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Zwift: How to get set up and how to make the most of the virtual app

Joe Robinson
2 Nov 2020

The virtual world of Zwift has revolutionised indoor cycling and here are some tips to get the best out of the app

Zwift has reshaped the way many see indoor training and could be a godsend over the coming months for pros and amateurs alike. For £12.99 a month, users can get access to a virtual world in which the idea of training indoors is no longer a chore. Through its ever-growing collection of virtual courses, riders can cruise around stress-free, training, socialising and even racing. 

By turning indoor riding into a game, the boring process of staring at a wall while on the turbo trainer has been revolutionised and now more cyclists are opening up to the world of the turbo trainer.

While Zwift itself is pretty self-explanatory with its structured workouts, regular group rides and daily races, you may find yourself lost when it comes to getting the best out of this virtual game, especially when you first sign up.

How to get set up on Zwift

Wahoo Kickr Snap Zwift

Firstly, a quick guide on how to get set up on Zwift.

You will need to make sure you have the necessary gear to make using Zwift worthwhile which includes the following:

To get the best experience from Zwift and be able to control your on-screen avatar, you will need either a smart turbo trainer or power meter that can connect to the app.

Using a smart trainer is the preferential option as it will give you the most realistic ride feel, adjusting the resistance automatically based upon the virtual gradient. Relaying your power from the turbo trainer, your in-game avatar will then move at the appropriate speed.

Once you have set-up the turbo trainer and attached your bike, you will need to download the Zwift app to your device, sign up and create a user.

Finally, sync your smart trainer and device using ANT+ or Bluetooth then you will be ready to roll.

For a guide to the best Zwift-compatible turbo trainers on the market, see here.

How to buy a Zwift membership?

For UK users, Zwift costs £12.99 per month which gives you unlimited access.

You can download and pay for your Zwift membership via the Zwift website here.

Alternatively, Ribble Cycles offer a three-month pass to Zwift here.

Six tops tips for getting the most from Zwift

1. Get race fit by racing

Many of us might be scared about taking that initial plunge into the world of bike racing. We are regaled with horror stories of brutal crashes, absurd weather conditions and then the inevitable fact that you will be spat out of the back within the first lap because you simply are not strong enough. 

I know that scared me off from taking to the start line and I am certainly not alone.

Yet, with Zwift races you are given the opportunity to experience the world of racing without many of the fears of taking to an actual startline. 

Usually around the 40km mark, they resemble the same length as races around your local circuit and the undulating nature of the courses make them feel like an actual race on real roads.

You will end up going as hard as you would racing outside but with a couple of benefits.

Firstly, there is no risk of you crashing. You can ride with no fear of clipping a wheel or being caught out by a lapse of concentration. Regardless of how hard you ride there will be no fear of getting intimate with the tarmac.

Secondly, thanks to Zwift grouping riders according to their watt per kilo output - for categories from A to D ranging from 4w/kg to 1w/kg* - there is less chance of you being out of your depth.

You will be riding alongside riders who produce similar numbers to yours, riding at similar speeds. This will hopefully quash the dejecting feeling of riding off the back alone with you actually getting a feel for what it's like to be racing head-to-head with other riders.

The 90 minutes of full on pedalling will have no doubt helped push up your power output and ability to suffer, and with that also increased your confidence to actually pin on a race number. 

*Zwift relies on honesty here. You can lie about your weight giving you a higher watts per kilo but there's no fun in cheating as Lance Armstrong eventually found out

2. Ride social

While indoor cycling was traditionally a solo activity - with the exception of turbo clubs that would see a group of riders get together and ride sessions in somebody's cold garage - Zwift has broken the mould allowing to train with their friends while not being in the same room. 

Some may prefer the idea of training indoors alone but there are certain benefits to training with someone else. Firstly, riding with a friend usually adds some friendly competition which in turn can see you push harder. 

The pace will remain high as you both cruise around the virtual world and there is no chance you will let them drop you as the course starts hitting the climbs. 

Secondly, you are more likely to climb on the turbo if you're not alone. It's kind of like the club run. If you know that your pal will be waiting on the corner of your road to go for a ride, there is no way you will cry off last minute. 

Same with Zwift. If you know that your mate will be waiting for you in Watopia come 6pm, there is little chance of you turning your back on that training session.

Thirdly, the virtual nature of Zwift gifts you the unique experience of riding in a peloton from around the world. Spot the flags of fellow users and you will notice they are from all four corners of the globe.

