day between Sarah and me. We leave everything set up and ready to go.
We’re both racing so we need a smart trainer that measures power. What I love about the smart trainer is that it mimics the feel of hills and you need to shift. It gets easier, by feel, when you’re drafting.
Also, another expense, if you don’t already have this from outdoor cycling is a heart rate monitor and way of connecting that to the app. Some of this isn’t necessary for riding on Zwift but it is for racing. See my tips here including joining ZwiftPower which is the official results site for Zwift races.
We both have second best road bikes that we use on the trainer. When not in use they hang on the wall.
My dream set up would be the kickr bike but at $3500 US, I’m not there yet. Frankly we might never get there but I can dream.
The cool thing about it would be that it’s easy to adjust between two riders.
When I first started riding on Zwift, I rode alone or with the people I also ride with in real life. We rode at the Bike Shed, a bike studio that had about eight trainers set up for Zwift so you could bring your own bike in and ride. On Zwift, I collected badges, I rode new routes, and I started to accumulate ‘drops’ or Zwift experience points to buy cool virtual stuff. I joined some challenges, such as the Everest challenge, and I enjoyed it.
Later, once we bought our own trainer and started to ride at home, I started to branch out, I joined some group rides and some group workouts. Group workouts use erg mode on the trainer. “ERG mode, which is a checkbox option when you go to select a Zwift workout, makes you pedal precisely at the power levels laid out by the workout you choose.” See more here. They’re also “rubber banded” so you stay with the other people in your group even if you’re putting out a lot more or a lot less power.
Why ride in a group in Zwift? I think there are two different sorts of reasons.
One is motivation. You pick your group ride, you schedule it on the Companion app, and you’re more likely to ride. The company is nice. I love seeing riders from all over the world. I also like the chatter. There’s two ways to chat in a group ride. Some rides use discord and so you can talk to actual people on Discord. What’s Discord? See How an App for Gamers Went Mainstream. Or you can text in the Companion app. I do both. But I can’t type while riding easily and there are lots of amusing voice to text errors. Mostly with strangers I text chat and mostly with teammates I voice chat in Discord.
The second reason to prefer a group ride over riding solo is you’ll be encouraged to ride at the pace the group is going. Sometimes you might choose a speedy group to practice going faster and to improve your speed. I’ve ridden with my bike club’s fast group for that purpose. On our own we all have a speed we like to ride but often it’s better, for training purposes, to deliberately ride fast or ride slow.
Group rides are important for me as they are, among other things, a way to go slow. And going slow is super important. See why here. I am not very good at it. I see a sprint segment, I sprint. It’s not that I always go uncomfortably fast. Rather, it’s that on my own there’s a speed I like to ride at. I train and race to make myself go faster than that comfortable speed. I often do group rides to ride socially, chat, and go at a slower pace than I ride on my own by selecting rides that go at slower paces.
Back when I did most of my riding out in the world, I accomplished this by riding with friends of different speeds.
They describe their rides this way, “The focus for this group ride is to have fun and encourage all women to join, especially those new to Zwift, or wanting a more ‘relaxed’ way to start the week. The pace will be between 1.3wkg-1.8wkg throughout the 50min duration. So join in and let’s keep growing the women’s community on Zwift!
This ride is lead by Chicks Who Ride Bikes, and we are all for starting it slow and steady. From women who are just getting into cycling, to previous World Champions and Olympic cyclists, each ride is always full of banter and fun! Plus, if you love this group ride, we also have a group workout at the same time Friday mornings (AEST).
Chicks Who Ride Bikes is a community of women who share a passion and a zest for life. Whether your garage is chock full of bikes, or you’re on your first! They see the world as it could be – a place where women are respected, connected, empowered and exhilarated.”
DIRT (dads inside riding trainers)
You don’t need to be a Dad to do these rides. There are moms there too. Also some cat moms and dog dads. The parental role isn’t essential at all but what is essential is a sense of humour, helping others, and not taking the whole thing very seriously.
From Zwift News: “For an event that puts the “social” in “social ride,” check out the DIRT Family Values Ride on Zwift. You’ll find a slower pace, a helpful team of leaders and sweepers, and lots of corny humor. Take it from team member Dave Hardenburger: “We pride ourselves on an easy cruise at 1.5-2.0 (w/kg) and the best Dad/Mom jokes in Zwift!”
From Zwift News more recently: “If you’re looking for a social ride whose length and pace is manageable by just about anyone, The Herd’s “Tuesday Social Group Ride” is an excellent option. Add in solid leadership and some fun banter via Discord voice chat and you’ve got a weekly event that shows off what’s best about the Zwift Community. You’ll never ride alone with The Herd. It’s in their name! This ride typically hosts 350-700 riders, and a strong team of helpful sweepers makes sure anyone who falls behind the main pack gets helped back to the group.”
