Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review! Zwift Beta

I've been playing Zwift for a good couple of months so far, enough that I feel I can put into words some thoughts about it at least, and so I shall.

Big Wheelin' on April Fool's Day

Zwift, while not the first stab at mixing "gaming" with cycling, is already most likely the most successful, owing a lot of that to the ease and range of equipment you can use to get it up and running, but the supported Facebook groups and consistent patches (which are good at fixing the errors that come with all beta's) along with Zwifts successful marketing campaigns do a lot to solidify it. Heck, I even saw Zwift in a video game sites review. So, let's dive into the basics.

What you need

Currently Zwift is open beta. That means you don't need a magic ticket to ride, just sign up and you're in. You do have to supply yourself with all the hardware though.

First, you're going to need a mediocre computer, and both windows and mac are currently supported. I built a ~$500 computer just to play Zwift, but I think I could have spent closer to $300 and still had a totally capable machine. Of course if you want to play on max settings you may need to dig deeper, but I'd guess most even modest machines from the last couple of years shouldn't be too taxed by Zwift.

Then, you're going to need a trainer. Again, you can go from modest to extravagant depending on exactly what you are wanting out of your "experience." Humble "dumb" trainers (like my KK Road Machine) don't have any frills with Zwift, whereas the higher end joints like a Wahoo or Computrainer will link up and automatically adjust to the landscape you see on screen, making it a bit more encompassing than just riding to a screen of hills.

Next, you'll need a way to get your pedaling info to the computer, so an ANT+ stick is required. I used the one from my 310xt, but they can be had on Amazon for a pretty cheap price if you don't have one laying around. Besides that, you'll need something to transmit from your bike. In an ideal world that would be a power meter, but Zwift also has "Zpower" in which you use a cadence sensor and adjust your trainer to get an estimated power output while you ride.

With that, download the program, create your avatar and you're ready to ride.

some easy character customization
So, with that out of the way, let's talk about the good, the bad and the ugly.

The best (and simplest) thing about Zwift, bar none, is that it gives you something to do while on the trainer. While I have always done a lot of my bike training inside, even I have my limits of staring at the wall. With Zwift, you always have a ride to join in on, considering somebody (or the bots) are around your pace. It's not the same as a group ride out under the sun, but just the thought that somebody else is on there hurting gives me solace to ride on.

There's also the motivational part of it... the "zwift effect" as it were. With a sprint point, a pretty good KoM and a "fastest lap" all with their own respective virtual jersey's (each giving you one chance per lap to foil the current top dog) it's easy to get caught up in the "racing game." You also have plenty of official and non-official special events, chances to ride with pro's (Jensie pops up now and again, though for the most part only for the big events these days) and player hosted events (Tuesday Night Worlds and the Weekend Social Ride being some of the more popular) going on pretty much all week long.  Beyond that, like any good online multiplayer game, there are unlockables for certain achievements (mainly leveling up, but also from other situations that occur, hitting X watts, etc) that are sure to keep you chomping at the bit.

Gaining new jerseys, bikes and wheels with different achievements keeps things fresh

The bad news is pretty slight for a (currently) free inside riding program. At some point beyond beta it will cost money to play, but we have no idea what the configuration of the game will be at that time. There are some minor gripes, probably my biggest one being with the A.I. riders. They seemingly have no rhyme or reason to what pace they are doing. One minute that will be chugging along at 2w/kg, then all of a sudden speed away at breakneck pace. It would be nice if in the future at least certain non-players kept a steady'ish output per lap so you could do pacing with a little more "company." Other problems are mainly what you'd expect from any "beta" game... there is some clipping, some riders seemingly riding off into nowhere and other odd bugs... the mobile app has crashed a few times on me, not connected other times and a few times even started telling me I had no "power up" even though I did... no amount of resetting the app would fix it. (Which isn't a big deal, but sometimes you want to clear out your current power up so you have a chance at the XP ups)

The ugly boils down to two things for me... the aforementioned "zwift effect" can be a good thing for sure, but it can also easily lead cyclists down the road of "too hard on the easy days too easy on the hard days." It's tough (I know) to see somebody pull out in front of you on the climb and take off and NOT respond at all... the one that kills me is always the sprint. The first one comes up about 15' into my warmup and it is usually begging me to try for it :)

"Zwift Effect" in action... hoping to steal the Green Jersey from Nick.
The other gripe (that I share with everyone it seems) is some of the unrealistic setups. It's disheartening to log on and see that somebody has done the climb in under a minute and a half, the sprint in 18 seconds and the lap in 12 minutes. (If you don't play those numbers probably don't mean anything haha) Zpower is still not an exact science, and it's easy to "trainer dope" by not having sufficient tension on your trainer. I feel most people (especially without power meters) just don't understand what it really takes to ride at 5-6w/kg for lap after lap while throwing in 1k+w sprints and climbs into the mix... and of course I'm sure there are some people who do it just to try for a strava record, but whatever. Fortunately, this is more of an eye roll than a true concern, but it's still something I'd like to see a solution to in the future.

So, I give Zwift the big thumbs up. It's fun, engaging and social... all things that might make your trip to the drainer a little more interesting.

Also, congratulations to Jimmy, who won the Cat4 TN TT championship race, and to Matt (Cat5 Winner) I wish I had been there to battle with them, but patience is still required. Next Year.

Large and in charge
Thanks so much for reading, I really appreciate it, and #GoZwift

-Christopher Morelock

No comments:

Post a Comment