This article is produced in association with Zwift
So your friends have convinced you: you’ve signed up for Zwift and are about to enter the virtual world of training gains, online races and most importantly, the social hub of group rides .
You’ve probably heard all about group rides, those where hundreds of strangers come together to ride one of Zwift’s online maps, or where clubs get together for a private ride.
Many thousands of Zwifters have developed new connections, rekindled old friendships and grown closer with existing ride buddies thanks to Zwift, and a common reason is that users tend to join the same ride on a regular basis, which which allows them to frequently see the same familiar faces. and avatars
Starting a group ride on Zwift couldn’t be easier, and in no time you’ll be regularly heading to your spare room or garage, gearing up, logging into Zwift, and participating in the myriad of daily group rides .
Richard Rollinson has been a cycling coach for 15 years and trains athletes all over the world. “The benefits of group riding are huge, especially because you get that mental stimulation of riding with other people,” he says. “For work and family reasons, some people can’t go out on longer weekend rides, but Zwift’s group rides provide that social element that’s really important.”
So how is it done? There are a variety of ways. Thanks to the hundreds and hundreds of daily group rides, head over to the Zwift calendar to see what’s up when there are so many random rides you can join, and within seconds you’ll be riding with people from far different corners of the world
Alternatively, as soon as the game loads and all devices have successfully paired, the game screen will give you the option to “join another Zwifter”. By clicking on it, you can see which of your friends (you need to connect with them first) are online and which are participating in social events.
Then just click to ride alongside them, and as long as you join within 30 minutes of the group ride starting, you’ll be practically parachuted straight into the action and your digital version of yourself will be seen pedaling away next to your friends
For something more casual, you can join random rides thanks to the ‘Ride With’ option, where there are various pace and difficulty options. But for many, riding Zwift means riding with a friend, even if they live on the opposite side of the world, or just in a different part of the country. Whereas before you might have assumed your travel days together were limited or over, thanks to Zwift you can connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time of day.
Congregate to motivate
Rollinson has noticed how many of his athletes will focus on group riding to better align with their training goals. “If riders are focusing on crit races or a Gran Fondo, they’ll practice group rides on Zwift as it correlates to their upcoming events,” he says.
Virtual social rides can be a great way to bond with other cyclists and keep you motivated (Credit: Zwift)
Chatting while riding builds bonds. “Everyone is motivated differently,” says Rollinson. “Personally, I enjoy the occasional social group ride, but some riders I train live for social outings and put their energy into group riding and making friends.”
But a note on any group rides you join: be prepared to start pedaling right away, because as soon as your avatar goes off, you’re out; there’s no such thing as latching onto the pedals and smoothing away!
“If I have an athlete who uses group rides to train, I always start them with a high-intensity warm-up, because the start of group rides is like the start of a cyclocross race,” explains Rollinson. “I want the athlete to be ready for intense efforts at the beginning, before they adjust to the rhythm.”
That said, the intensity of the walks can be as hard as you want them to be. In fact, there’s even the option on private group rides to keep everyone together, meaning regardless of each rider’s power and effort, each avatar stays in the same group. It’s a great tool that’s useful for groups of different abilities, but it mostly emphasizes socialization.
Meetings without problems
Creating a private trip is called a Meetup and allows selected clubs or groups to organize trips for up to 100 chosen people. Setup via Zwift Companion, a mobile app that sits between an event planner and a Zwift head unit. Rides can take place in a variety of virtual locations, from the World Championship courses in Innsbruck and Yorkshire, to the famous streets of London and New York.
The Companion app also enables on-the-go discussion via mobile voice-to-text and text messages. Better yet, many cyclists often create a joint video call on Discord, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger and chat freely while riding, just as they would on any other social ride.
No mud, all the glory: Going indoors can be just as rewarding as regular group rides without the grime of winter (Credit: Alessandra Bucci)
This also extends to riding with pros – it’s a dream of many, if not all, to ride alongside a Tour de France rider, but rarely do any of us mere mortals get the chance. It’s not uncommon, however, for pros and teams to create open events that allow us to virtually walk the same route as a pro, while chatting with them at the same time.
The beauty of these Zwift group rides is that you get the same benefits of a typical ride with a friend or group of clubmates, but without the hassle of getting ready, cleaning your bike or dealing with weather conditions adverse You can ride, chat, shower and eat after the ride faster than if you head to the lanes or hills.
In a world where many couples now meet for the first time through dating apps, and even more people join events through social apps, the idea of making bike friends through a virtual platform is not so strange as it would have seemed before.
Cover image by Alessandra Bucci