I’m racing with TFC these days and they also have a friendly, chatty social ride. If you’re going to join us, let me know, and I’ll happily ride with you.
Each Sunday join us for the Team TFC Social Sunday Evening ride at 8:15pm UK / 3:15pm EST. Completing the ride gives your avatar access to the team kit.
There are two groups and they do stick to the advertised pace and use The Fence if it’s needed. People do sprint the sprint segments and regroup and if the course is multi laps of a short distance on the last lap, we drop the fence and race.
A person new to Zwift posted to the Ladies Only Zwift group on Facebook. She asked what she should do first. I loved the suggestions of the first person who responded. First? Join the Everest Challenge. It’s the biggest challenge on Zwift and it’s got a great reward. Second? Buy a really big fan!
I second both of these tips. I am now in the stage of wanting a remote control fan so I can switch it from low to high while riding. Someone on my bike team has figured out how to get Alexa to do that. But that requires a level of technology in my house that I start to have privacy worries about.
But back to the first tip and the reward. The reward is a Tron bike, those brightly coloured bikes you notice when you first start zwifting. See pics below. They’re not just cool looking, there are many reasons to want one.
To get it you need to sign up for the Everest Challenge and then you need to climb the height of Everest (roughly 8800 metres) and then an extra 42,000. In all, it’s 50,000 metres. You can see my progress above. I’m getting there.
This is notable for me. Hills are so not my friend. I’ve got reasonable long distance power and excellent short distance sprint power but my watts per kilo suffer because, well, kilos. You can see my Zwiftpower profile here. That means that I’m happiest, most in my element, on the flats but I find hills hard. Whenever I complain about my weight it’s in the context of power to weight ratio. See Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway, from like eight years ago. (Okay, also in the context of knee replacement surgery.)
So part of why I’m awful on hills is size. The other part of the story is that I do what we all do. I train at things I’m already good at and ignore the stuff I’m not so good at. BTW, this is where cycling coaches come in handy. They don’t let you do that.
Here’s where Zwift is helping. I now have an incentive to climb. I love that Zwift’s gamification features real rewards, nor just badges. I also love that you can’t just buy a Tron. The people who have them have all ridden the distance.
Zwift Insider offers some tips to get there quickly: “The Tron bike is the most prized ride in Zwift: it’s fast, eye-catching, and difficult to earn. So of course, you want it in your garage (where it’s called the “Zwift Concept Z1” by the way). But you also want to make obtaining it as painless as possible. There’s no getting around the fact that you’ll have to climb 50,000 meters to earn the Tron bike, unless you’re willing to cheat. But are there ways to do that climbing more efficiently, so your watts result in as much elevation as possible?”
Note not all of the routes they suggest are available to all riders. Some are only there once you’ve been riding for awhile. Now I’m more than halfway there I might give the dreaded Alpe du Zwift a try.
In its latest update Zwift announced a new workout collection called, Baby on Board. It’s a workout collection consisting of shorter workouts for expectant moms, new parents, or any riders who are looking for “a less intense, yet still motivating, workout.” There are lots of choices, 24 new workouts to choose from. I’m often looking for something shorter to fit into the middle of my day, and/or good recovery day options. I think I might try one! You can read in Zwift Insider about the new release.
“Organized Chaos” sounds good!
Jennifer Szende, a sometimes guest blogger here, brought the new series to my attention. We both agreed that it could wrong in a variety of ways but mostly Zwift seems to be getting inclusion right.
She writes, “I would have killed for this much online, accessible content when I was on maternity leave. This many people checking in. This many ways to feel connected while stuck at home. So, I can see ways that it could be done badly, but am hopeful that it would help a lot of people to feel seen.”
I’ve been enjoying the recognition on Zwift that some people are choosing to ride inside because they’re parents. One of my favourite group rides is the DIRT ride. I thought mtb bikes but no, it’s Dads Inside Riding Trainers. I nearly left and excused myself the first time. I’m not a Dad. Oops! But there were lots of moms too and some cat and dog parents in for the mix. The only really Dad feature were the jokes. So many Dad jokes. But the pace was good, the ride was well organized, and I enjoyed the camaraderie of what for most people–judging by time zones–was a quick ride before dinner.
I never thought I’d be one of those parents lamenting their children leaving home. Mostly I’m really excited for them finding their own way in the world. I’ve always had my own life in addition to family life, and I assumed that children moving out would just change the mix. Without kids at home there’d be more friends and less time with family.
I imagined I’d still see lots of the adult children. We’ve always enjoyed meals together, playing games, watching movies, etc. I expected that to continue. In normal times it would.
