Zwift combines social video gaming with indoor cycling in new training platform

'Strava meets World of Warcraft' in online cycling/gaming platform

News Trainers

RBR_Screen_Cover

Zwift’s gameplay and 3D graphics are on-par with state-of-the-art video games. Plus, unlike most video games, it just might make you faster.

An online subscription gaming and training platform announced yesterday promises to help break the monotony of indoor cycling workouts and usher users into a world where video game technology, social networking and indoor cycling converge in a “massive multi-player online game,” or MMO in gamers parlance. Called Zwift, the platform was unveiled during a live launch event held concurrently at the Rapha Cycling Club stores in San Francisco, New York and London where Zwift pitted cyclists at each of the locations against each other to demonstrate the concept.

“Anyone who’s ever ridden a trainer has probably thought about how much better the experience could be,” said Zwift co-Founder Eric Min. “The goal with Zwift is to improve the indoor cycling experience by making it entertaining, motivational, accessible and social. We call this ‘fitness entertainment.’”

“While the platform works and looks like a video game, there’s one major difference: players eschew handheld controllers and bags of chips in favor of a real, trainer-mounted bicycle and energy gels.”

While the platform works and looks like a video game, there’s one major difference: players eschew handheld controllers and bags of chips in favor of a real, trainer-mounted bicycle and energy gels. Zwift makes use of the hardware most cyclists who train indoors already have—trainers, power meters, heart rate monitors, and a bike—using the industry standard ANT+ wireless sensor protocol to connect to the virtual world.

By injecting a sense of worldwide virtual competition into the mix, the game’s makers hope to create a Strava-meets-World of Warcraft experience that entices thousands of riders into a $10-a-month Zwift subscription. Currently accepting sign-ups for its beta phase at zwift.com, the site will open to the general public this winter.

RBR_Korina_Demo

‘Hardware agnostic’ platform designed to scale

Though the Zwift experience is rich with a fairly basic setup, it gets more realistic when “smart” trainers—the Wahoo Fitness Kickr or Elite Real Turbo Muin, for example—are used which can introduce resistance for a climb, or reduce it when drafting. An iOS or Android smartphone can also be used to control game settings and offer cycling computer-style statistics.

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The Zwift Zeppelin circulates overhead during races on Zwift Island because, well, why not?

To start, riders will compete on courses on Zwift Island—the game’s fictitious virtual proving ground. Eventually the company will add virtualized versions of real-world courses, and even host virtual grand fondos and races. Like standard video games, Zwift will also integrate headset communications for in-event communication and banter between cyclists. What’s more, spectators will be able to watch races live on Twitch.tv—an online gaming broadcast network.

RBR_Swift_Korina_wins

National points race champion Korina Huizar celebrates her virtual victory over competitors in New York and London at the Zwift launch in San Francisco.

Live demonstration, virtual tie-ins

Zwift enlisted one cyclist at each of the three locations to demonstrate the game, with national track champion Korina Huizar riding in the San Francisco store where we witnessed the launch.

Before starting, Huizar customized not only the typical preferences—character gender, bike preferences, etc.—but also the race kit of the virtual avatar. Not so unusual perhaps, except that the classy black-and-pink Rapha kit her avatar sported matched exactly the kit she wore in real life—and was unlocked with an activation code included with the real kit.

This feature illustrates, perhaps, a whole host of real/virtual tie-ins the game may have down the road. Not surprisingly, company officials alluded to tie-ins with real life virtual competition platform Strava, though gave no concrete examples.

Zwift’s intro video gives you a sense of what the platform’s creators are going for.

Zwift Summary Details

Technology

  • Zwift is powered by Zengine–a massive, multiplayer video game platform the company built from the ground up.
  • Zwift doesn’t license any technology to deliver its cross-platform game that brings the physics of real world cycling indoors.
  • Zwift is architected to host tens of thousands of simultaneous users in a single world.

