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OPINION

Zwift newbie! My first experience of riding in Watopia

Felix Young's picture
We gave Felix a smart trainer and a Zwift subscription and told him to get cracking. How did he fare?

There is always someone to chase. No matter where in the world they are from, and regardless of the fact that 15 seconds ago they had never entered your consciousness, as long as they are riding a tiny bit slower than you then it becomes an all-encompassing pursuit worthy of the boards of a velodrome. When the catch is made and they slide out of your view on the screen you can revel in your awesomeness for a few seconds before the next unwitting victim of your Merckx-like virtual cannibalism appears on the horizon. It never ends. Getting into Zwift has been fun.

A bit about me: I had recently started a new job and hadn’t touched my bike for three weeks . So when road.cc offered me the chance to try Zwift for the first time and write a blog about my experience in the world of virtual cycling it seemed like the perfect way to force myself to reboot my riding. Nothing motivates like a deadline.

My previous role was self-employed and so I had full flexibility to build my riding around my work with most of the hours on the bike logged travelling to and from meetings and appointments across my local area. I did no riding indoors; I was equipped with lights and all the warm cycling clothing you could wish for, even if I did show up for the odd meeting shivering and dripping having been caught out by the West Country weather.

Now, though, I've been given a company car and the extra time taken to travel across the region by bike has become harder to justify. After three weeks of living the sedentary life of a non-cyclist the time has come to take radical action and set myself up to spend time in my spare room exploring the world of Zwift – something that I will admit I was somewhat sceptical about. That's probably why I have not dipped my toe into the world of Watopia thus far.

> Get started with Zwift and make your home trainer sessions more fun

Why start riding indoors and not just spend the time I have out on my road bike and cross bike? To be honest it was too easy not to go out, and the extra time spent layering up for short winter rides just acts as too much of a barrier to going out and doing it. It takes me a good 15 minutes of faffing around the house and the shed to get prepped to go out to ride. When I was going out to a meeting this was just 'commuting' time, the same way I now spend 15 minutes looking for parking spaces. But when I have an hour or less in the evening to spare the trainer means I can spend far more of that time turning the pedals.

Rather than all those winter jackets and gloves, my cycling kit wash now consists solely of pairs of bib shorts (and jerseys for modesty’s sake when road.cc want photos and videos!). In fact, it has been the ease of getting set up with the new tech that road.cc has lined up for me that has been the most pleasant part of the indoor riding experience.

I have been provided with an Elite Suito smart trainer and once I had extracted it from the box the set up could not have been simpler. The instruction manual is still in the packet; I plugged it in, the lights came on and I slotted the bike frame onto the included cassette. I have, in a previous job, worked with the granddaddy of smart turbos, the CompuTrainer, which was initially introduced in 1976. Whilst it was an amazing piece of kit, the set up was an enormous hassle. We live in an age of convenience and the Suito ticks that box well.

> Zwift setups for all budgets

I have some simple gym-style floor matting that I use to dampen any vibrations and catch the worst of the sweat and grime off my typically filthy bike and a cheap office fan that has had quite a battering in the back of the shed whilst my indoor riding has been forgotten for the past few years.

The box that the trainer came in is currently deputising as a table for the laptop and other tech that I am using: my phone for the companion app, and an old iPod for my music. Included in the turbo box was my first month of free Zwift membership and I was ready to Zwift (It is a verb too, yes? I'm new to this) in no time. I still have two things that are on my to-buy list: an ANT+ adaptor to link up my heart rate monitor with Zwift, and also an extension lead as currently I am having to choose between having the laptop charger or the fan plugged in!

The first ride takes you straight to a sort of tutorial: this is the gamification of cycling after all. It's about 25 mins of riding whilst the user interface builds around you, acting as a simple way of introducing you to the different elements of what is ultimately quite a lot of information. You can see that the display you get on the screen is inspired by the way that a more traditional computer game looks; I played Call of Duty as a teenager and the mini map, XP pop ups and progress bars feel very familiar which does make the experience immersive in the same way as first-person-shooters do.

Zwift HUD Watopia 2

Unlike a solo road ride in the countryside where passing other riders is rare and brings a wave (if you are lucky) but not much more, the frequency of catching or being caught by riders on Zwift who are riding the same way at the same time as you turns it into quite the game of chase. Whilst this is undoubtedly fun, and takes me back to 17-year-old me chasing the other riders down on the Regent's Park loop in my youth, I do have my doubts about the effectiveness of this as a training strategy. As a result, next I am going to dive into some more structured sessions and to do so I will have to start with the dreaded ramp test.

I also want to explore the social side of Zwift further with some group meet-ups with riders in the team that I manage. Once I have some hard sessions under my belt I'm planning to try out some virtual racing for the first time. Maybe by the summer I’ll be having too much fun inside to want to de-rig my bike and take it back outside. Or maybe I just need another bike…

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