But along came COVID-19. So much for all of our plans. I know I’m lucky. I live in Canada. No one in my family is sick. We’re financially okay. We’re also at a stage in the pandemic where we are able to enjoy lots of time outside together. Recently Mallory, Sarah, and I got to go camping in Algonquin.
Still, I’m not seeing friends as much as I’d like. I’m also not seeing the kids as much as I’d like.
I’m very nervous about winter, about Thanksgiving, and about Christmas. Those are times when we’d come together inside.
Frankly, I’m sad and I miss my children a lot and I didn’t expect it to be so bad.
You need to know that I am the kind of parent who happily sent kids off to Australia and New Zealand on their own. Bye! But this, this is worse. First, they’re all gone. Second. COVID-19, makes seeing them more complicated. Third, I worry about them a lot.
Okay, end of the sad part of the story. I want to share the only possible upside. There is more room in my house.
The backroom is now my home office and the official Zwift home headquarters and Yoga With Adriene studio. Check it out! Our home weights finally arrived too.
Also, while I miss my fitness oriented son for our noon hour workouts, I’ve now talked my mother into working out with me at lunch with a visiting backyard personal trainer. Living with my mother also helps to remind me too that although kids move out–as I did at 19 or so–families can stay together through a lifetime.
The images above are of a virtual group ride in Zwift. It’s the Sunday afternoon TFC team social ride where we are divided into two groups by pace.
That’s similar to cycling in the real world where clubs often have an A group and B group. My old club in London, Ontario even had a C group. There’s an advertised pace for these groups and since C starts last it’s the no-drop ride. We often picked up people dropped by the faster groups.
In Zwift it’s done by watts per kilo. Here I’m riding with the sub 2.5 watts per kilo group. My ego feels the need to tell you that I can ride with the faster group and have done so in the past but it doesn’t feel like a social, recovery ride. I’m kind of working hard at the back of the pack. Often real world cycling groups specify an average pace. In Guelph Speed River Cycling describes their rides as “leisurely,” “moderate,” and “advanced” where advanced is averaging 29-31 km/hr and leisurely is 25-27 km/hr and moderate is in the middle.
So that’s the way things are supposed to work. But we all know that sometimes, in the cycling world, the advertised pace isn’t the actual pace. You show up for a group ride where you know you can keep up with pace they say they’ll ride but instead they are all speedy and zoomy and you’re either being left behind or exhausted struggling to keep up. Ugh. Often, though not always, this behavior is gendered. It’s not a race, guys.
There’s a fix for this problem in Zwift and it’s called The Fence.
The Fence sits out in front–see above–like a sheer, red band. Go faster than the group leader and eventually you’ll run into the fence.
There’s also the stern warning, “Return to group!”
I got close to it in this ride so I could share some pictures of it with you.
Here’s a video about how it works.
The etiquette of the group rides is that you don’t speed off the front and make others chase you. Inevitably it splits up the group as some struggle to keep up while others pursue the faster riders. In the real world there’s yelling, “ease up” for example.
The virtual cycling platform keeps me motivated in lots of different ways: competition and community are the main two. So much so that sometimes I forget the game-y features of it all.
But tonight I raced and came away with no great victories but I did get four new game notifications. I leveled up to level 20. I unlocked the snazzy pink kit for my avatar. I rode a new route and got the badge for Royal Pump Room 8, in Yorkshire. And I won a sprint and got a jersey.
Mostly I confess I don’t pay much attention to route badges etc but it was all a nice perk and cheered me up on this not very remarkable night of racing.
“Zwift uses levels to encourage you to keep cycling and unlock certain features — from access to locked routes or climbs, to choosing new bikes and equipment for your avatar.You collect experience points (XP) as you cycle around Watopia, and the further you cycle, the more points you collect. They can also be earned by doing events, workouts and other challenges.Starting at level one, there are 50 different levels in total. Going up levels unlocks new bikes, equipment and clothing for the virtual you. It also unlocks some routes: for example, you need to be level 10+ to ride the Mega Pretzel and level 12+ to ride the Climb Alpe Du Zwift, a virtual recreation of the famous Alpe d’Huez climb in the French Alps.”
And here’s my avatar sporting the new level 20 kit.
Yes, she’s thinner than real life me. It’s not vanity on my part. It’s Zwift’s problem, not mine.
I was scheduled to do the Monday night race that my team organizes. Fine. I did a short 5 km warm up. All good but then the race began and the speed was not something I had any hope of maintaining. Wowsa.
Zwift starts are brutal at the best of times. Unlike real road races there’s no gentle rolling away from the start. You’re in danger of losing the group right off the bat. But usually things settle down.