Hardware

  • Zwift is focused on building software that works seamlessly with a wide range of devices and hardware.
  • Zwift is building an inclusive community. In order to appeal to the widest audience possible, Zwift’s platform is hardware agnostic.
  • All that is needed for a rider to become a part of the Zwift community is a “dumb” (manual or no resistance control) indoor cycle trainer, ANT+ cadence/speed sensor and ANT+ dongle. Zwift supplies the VPC (Virtual Power Curve) for the dumb trainer converting speed into watts.
  • Smart trainers add an extra dimension that enhances the Zwift experience, controlling resistance to match the course/conditions them to simulate changing environmental conditions like road terrain, wind and drafting.
  • As a basic rule, Zwift will run acceptably on computers purchased in the last three years–desktop or laptop.

Partners

  • There will be a range of partnerships announced between Zwift and like-minded brands in the near future.
  • The range of partnerships include everything from trainer and device manufacturers, to bicycle and accessory manufacturers. Zwift provides a dynamic product placement and customer engagement platform.
  • This will include events such as Gran Fondos and licensed races.
  • Potential opportunities include professional cycling teams, professional road racers and triathletes

Cost and Launch

  • Zwift is in beta now and will have a full launch this winter
  • The service costs $10 per month

For more information go to zwift.com.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
About the author: Don Palermini

Chicago-born editorial director Don Palermini became a cycling-based life-form in the sixth grade after completing a family road bike tour of his home state. Three years later he bought his first mountain bike to help mitigate the city's pothole-strewn streets, and began exploring the region's unpaved roads and trails. Those rides sparked a much larger journey which includes all manner of bike racing, commuting, on- and off-road bike advocacy, and a 20-plus-year marketing career in the cycling industry. Now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area and pedaling for Mtbr, his four favorite words in the English language are "breakfast served all day," together in that order.


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  • DrSmile says:

    Reminds me of that picture of the college kids playing ping pong on a Wii… while there’s an actual ping pong table right next to them. This is the antithesis of cycling IMHO. Even if you live in Antarctica you should be riding… a fat bike outside.

    • Don Palermini says:

      You appear to be applying your personal perspective to everyone else’s. Zwift’s designer came up with the concept while living in London and dealing with a winter’s worth of cold, dreary, wet conditions coupled with short daylight hours and long work days–a reality many people face.

    • Guillaume says:

      I disagree. While I ride my MTB in the winter when possible, from December to March in New England it is usually too cold and too wet to ride a bike, especially a road bike and there are lots of debris on the roads in the winter.
      Riding solo in front of the TV is so, soooo boring that I just can’t do it and it’s hard to concentrate on a cycle routine while watching a movie.
      This game might change everything, adding fun, competition and peer motivation to the most boring sport ever that is “living room cycling”.

  • Pynchonite says:

    This is going to create a whole new class of cycling loner/troll with legs of girded steel and no bike handling skills to speak of. While I understand the desire to make trainer sessions more enjoyable (never used one myself, but I’m also slow and a badass), why not just ride your trainer with other people?

    On a more serious not, I imagine that I’m not the only person on these boards who’s been at one point or another addicted to MMO games (World of Warcraft for me), and the addictive potential here is pretty obvious. There will be people – possibly quite a few – who essentially cease to exist as cyclists in the real world. What I see is an opportunity to drop out of important discussions like road safety and trail access that you’re dropped into simply by virtue of being outside and living through them. When these people reappear in the world of crappy roads, goat heads, and internet-addled drivers, they will neither have the experience nor incentive to know what’s going on. My two cents.

    • Don Palermini says:

      Your presumption sounds like the very rare exception more than the rule.

    • David says:

      How is that different than every cat 5 ever

    • Guillaume says:

      I think addiction here is great on the contrary.
      I’m totally looking forward to getting addicted to that game and get on my bike as much as possible over the winter. Then as soon as the weather is consistently above 65 degrees next May, I’ll drop it and never log on again until the next winter. For people leaving in the South and West coast however I see no need as they can ride outside all year round, I can’t in New England, or at least not without bundling up like crazy which I won’t do.

  • DaveC says:

    I feel like I may be representative of the typical cyclist: outdoors as much as possible March-ish into November, but rarely if ever ride outside when temps are less than 45 and daylight is scarce. I think this concept is a fantastic idea, especially if all you need is a “dumb” trainer and a few hardware pieces. I’d try it just for the variety in training, let alone the MMO. And $10 a month is a whole lot cheaper than spin classes. And there are worse things than being addicted to a cycling training program

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