What Zwift is, how it works, and what equipment you need

Group workouts combine the social elements of Zwift with the specific training of individual workouts

What is Zwift?

Zwift is an interactive training game where your pedaling on a trainer drives your avatar around a course. The harder you pedal, the faster you go.

You can ride with thousands of other riders inside Zwift. You can join group rides and races — and even get a draft from other riders — or just join the game and jump on with other riders when you want to. You can also do structured power-based workouts.

Zwift has three general areas — replicas of the London Prudential and the Richmond UCI 2015 worlds courses, plus the fantasy Watopia island — and within each of those you can navigate the roads as you go.

Group rides usually have leaders who orchestrate the pace and strategy of the event

How does Zwift work?

Zwift takes the input from your bike — either a power meter, a smart trainer or just a speed/cadence sensor using ANT+ or Bluetooth — and uses that to drive the game. There is a fairly complicated algorithm that translates your data into your avatar’s speed on the virtual course, taking into account your weight, your power or calculated power, the road gradient and the draft or lack thereof from other riders.

You can play the game on a computer (PC or Mac), an iPhone, an iPad or an Android smartphone. Zwift is now also compatible with AppleTV.

Zwift looks for ANT+ and Bluetooth devices when you first connect

What equipment do you need to use Zwift?

You need four things:

  • Your bike!
  • A trainer or a set of rollers
  • An ANT+ or Bluetooth measurement tool: a power meter, a speed/cadence sensor or a smart trainer
  • A computer, smartphone or tablet with Bluetooth or ANT+ (or an ANT+ USB dongle)

How do I join Zwift?

First you need to sign up here: http://zwift.com/free-trial/ or, if on a mobile device, download from the App Store or Google Play.

You can subscribe for $14.99 / £12.99 a month or sign up for the free seven-day trial.

If you download to a computer, you can also download the free Mobile Link companion app, which lets you do things like instant message while riding (without fumbling with or sweating on your computer), join events, give kudos, navigate turns and more.

Then how do I start?

First you need to follow the prompts to pair your devices. This just requires a couple of clicks. Then, you pick where you want to ride, and just start pedaling.

At any point, you can set up your preferences, from how your avatar looks to the speed of the graphics, by accessing the menu.

Zwift recently added a little squirrel that pops up with some helpful tips when you start.

When you login, you can choose the type and route for your ride, whether to join an event, or who to start riding next to

How do I join a Zwift group ride or race?

When you log in to Zwift, you’ll see a list of upcoming rides and races on the upper-right of the Mac/PC screen. On the Mobile Link app, you can see a more detailed list with descriptions, times and more information. You can also go to http://zwift.com/events/ for a full list.

To join, just click the ride. On most rides and races, you can self-select the level, from A to E.

If you are not yet riding, you can receive a reminder. If you are already riding and an event is starting soon, you can join, and when the start time gets close, your avatar will be transported to the start line, where you can warm up on a virtual trainer while waiting to start.

In the start corral, you can see the other riders who will be doing the event, and your instant message chats will be seen only by others in that group.

Most events have a ride leader who you can follow, and you can read their comments on screen as you go. For mellower rides, the group leader often communicates to keep the group together.

How do I do a Zwift workout?

After you login, click “SELECT WORKOUT” from the Ride Type menu at the top center. From there, you can select your workout. You can do something a la carte when you feel like it, or you can follow one of a number of different training plans based on available time, goals and fitness level. You can also build your own workout with the workout editor.

All of the workouts are power-based, meaning they revolve around the power you produce, measured in watts. If you have a power meter or a power-measuring smart trainer, Zwift just takes this data in real time. If you do not, Zwift will ask you for the type or trainer you are riding, and will combine this information with data from your speed/cadence sensor to approximate your power output.

The key number your workouts revolve around is your Functional Threshold Power, or FTP.

If you don’t know what that means — much less what yours is — don’t worry. Zwift has an FTP test within the Workouts that lets you find out. And if you want to learn about the nerdy specifics, read the link above.

You can do workouts at random, or as part of a plan
You can do workouts at random, or as part of a plan

What is a group workout?

Unlike the workouts detailed above, which you do on your own and at any time, group workouts are run like group rides and races in that they start at fixed times and multiple people join.

Very much unlike the group rides and races, though, group workouts keep everyone together in a group. As long as you are pedaling, you stay in the bunch.