Reader, this race did not settle down. I hung in there and stuck with the front group of women for first 10 km of the Monday night race and then decided it was too long, too fast for me. We were averaging 40 km/hr and I was dying with 30 km to go so for the first time in a Zwift race I pulled the plug without completing the distance.
DID NOT FINISH.
I was already warmed up though and I still wanted to ride so I browsed my activity options on the Companion app. I might have opted for a fast social ride if one was happening but there wasn’t one. Instead, I saw that a 7 km sprint race was about to begin. I love sprinting. It’s kind of my thing I quickly hopped over to the sprint race and sprinted away. In that race I stayed with the front group with energy to sprint all out at the end.
I came third! Woohoo! The joys of a really good warmup. And knowing your strengths. And knowing when to bail.
My total for the night was 22 km. One DNF, one trophy for my virtual trophy case.
(An aside: Part of the problem and the explanation for what happened in the first race is with the women’s category. I’ve worried about this before. For all riders there’s A, B, C, and D groups based on power and performance. The idea is that you race with people with whom you’re competitively matched. It makes amateur racing fair and fun. There’s also a women’s category and the women’s category contains all women regardless of their power. Lots of the women race in the B category. I’m currently a D but “almost C.” I should race with the D group. That’s the category I won in the Sprint race after bailing on the Monday Night Madness race. Why did I race with the women? That’s the topic for another post. But the short answer is I’m trying to support women’s racing and help out my team and we benefit from having riders in the all the categories.)
It hasn’t happened. The pandemic happened. I’m riding outside again but I’m been keeping speed for indoors and Zwift. I still think I don’t want to risk anything bad happening during a pandemic. I would feel like an idiot hurting myself on my bike in these circumstances. Okay, I always feel like an idiot hurting myself on my bike but the extra COVID-19 oomph puts it over the edge.
The latest “uh oh” email–Dethroned!–tells me I lost the a London segment I’ve held as the fastest woman since 2014. I love how Strava suggests you message the rider and congratulate them. Um, no?
(Update: The person took it down. Her average speed on the segment according to Strava was 67 km/hr. LIkely she left her Garmin on in the car. It happens.)
There are now just 4 London QOMs in my Strava trophy case. Mostly they’re flat and of a certain distance. This one is 800 metres. I like that distance. It’s also flat. I like that too. Though I did have one uphill, see I got an uphill QOM! But it didn’t stick for too long. I think the blog’s Kim Solga has it now!
What’s Strava? Strava is a ride/run tracking app. You can either use it on its own or share your Garmin bike computer data with it.
What’s a Strava segment? Segments are one of Strava’s coolest features. Segments are user-created, user-edited, and designate a portion of route where users can compete for time.
What’s a QOM?
“KOM or QOM Crown: If you achieve the fastest time on a segment, you’ll receive a special crown, meaning that you are the KOM or QOM of that segment (acronyms stand for King of the Mountain and Queen of the Mountain). This crown is awarded at the time of upload if you are at that time the leader on the segment. Since Achievement Awards do not refresh in real time, even if someone later beats your time, you will still be able to see the gold crown on that activity page.
Your KOM/QOM crowns are stored in a special list on Strava for your reference. “My KOMs” or “My QOMs” is a page stored under “KOMs/CRs” or “QOMs/CRs” accessed from your Profile page. It will keep a current list of all the KOMs or QOMs you currently hold.
Note: if you tie for a KOM/QOM, you will not be awarded the KOM/QOM crown, and the crown will not be recorded in the “My KOMs/QOMs” list”
Why do I care?
I’m not offering this discussion up as reasons for you to care. You can totally not care about speed or relative-to-others speed when you’re riding your bike. You can enjoy riding without a bike computer or with a bike computer and not uploading rides to Strava. Or you can have a bike computer, upload rides to Strava and still not care about QOMs. You might not have a competitive bone in your body or you might have one but think you’re happier not indulging it. There are lots of different ways to be in the world and I’m good with most of them.
But, true confession here, I do care. It’s fun and motivational for me to try to go faster than others have gone. I’m happy to restrict the others to “other women.” Kim has an interesting post about QOMs and KOMs here.
I like getting it out of my system on Zwift or chasings QOMs. Aside from sprinting with Coach Chris and friends and playfully racing friends up hills, I mostly don’t try to go faster than the people with whom I’m riding. I view riding with others as a cooperative thing.
It’s good for me to be reminded of my strengths–sprinting, for example–as I’m not the typical age or weight of a speedy road cyclist. I feel motivated by segments in a way that I don’t feel motivated by doing sprint intervals on my own. They make me work harder. I also like comparing my speeds on segments over time. See I’m getting faster: Using Strava segments to tack progress over time.