To Zwift or Not to Zwift?

By Bill Plock

In my office last Tuesday I rode with 176 people from all over the world and it was fun.  We stayed in a group taking pulls, chatting “via messages” and I could feel the draft of the peloton. Afterwards, my Strava blew up with kudos from people in 18 different countries. That is “Zwifting.”

There are a few ways to know when something like a brand or a product is officially a “thing” and becomes part of our daily vernacular and culture. Think of Kleenex as a noun. Or think of verbs like, “Google it” or “FedEx it”. Sometimes people identify themselves by a brand, like IRONMAN. Or they tattoo themselves with a brand, again, like IRONMAN. 

Well, I am now a “Zwifter” and I “Zwift”. I’d say Zwift is a thing that is starting to become synonymous with indoor riding.  It’s not quite on par with the verb “Google”, and there are plenty of other indoor cycling software platforms. Here is a good article that compares many of them.

I recently bought a Saris Hammer H3 direct drive smart trainer. The bike’s chain goes directly on the cassette of the trainer–thus replacing the back wheel of a bike with the trainer. The trainer included a three month subscription to Zwift and a month’s subscription to Rouvy. I have tried both and so far I find Zwift more motivating. And that is the purpose of this article. To share why I bought this trainer and why I think indoor riding is clearly growing very fast and will continue to grow. 

On my Feedback Trainer

As a bit of background, I taught spin classes for 15 years, averaging two classes a week so I truly know first hand the benefits of indoor cycling. Indoor cycling offers the best way to do intervals and controlled efforts. Of course not worrying about where to ride, traffic or safety concerns is nice. It’s also simply an efficient workout where an hour of indoor cycling is probably like riding 90 minutes outside with factoring in stop lights and downhills with no effort. For me, when I taught classes, my heart rate would be very high. As such I ended up doing high intensity efforts once or twice a week which in combination with long outdoor rides at much lower heart rates help build good endurance. 

I was never one to criticize those that rode mostly indoors in leu of being in the great outdoors where you are “supposed” to ride. To each their own. And to argue that it doesn’t teach good biking handling skills to ride indoors is hardly a realistic argument. I’m guessing most people who ride both ways are perfectly capable of riding outside. 

But since I stopped teaching cycling class, I found my fitness suffering. I have a hard time achieving high intensity workouts on a bike outdoors or on a standard trainer.  I can do it, but it takes more focus and motivation and is easy to slough off. 

I decided to invest in myself and bought a Saris smart trainer to help me stay motivated. (reviews of all trainer brands by DC Rainmaker: I have a wonderful Feedback trainer as well, which is great and very portable. If I had a power meter, I could connect that to Zwift and it would sort of work. But with the smart trainer, when I start up a virtual hill, I feel it and I need to shift accordingly. When I tuck in behind another rider, I feel the draft. It’s as close to “real” riding as you get. And with all the graphic elements in Zwift and with the contests, KOM’s and chasing other riders, it’s easy to be distracted and the time flies by. 

But let’s talk about motivation. Signing up for a race motivates me to train—duh. Buying a new bike or some cool accessories motivates me to ride. But I find it harder to stay motivated simply trying to stay in shape or not gain weight, or to lose weight, so I wanted something fun to keep me riding more often, especially in the cold.  And I just don’t feel like signing up for an IRONMAN to get me going!

So what specifically does this smart trainer/Zwift do to motivate me.

  1. It’s easy. I walk downstairs, put on some old bike shorts and tech shirt, my heart rate monitor and off I go. Good article on bike shorts HERE
  2. It’s fun. Zwift (and other software) offers a variety of rides and activities that tap into my competitive spirit and love of exploring. Even though it’s virtual, it feels like an adventure; like when I explored London and Innsbruck this past weekend.
  3. It’s social. Yes, it’s not like a group ride with friends, but in a weird way it’s cool to draft off riders from all over the world, send a “ride on” gesture, and maybe even send a real time message. You can also set up times with “real” friends to ride together from different places. 
  4. It’s measurable. You see exactly what you do, you can catalog the effort and track progress. My FTP has climbed 20 watts in a week. 
  5. It’s different, it’s another type of ride experience to keep things fresh.
  6. Its warm—no cold weather gear needed!

Does this replace outdoor riding for me? No, of course not. But I must admit I will probably forego marginal weather days when I used to bundle up and try to brave the elements. Maybe I am getting old and crotchety. 

Everyone has their reasons for riding inside. Thanks to companies like Zwift and Peloton for keeping it fun and entertaining. If it gets people on bikes, it’s a good thing.  I still think roads are safe, and it saddens me that some cyclists feel unsafe and that is their primary motivation to ride inside. 

I encourage you to try what I am trying, to ride 30 days in row for a minimum of 30 minutes.   Here is a link to 303’s Strava group and let’s see who can take on the challenge!

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  1. Chris

    It’s great if you are thinking only for a good health and get some quick physical done but I generally enjoy riding along the country side while enjoying the nature rather than a computer simulation.

  2. John Roderick

    Hey Bill,

    Great article, I’m looking forward to trying Zwift in the new year once I can get my turbo set up again in the garage! I’ve been using TrainerRoad for about 4 years but really love the idea of getting competitive with my indoor training! I’ve written about my experience with it here if you are interested –

    Thanks again for writing this 🙂


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