This article was produced in association with Zwift
There was a time when the idea of playing a video game alone at home would have negative connotations: the user would run the risk of being labeled as boring, lonely and a waste of time.
The evolution of indoor cycle training, however, is anything but those three adjectives. Now, spending hours staring at a digital avatar on a screen while simultaneously pedaling an exercise bike is considered an essential training tool for hundreds of thousands of cyclists, and is also an important part of the social lives and racing calendars of many people
“In the beginning it would take an effort to get people to use Zwift. Now it’s the other way around – it’s often difficult to get them to go outdoors,” says international cycling coach Richard Rollinson, referring to plans by ‘training, the social elements and the races offered by the market leader Zwift.
Today, cycling clubs have been created specifically for Zwift meets and races, while entire communities have sprung up from the online platform. They include, but are not limited to, the growing number of virtual racing leagues that have originated from the platform since its launch in 2014; there’s even the Zwift Games starting in February, giving you the chance to compete with or against the world’s best.
It’s not uncommon these days for amateur athletes to run multiple days a week, thanks to the large number of individual races and leagues the platform offers. “Zwift is simply entertainment on the turbo trainer,” says Gavin Dempster, one of the platform’s top riders. “It allows you to stay on the trainer longer, it gives you a lot of motivation and you get the same buzz as being on an outdoor race or a social ride. I’m as social on Zwift as I would be on a ride in the lanes with friends.”
Running can add another dimension to your training (Credit: Zwift)
For some, Zwift offers a competitive outlet when traditional routes are no longer possible. “I now have a few athletes whose primary goals are Zwift racing, particularly the Zwift Racing League series,” adds Rollinson. “I have a rider who finds it hard to travel all the time because he has a business, so from 2021 he just runs on Zwift and gets the same if not more out of it.”
The quality of the racing fields is getting deeper and stronger, with more people realizing the benefits – and occasionally prize money – to be had from indoor racing. It’s no surprise that there’s even talk of the Olympics adding e-racing to its portfolio in due course.
Support for a strong community
During the Covid-19 years, the popularity of indoor cycling exploded and many cycling communities moved online to continue their activities. The fact that most maintain a significant presence is testament to the routines people developed, getting used to riding from the comfort of their homes and still feeling part of a shared collective and group of friends .
They know, for example, that every Tuesday and Sunday evening they do the same group ride with the same familiar faces, while the recurring Thursday night TT gives them a fun and enjoyable competition to work with, with lots of banter and banter then with other competing runners. Again, it’s this community spirit that keeps people engaged and dedicated (encouraging each other via a virtual Ride On, a compliment-like notification on Strava, also helps).
Holding the same events throughout the year can forge a strong community Alessandra Bucci
Rollinson says again, “Sometimes people ask me if you get more physically out of a group ride outdoors than indoors, and I always say it really depends on the person. On Zwift, you can target things deliberately easier and perfect for managing more variables. You can definitely gain as much from Zwift, physically, mentally and socially, as you can from any road trip.”
There’s no doubt that Zwift is a phenomenal training tool no matter the month, and any cyclist who invests energy into the platform will become a stronger and faster cyclist. But for its million-plus subscribers, Zwift acts as much a social and racing platform, fueled by its strong communities, as it does a training platform. And it’s easy to see why.