Zwift – Closing the Gap

I admit, I am a passionate ‘Zwifter‘.

I spend a tremendous amount of time with Zwift. The reason is, riding there helps me a lot to survive the cold, dark and wet season in my home country, where winter often feels like a semiannual season.

ZWIFT?

So, what’s Zwift? Here’s a quick explanation (found on cyclingtips.com – content sponsored by Zwift):

“Zwift is an online multiplayer training tool and game, which allows users to ride on a series of courses against other riders from all around the world. It transcends the dull reputation of training indoors, and has been at the forefront of gamifying and bringing social interaction to this previously loathed activity. It’s clearly struck a chord with its target audience – the platform’s popularity has rapidly grown, and hundreds of thousands of active account users are now regularly logging on to ride on Zwift.

Zwift – Close the Gap

Within the Zwift experience, users can choose the appearance, kit and bike of their avatar. There are five virtual worlds –Richmond, Virginia; London CBD (with a detour to the climb of Box Hill); Innsbruck, Austria; New York City; and a fictional, steadily growing island called Watopia. The courses can be run both clockwise and anti-clockwise, and Zwift serves up the different courses on a rotating roster.”

Hi! That’s my virtual me – Zwift name is Christian Chrome

In the beginning of Zwift, the roads have been populated with computer-driven ‘ghost’ riders; blue translucent avatars, if I remind correctly. I guess they have been invented to animate the wide and empty roads in order to avoid a feeling of loneliness – a concept completely contrary to the Solitude Seekers idea 😉 Well, down to the present days those ‘ghosts’ have entirely disappeared, as the platform became popular and more and more ‘real’ riders logged in. Although I read some posts about the ghosts’ reappearing, some guys have spotted them again in the wild; I personally haven’t seen them for years.

Nowadays Zwift constantly offers events like races, group rides, and multiple day tours, but training plans and workouts too. You can assign yourself to an event in the event schedule and set according reminders. Some of the events are really massive; there are so many riders joining, that the Zwift servers go down or get to the limits at least. Then you can witness interesting effects, like riding in a bunch of ownerless bikes without riders riding them; or riders going around in circles, right through the group of racers, etc. As said, Zwift’s popularity has grown hugely in the last years.

Zwift event in London

EVENTS

I think Zwift became popular because of all the community aspects and the option to lock horns with other riders from all around the globe. It can be quite addictive (and demanding) to join races and get into competition with others; more than once the training mat under my trainer bike was swamped with sweat, because my heart had worked in the anaerobic zone for quite a while, without me paying much attention to it…

When you join an event, you usually log in some time before the actual event takes place. You then spawn behind the starting line in between a bunch of other attendees who have logged in a bit earlier. At this point all the avatars’ bikes are attached to virtual trainers in order to give the attendees the opportunity to run a warm-up until the race starts.

Ready, steady,…

You find a comment window on your screen and the etiquette requires you to politely say ‘Hi’ to the others. Usually I say something like ‘Good afternoon from cold and wet Berlin’, or something like that. After that, I shut up. Other riders start some real chatting. Reading their posts is fun in the beginning; between the lines you can read their individual level of tension. It gives you somehow a close-to-reality feeling of a race; like waiting in the starting block of a real race and listening to all the guys around you cracking nervous jokes.

After a while, the comments are getting annoying and I hit the settings to hide the group chat. When the event starts, you run off in a bunch of bodies, bikes and dust. Many event attendees go off like hell, like raging bulls when the gate opens; no matter if it is a social group ride or a race, no matter if a ranking is provided or not. In case you are not like me and let the group chat entertain you until the event started, you will notice that the amount of comments is decreasing rapidly now.

Lost in the crowd.

In bigger events, when all the riders are wearing the same kit, it is quite difficult to find yourself in the group of others, especially in the beginning. Later, when the group gets more stretched, it becomes easier to get an overview, and usually you find yourself in a much smaller group of riders running with a similar pace and wattage. Now people tend to continue with their chat posts again. I really wonder how they are doing it. My circulatory is close to collapse, while others can continue to post jokes.

Anyways, this is events. I guess I don’t need to mention that I’m not really into it.

WORKOUTS

Workouts is much closer to my personality. In workout mode your avatar is showing visually that you are doing your own thing. In front of your handlebars is a big screen displayed, that’s notifying others that you are in your own world, in a do-not-disturb mode. You could also say it’s no screen, it’s rather a shield.

In workout mode (some years ago, when my hair was way shorter 🙂 ).
The guy in the back is John Cleese, practicing for the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ sketch.

You can choose from many workouts within Zwift. All those workouts are individually adjusted to your personal FTP. The general idea is about riding intervals:
★ Warm-up
★ All out
★ Recovery
★ All out
★ Recovery
etc.
★ Cool down
My favorite session is SST (Sweet Spot Training) short and medium, because in that workout you run slightly below your FTP, but in return for a relatively long duration.