Group workouts keep everyone together in a bunch, regardless of varied power output
Group workouts keep everyone together in a bunch, regardless of varied power output

As with the individual workouts, your efforts are based on your FTP. Normally, since everyone will has different power output and weight, riders would separate. But in group workouts, Zwift tethers everyone together so the end result is like an indoor cycling class: you are all following the same instructions together, but at different individual efforts.

The group chat function works well here, in that the only messages you see (and send) are pertinent to the group.

What does w/kg mean?

W/kg stands for watts per kilo. This metric is a critical driver of the game. It determines how fast you go — especially up hills — just like it does in reality. The basic physics equation here is the work you are doing divided by the weight you are propelling forward.

You’ll see other riders’ performance in the dashboard at the right reporting their w/kg, and most rides and races will have a specified w/kg range.

The important thing is to enter your weight honestly, and then ride enough to understand what sort of watts you can hold for different durations, such as 30sec, 1min, 10min and 20min.

How do I customize my Zwift avatar and bike?

In Zwift you can customize the appearance of your rider and your bike. Head to the preferences section of the menu and you can toggle through a number of choices for how your avatar and bike look.

The more you ride, the more choices you will have. Zwift calls this ‘unlocking’ options, and you’ll see things like Pinarello frames and Zipp wheels pop up.

You can choose your hair color and style, skin tone and more. Make sure to get the BikeRadar kit!
You can choose your hair color and style, skin tone and more. Make sure to get the BikeRadar kit!

To get a BikeRadar kit, press “P” after you sign in and enter the code “BIKERADAR”. Or just navigate to the jersey selection and move the slider over until you find our Sportful kit.

How do I chat in Zwift?

When using a computer, press ‘M’ and then just start typing. Your messages will be seen by riders near you.

When using the Mobile Link app, you can use the Group Text button to chat with riders in your same group or race. You can also hit the chat box next to an individual rider to send a private message.

The easiest is probably using the talk-to-text function on an Android or iOS device. To do this, hit the mic icon after you have brought up the message box.

Messaging on the mobile companion app is easy, especially if you use talk to text
Messaging on the mobile companion app is easy, especially if you use talk to text

Can I choose which course I ride?

Yes and no. Zwift determines which of the three main courses is live on any given day, and you can see that schedule on the bottom right when you log in. From there, you can choose which sub routes to follow — click the blue drop-down menu next to ROUTE — or just hit the orange RIDE and then hit the arrow keys to choose direction at each turn.

Even after you pick a route, which Zwift details by length and elevation gain, you can change direction whenever you come to a junction.

You can turn around at any point and ride the other way, unless you are doing a workout.

How do I watch other riders in Zwift?

When you are riding yourself or just watching, you can click any of the names in the dashboard at the right and watch another rider.

Click the ‘Ride On’ icon at the center of your screen while watching them, and they’ll see the thumbs-up icon drop down on their screen. Go ahead, give someone else a Ride On.

You can also watch other rides when you are not riding with the Mobile Link app.

Can I report riders for bad behavior?

On the whole, Zwift is quite civil. For starters, it is impossible to crash or be crashed by someone inside the videogame. If you feel like someone is acting inappropriately, you can flag them with the mobile companion app.

You can flag other riders for foul language, harassment or suspicious power output. This last category Zwift has set as ‘flier’ – basically meaning if you see someone flying past you at a sustained 8+w/kg, then something is up.

Zwift has power profiles for world-class performances for various durations. So if a rider gets flagged, and Zwift looks at their file and sees they are indeed producing phenomenal power, then the rider will receive a message along the lines of ‘hey, you should be pro!’, with a recommendation to check their settings and a notification that their ride is invisible to other riders. That rider will still be able to complete their ride and see other people in the game, but they will just be invisible to others.

Two things can cause supernatural power in Zwift: inaccurately entering weight (and thus altering that w/kg figure) or having a trainer improperly set up. Zwift hopes that in most cases these situations are unintentional.

Does Zwift have more information?

It sure does, by the truckload.

Zwift’s rider’s guide is herea list of general information topics is here, and a long list of technical issue answers is here.

If Facebook is your thing, there are a number of Facebook Zwift groups: Zwift Ladies, Zwift Coders, Zwift UK, Zwift Over 50’s… etc., etc. Check out the list of Facebook groups on Zwift’s blog.

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