I really dislike cycling in winter, in bad weather. There are a lot of difficulties with this, which make me angry and discouraged. It’s cold, so we need more clothes and also more time to prepare. It’s dark, because days are much shorter. I have very good bicycle flashlight, but I don’t like it anyway. It’s a mess, because of conditions, rain, snow we must clean our bike every ride. Not only bike, but also ourselves and flat, if we don’t have special place for our bike. Finally, it’s dangerous, because of lack of light and weather conditions, we have more changes to accident – independently or with car. Solution? Use trainer. But trainer is boring… Really? Not with Zwift.
Although I have very good trainer (Tacx Smart Genius), I didn’t use Zwift before, only Tacx app and simple climbing workouts. It was fault, because such rides were boring – after 30 minutes I was tired mentally. After few rides, I decided to stop this and just go running, it’s much better. But three weeks ago I decided to install and try Zwift… and everything changed.
Zwift – what’s that?
First question: what is Zwift? It’s an application, game to virtual cycling. It connects to your trainer and sensors and show rider avatar, tries to reproduce your riding into game. On Zwift, we are riders, who uses few virtual worlds – some based on real areas (for example London, New York). We must first create account and login, then connect trainer to Zwift, and start game: select prepared route, or free ride and change it during cycling. Sounds weird? Maybe, but with Zwift, trainer ride is not boring. We can see a lot of nice places, there are different conditions (some flats, hills, descents) and also… a lot, a lot of other Zwifters.
Community is second great factor in Zwift. We can send messages to other players, send private messages, follow them similar to Strava and give kudos. We can also compete with others during ride: there is hill and you often would like to be faster than others. Not only in segments records (yes, Zwift has segments similar to Strava, also with live segments!), but in realtime. You can use Zwift on computer, phone or tablet, and then control it during ride. It’s very simple and also quick to run. Did I mention, thay you can customize your avatar? Yep, we can change clothes, skin, and bike parts. It’s only visual part of game, but it’s also important – in the beginning, only few parts are ready, you must unlock rest.
Workouts and traning plans
Zwift is not only a free ride. It will be boring in long term usage – but maybe not, because by all activities we earn experience points and gain new levels, like on other games. Fortunately, there are a lot of ready workouts and complex training plans. You can select workout before riding based on your FTP (if you don’t know what’s FTP, it isn’t problem and doesn’t matter here), and make hard training or recovery for example. It’s very nice, because you still ride on Zwift worlds. Application communicates with your trainer and set properly resistance according to selected workout. You rode with others, but must always generate properly power. There is nice, long descent? Doesn’t matter, trainer resistance may be very high if you are in interval zone with 400 W. How it works? Your avatar will be just faster than other players, how ride with smaller power. Similarly, on hill, if you are on recovery zone, your avatar may be much slower than other players. And it’s ok. You make a workout, but also can observe the surrounding.
You don’t have to ride alone and only observe other participants. There are events on Zwift and you can join them. Events are group rides. Sometimes is just only peaceful ride, sometimes race. There are also big events with stages. The best example is Tour the Zwift, similar to real cycling tours. Do you afraid, that most.of competitors will be faster? Don’t worry. Events participants are divided into groups based on medium power (in w/kg). When you like to join event, you must specify group, in which you want to start. It’s good option, because after few rides, you will know best section for you. Events aren’t played in the same area of standard Zwift worlds – i.e. they use the same roads, but not interfere with free ride mode, so you will not see tours groups during standard ride, and vice versa, you will not see freeriders during event.
Your bike will be clean
For me the biggest problem in winter cycling is a mess after ride. Snow, mud, and sand on bicycle. I live in flat, so don’t have a lot of space to keep my bike, also, don’t have space to make good cleaning area. Balcony is not a solution because of risk of rusting. After ride in mud I must clean bike in the corridor, clean myself and often also clean some parts of flat. It’s terrible and waste of time – cleaning takes me more time than riding. Trainer is much better option, because I don’t have to clean bike. Only one time to prepare all (exchange tyre, mount it into trainer) and can go. It isn’t destructive for our bike drive, cassette, derailleur, chain and crank. Of course, we need some place for bike and trainer, but if they are clean, it should not be big problem.
Ride without risk
In winter in my country days are much shorter than on summer. It’s a real problem, because I must use a lot of reflective elements and flashlights to be more secure. But I will never real secure, because conditions are different: road is slippery, not all cars drivers know this, there is also strong wind, sometimes snow. With trainer, it isn’t any issue, because I can train on any time. Of course I must remember, that trainer and bike aren’t completely quiet, so stationary cycling after 10 pm can be annoying for neighbours. But… if I started on 8 pm, I still have two hours to make great workout or just light cycling. Without flashlights, without risk of accidents.
Winter also means lower temperatures, cold. It’s ok, but not for long time – even if we have very good cycling clothes for winter (but they price may be very high), it’s destructing for our joints. When we running, it isn’t as high problem as on cycling, because we don’t need to also fight with strong wind. I don’t have problems with joints now, but want to think about future. With trainer, there is no problem… or problem is “reverse” – it’s too hot! After 10-15 minutes we are completely wet. Fan is necessary, also, open window in room. Here Zwift also doesn’t matter, standard trainer and any app can save as a lot of health problems and make training more comfortable.
Ok, I wrote a lot about Zwift and trainer advantages, but what about drawbacks? Yep, they exist. Trainer means additional cost. We need to buy it, often also must buy special tire for it – standard tires are very noise and destroyed very quickly. Don’t try to use MTB tires, it’s stupid idea. Trainer cost may be different: all depends on available functions and quality. There are cheap trainers without any computer integration, better trainers can communicate with PC/phone using Bluetooth to set resistance quickly. Then we have smart trainers which offer ANT+ and Bluetooth connection, stronger resistance and descents simulation. Some can also measure training data: power, cadence and speed (yes, without additional sensors). It isn’t as good as separate detectors, but works fine.
For Zwift, the best option is to use smart trainer – in such connection, app can automatically manage trainer and set appropriate resistance based on terrain in game. It means, we must spend more money. Zwift also isn’t free. It costs now $15. I think it’s high price if we would like to ride once or two times per week. I ride almost every day, use build-in workouts, join events… I just use Zwift intensive, so, this price is ok for 2-3 winter months. After that, it will be possible to train outdoor, but I will don’t “lost” these months.
I use trainer for about two years (it’s my second season with it), but it was always terrible, boring activity. I knew, that it’s important and necessary if I want to be better in real rides, but very mentally exhausting – I prefered to running in winter, it’s more dynamic, and I always could listen to audiobooks, podcasts or music. Zwift changed everything. Now full hour or more on trainer is not a problem for my head, but only for my body: can I withstand the effort? Now it’s real adventure, a lot of people, great time. If you love cycling, but don’t like ride on winder, I can recommend to try Zwift. You must try and decide.