JUST RIDE

What makes Zwift really big to me is the opportunity to Just Ride. I don’t know, but to just stroll around is what I enjoy the most, to explore the different worlds, to conquer the ‘Alpe du Zwift’ climb, or ‘fly’ over Central Park on glass roads. I can easily sink and get lost in virtual worlds. I enjoy the many small details hidden in the different worlds and courses. Butterflies, birds, trains, etc. Compared to the old worlds like Richmond, the new worlds like NYC or the new Watopia ‘Fuego Flats’ desert course are much richer in their level of detail. More detailed textures, more different objects (e.g. different trees), more sounds, better lights, etc.

Strolling Central Park, NYC
(screenshot with heavy editing 🙂 )

From my point of view the textures and objects are still a bit exaggerated; colors are much too saturated and bright with a much too high contrast, sizing of some objects is sometimes ridiculous (e.g. wooden planks, or some fish under the sea) and the variety of objects could be even better. It is too easy to identify patterns in grass, woods or rocks.

Me riding the Jungle Circuit- all out 🙂
Huge wooden planks on the suspension bridge.

Light is too harsh and shadows are much too blockish, light reflections are too simple and unreal. I would love to get a job at Zwift to be responsible for the ‘Closeness to Reality’. Hey Zwift, give me a call if you are interested 🙂 But there’s hope. For example, a year ago or so, the old cartoonish moon graphic was replaced by a realistic graphic, and different moon phases have been implemented too.

A new moon rising over Watopia.

As a Solitude Seeker (with heart and soul) I really miss one specific option. Similar to ‘Hide group chat’ I would love to have the ‘Hide other riders’ option. In the earlier days of Zwift I was playing (or should I say ‘messing’) around with the world tag. One can adjust the world Zwift starts with on log on, by simply changing the world tag in the prefs.xml file (it’s very similar to an HTML tag). To ride Watopia, add: <WORLD>1</WORLD>; to ride Richmond, add: <WORLD>2</WORLD>; to ride London, add: <WORLD>3</WORLD>; etc.  Not many people did it at those days. The result was that I had an entire world for almost myself. Another result was that I managed to destroy the Zwift app more than once by messing around with the different options in the prefs file, and therefore had to delete and reinstall the app quite regularly. But hey, it was definitely worth it.

‘Stroll Mode’ – enjoying the silence

Now there’s a tool for doing exactly that, called ‘Zwift-Preferences’. I haven’t tried it myself, but read about it. Jesper Nielson from Denmark created several scripts to help people to ride whatever course at whatever time they want to. Besides the maps adjustments there are other options that can be changed too, e.g. set a trainer difficulty effect, toggle Neo road feel, etc.

For me it is enough, that a while ago Zwift made Watopia available permanently. When I’m in the ‘stroll mood’, I go there and pick a random course or choose the ‘Surprise me’ option, and start spinning. On any junction, I decide spontaneously which direction I go. On the on-screen map I see the other riders nearby and often I base my decision on the amount of riders on my route. If there are too many, I likely decide to turn left or right 🙂

The only way is up! Climb or die.

Like on real rides, I love to take photos on my Zwift rides too. There is a screenshot button in the menu of the Zwift companion app, an app that runs on iOS and Android and works as a remote to control Zwift out of the saddle. After the ride, I put some effort in editing my Zwift photos in order to add some natural feel to it. I dim colors, reduce saturation and contrast, add fog and dust, rain or sunrays, and sometimes even other objects. My preferred apps for that purpose are Pixlr, Lens Distortion and Mirror Lab.

It’s monsoon season in the Jungle.
Climbing up to the moon.
All out by the falls.

The cycling industry is massively jumping on the fast running VR-ride train, developing more and more sophisticated equipment for virtual rides, e.g. trainers mimicking the virtual road condition; front fork stands, that go up and down to simulate the virtual terrain; fans that increase or reduce the air stream based on the rider’s velocity, etc.

Quite the same suspension bridge photo from above, after editing.

All this is happening right now. In addition, a few month ago I read that investors spent a lot of money on Zwift. So let’s see what the future will bring.

But man, I really hope that Zwift is closing the gap and in a few years from now, I can simply put my cycling shades on (replacing today’s screens) and pedal into a realistic Zwift world. And like GTA 5 or Rage 2 today, I hope Zwift is going to be an endless open world by then.

Christian Chrome
SSCC

Some race around the volcano.

4 thoughts on “Zwift – Closing the Gap

    1. I simply crop the images in my smartphone’s photo app 😃 It would be great if Zwift would offer an option to hide all data while taking screenshots, including rider name tags, close the gap notifications, ranking lists, etc. Until then I guess cropping is the only way.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. @tempocyclist.com Yes, I remember this. Since I stopped using my laptop for Zwift and moved to AppleTV 4K I use the Zwift Companion app to do screenshots. Those are stored as a single copy only (including all data) in the photo app of my smartphone. Now that you mentioned it, I’m curious to find out if I get two different copies when doing a screenshot with my laptop again.

    Like

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