3. Visual goals

One of the major drawbacks of training on the turbo during winter is the lack of visual stimulation. The steely among us have no problem staring at a wall or a power meter for the best part of an hour but for many, it's enough to put us off of indoor training all together.

There is the solution of sticking the television or a film on but even then you can find your mind wandering from the workout and into the screen. 

With Zwift, losing yourself in the screen is not a bad thing as this will usually mean you are fully concentrated on the training session at hand.

The numbers are still there ticking over and you can keep track of your power, speed and elapsed time but you also have your little avatar.

Watching him or her climb the virtual volcano climb or sprint through the streets of Central London helps to keep you focused on the ride.

There are now several separate maps and further unlockable sections such as Alpe Zwift to keep you stimulated for hours on end.

Use the virtual rider's progression as you would when riding on the road. Pinpoint a spot on the screen and sprint to it, head towards the climb and ride at full effort until the top, spot a fellow Zwift user and bury yourself until you reach their wheel.

This has been made even easier with the new Zwift Companion App. Downloaded to your phone, when on Zwift it adds another dimension to the game, allowing you to view vital stats such as power and cadence away from the computer screen. 

It also allows you to have greater control of the Zwift workouts allowing you to skip sections from your phone while also letting you have greater control of the turbo trainers resistance when in SIM mode.

Zwift is effectively a computer game for cyclists and if approached in this way, you will find yourself improving as a rider without it feeling like too much of an effort.

SEE RELATED: Best cycling apps

4. Let Zwift do the work

Traditionally a training session on the turbo would take prior planning before you could get going.

This would usually entail jotting down the intervals you plan to do, how long they will be and your allocated rest on to a piece of scrap paper, sticking it to your top tube or a brick wall and trying to meticulously follow this regime staring at a clock while also burying yourself.

Thankfully, Zwift can take all that prior planning away and practically do the work for you. 

The training app has a wide range of pre-made training workouts for you to decide to ride on a whim like the 2x15 minute Functional Threshold Power (FTP) interval session or more structured plans like the 10 week-long programme designed to take you to your first 100 mile ride.

While this approach may take away some of the connection and understanding associated with building your own workout plan, if followed regimentally, it will guarantee you an improvement in your riding.

For example, I decided to follow the six week beginner FTP builder. Four to five workouts a week, it promised to increase your FTP through these workouts which varied from fairly comfortable foundation sessions to the more painful threshold development and strength workouts.

Prior to starting the six-week programme, I performed a base 20 minute FTP test to find my base point.

A heavy winter and many other excuses saw me average 233 watts. Following the Zwift programme for the next 45 days, I felt myself getting progressively stronger with the ease of simply setting my bike up on the turbo and effectively pressing play.

This eventually culminated in me performing an end FTP test. This time I scored 282 watts, an increase just shy of 50 watts in six weeks.

5. Turn pro without leaving the house

Last year saw the inaugural British Cycling eRacing Championship, with a very real National Champion's jersey handed to the winner of the virtual competition. Plenty of pro teams have also started recruiting through Zwift too.

In 2018 team Canyon-Sram took on Ella Harris after whittling down applicants via Zwift. This February she took the very real stage win at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia. Dimension Data (now Team NTT) have also used the platform to find new talent.

With Britain’s virtual National Championship taking place around the same time as the actual racing, you’ll have until the end of the season to get in shape. By comparison, applications for the Zwift academy tend to open in early July.

Just like the real thing, there are even opportunities to nefariously improve your chances - from lying about your weight to boost your watts per kilo to using bots to claim in-game powerups and items. However, with Zwift boasting its own version of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) called ZADA, virtual cheats might still find themselves getting a real-world knock.

6. Half-wheel your heroes

Meeting your cycling idols can be a fraught experience. Not only are they likely to be less excited to see you than you are to meet them, should you go riding together you’ll spend the whole time worrying about tangling handlebars and ruining their season.

Not so on Zwift. With many pros using the platform, some will advertise when they’re going for a virtual ride via Twitter.

Why not join them and find out exactly how much better they are than you? As a positive, you’ll not have to endure the public shame when you’re inevitably dropped. Although on the downside, you’ll not be able to gaspingly quiz them about the current intrigues of the peloton.

Recent and retired Tour de France champs Geraint Thomas and Alberto Contador are fans. As is American break-out star Chloe Dygert Owen. With perhaps as much as a third of the peloton using Zwift, there are likely more recognisable riders on there racing under assumed names.

Read our guide to the best bike rollers and how to create a cycling training plan

• For information on how the Wattbike Atom can help you achieve your training goals, visit wattbike.com/gb

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