Winter can be a tough time for an avid runner or cyclist in Minnesota. Every fall I try to tell myself that I will not let the cold and snow get to me and I will keep running and biking throughout the winter. And every year right around Christmas, I get a dose of reality when the mercury begins to dip below zero.
This year however, I believe that I found the answer. At least for biking. It is a program named Zwift which interacts with your bike trainer and allows you to ride in virtual world with an online community of cyclists. It shares a lot of similarities with MMORPG’s in that you unlock features through leveling up and completing various achievements. However, unlike MMORPG’s, the community is awesome. In fact, I think that the community is the best part of Zwift.
Before I connected to Zwift I needed to get a trainer. Zwift allows you to connect with either a standard trainer or a “smart” trainer. The difference between them is that a standard trainer provides data which Zwift then uses to determine how hard you are pedaling. Using this data, Zwift can determine your speed, power and distance. A “smart” trainer provides the same data but it can also receive data which allows Zwift to control the trainer’s resistance. To replicate elevation changes on a standard trainer, Zwift simply reduces your online speed while ascending and increases your speed while descending. On a smart trainer Zwift increases or decreases the resistance on your trainer depending on the slope which is a lot more realistic.
Smart trainers are generally more expensive but I found one that was only slightly more than most standard trainers. The Tacx Vortex Smart Trainer. I had to wait for the trainer before I could use Zwift so I was pretty exited when it arrived on my door step. I immediately mounted my bike, plugged it in and logged into Zwift. The trainer uses Bluetooth and ANT+ technologies to communicate. My laptop has built in Bluetooth and I was able to use the ANT+ USB stick from my Garmin watch. Zwift immediately recognized the device and I hopped on the bike.
The first thing I noticed was how realistic the hills felt. Up and down. It is really impressive. It even replicates coasting. The second thing that I noticed was other riders. Not just other riders but LOTS of them from all over the world and they are a lively bunch. The chat is non-stop and contains a great mix of helpful and humorous commentary. It makes every ride different, helps the time pass by and keeps me looking forward to my next ride. The next thing that I noticed was the nice graphics. The scenery looks spectacular and it is constantly changing.
After riding a short time, I noticed that I was leveling up and I had unknowingly completed a few achievements. After the short test ride, I logged into the website and noticed that I could connect to my Strava account. I went for a second ride to find that merely connecting to Strava unlocks a new jersy. I also discovered that the phone app is basically an extension of the interface. They placed several in-game controls on the phone app. After another short ride I logged out and, sure enough, my ride appeared on Strava complete with a map! Too cool.
There are workouts available as well. I tried one called “The Wringer” which was a 45 minute interval ride. The resistance changes were disabled while in workout mode. At least for this one. I thought the workout was extremely challenging and I could only achieve the target power in about 6 or 7 of the twelve intervals.
As I write this, I have been riding for about 10 days now and have reached level 7. I have a half dozen jersey kits, various wheel sets and three bikes. Here is a photo of the TT bike I acquired yesterday. Today is the first day I did not ride and I can’t wait to get back in the saddle tomorrow.
My basement setup has two pc’s. One devoted to Spotify, Netflix and Hulu and another to run Zwift. I placed the Zwift screen directly in front and the other to the side. I have the keyboard/mouse for each computer on each side of me and a remote control for the volume so I can access everything from the bike. I also have a fan blowing at my front while riding and I always have a towel, snack and water accessible from the bike. I can easily ride for hours and have a total blast while the temperature outside dips below zero.