Zwift Beta program. Virtual Training for the masses

I noticed a fellow TCR rider apparently getting in some miles on a mystery Island in the Pacific.
Jarvis Island
It was labelled Zwift Island; Who…What…. well this video shows what seems a pretty good idea SWIFT group ride – It started in October 2014 with a few invitations for people to try. An online cycling world which is akin to a computer game but for shoot-em up reflexes substitute cycling fitness. You require an Ant+ Dongle to grab data from a Power meter or a suitable Turbo trainer and a speed sensor.

Rides can be loaded to Strava as it simulates the GPS coordinates of a ride in a real place, Jarvis island. It’s in the Pacific, I guess that shouldn’t upset anyone by stealing real KOM’s then, but it does allow the option for turbo miles to count towards Strava challenges.

There are a heap of duplicate segments set up as is normal for popular Strava areas, but the interesting difference is that every rider has power data for a “true” comparison, providing they don’t cheat. Checking the 1 mile climb segment there are over 2000 separate riders on there already and a Zwift group, I needed to be part of this to help recovery from my breakages.


The whole Zwift thing is running in Beta testing at the moment, initially free to iron out the bugs before they start charging a monthly fee. I applied for a go, and must have ticked the right boxes on the application as I received an entry the next day.

Initial Screen
An example of how you can look on screen, good graphics

After a simple download the program runs and checks for Ant+ devices. An Ant+ receiver is required, which is a tiny USB plug in device for your P.C. I got one from Wiggle easily. If you have a power reading device that displays on your Garmin, you are ready to go. If I was looking for one to buy it would be the Stages crank arm. Initially you’re greeted with a customization screen, from the beginning you have very few choices. Like gaming you can unlock modifications with achievements.

I discovered you do have an option to just view Zwift in action. Right now sat on the sofa I can start up the program, when it tries to find devices just hit the Esc key and it fires up. This is great for just having a look around and maybe even check out if any of your friends are out “riding right now”
front view street (2)
Once started  it shows you on the island stationary at the side of the road. You can select a rider and then watch what they are doing without having a go yourself. Above I noticed a guy who has been on there for 5 hours going for a century ride no doubt.

Initially in the Beta Zwift Island course, it’s a 3 mile (5km) test loop. leader boards and jerseys for lap time (orange), a sprint (green of course) and a modest climb of a few hundred feet, (polka dot). Due to the worldwide appeal there have been at least 30 to 60 riders on the island every time I’ve checked but to make sure you have some company out there, they have added over 100 Zwift virtual riders (AI’s), so you’ll never ride alone.

watching a rider - pete
Leader boards

The leader boards are quite cool as they are only populated by the riders on-line at that time. Above you can see the times for the jerseys. Top left is the live data from your trainer devices, while central is “simulated speed” with distance and time metrics. On the right are the current live riders, their position relative to you, their current power/kg readings and laps done. Top right shows your current course position in zoom and full course view.

As the program cannot vary the resistance of your trainer it works out what speed you would be doing for your weight determined by your power reading. So initially this is open for abuse if people lie about their weight to gain an advantage. 4 Watts per Kg is a serious pro power figure so you could spot a rider putting out that constantly be suspicious, 7w/Kg now your joking buddy.
unlock speed 40mph
This is me actually riding, well struggling to ride one legged due to my bust Hip I have only 1 pedal fitted on the trainer with a Power tap wheel for the data. So here 73 watts is getting me 31MPH on a downhill of 3.2% grade. Oh and look a speed achievement. Here I hit the computer space bar and got a speed boost for about 30 seconds.
me ride2
Here it’s a different story, my 53 Watts (hurting at a one leg 45rpm) shows me at 5mph struggling up the 3% climb, whilst that Spanish rider has just flown past. Notice the sky here, the graphics change with weather and time, this is just after sun rise and the shadows are long.
me ride to tree gap
The Island graphics have lots of little quirks, here the route goes through a tree. Big shadows again and that’s one of the ghost riders just ahead who appear in a transparent blue. The bottom Icon shows that American K.Mepham is catching me, I could respond and jump on his tail….well one day soon.

me start climb time
Game on – it’s spotty jumper time

When a timed segment starts this display appears showing your elapsed time against the current on track jersey holder. Here it’s one of the 3 machines they had set up at the London bike show, its cool to think who is watching you while you play on here.
me start climb time3

No surprise I was a complete one legged donkey, here at 100m to go its telling me I’m 168th. Its pretty cool that it drops down the leader board live while you ride. look even a bit of a final push at 87 watts.
me start climb time_finish line
You can’t miss the finish banner as it levels out for the final KOM sprint.
me start climb thats how slow
And the final results are in and it would have been a complete surprise if it was anything but last. That’s one of the ghost riders close up as it passes.
me sprint not last
Here’s the very short under 10 second green jersey sprint, and I wasn’t last. I never got a full lap in but I expect the same countdown procedure would be in use. You can ease up and it pauses, so no problem grabbing a brew mid ride then. When you decide your ride is finished it can be saved as a fit file and even uploaded  direct to Strava.

phoneApp
One cool extra is that there is an App that you can add to your phone.  This allows you to check who is riding at any time of day so you could look out for mates to ride with. Whilst your riding two extra screens appear one which shows your ride metrics just like most ride apps, the other as shown.

This gives you a remote control over your rider avatar, and adds a few comments or a bell noise for fun. I tried it on an Android tablet and it worked perfectly.

The group text is great. It puts a text bubble up next to your rider name in the list on the right of the screen so all the riders around you see the message while they are close to you. It was fun trying to get a response from the riders who were playing at the London bike show. I might go and have another go tomorrow to see if I can get some funny responses.

The switch view allows you to see your rider from multiple angles, and even a helicopter shot, while the snapshot captures the screenshots that I’ve used here.

I think this will be huge in the future, providing it doesn’t crash when it becomes popular. It will be interesting to see what the ride area looks like when it goes fully live. It would be great if they can develop a direction function so you can decide which loops to ride.
Already as I write this there is a mass ride organised for Valentines day at 7am. Zwift have noticed this and via a Facebook announcement are offering customisation of riders Avatar jersey to those who complete a century ride. In the future I can see mass organised on-line events or races. Eventually there will be a monthly subscription to use this software, so in future they could offer say a free years subscription as a prize.


More details can be found at the support HUB inc island facts and Forum

Some Keyboard shortcuts I found.

  • [u] toggles units
  • [0-9] Different camera angles… very cool! I esp like #7, I believe – the spectator view from about 50m ahead as you fly by
  • [T] for changing gear/setup on the fly.
    Click on any rider’s name (right panel) to see their view, including their wattage /cadence. Very interesting!!!
  • [8] Whilst stationary use to launch the helicopter for an island flyby, then [7] to return.
  •  [F10]  takes a screen shot compete with flash and sound FX (snaps are saved in /Pictures/Zwift)
  • [m] Group message using the keyboard (messages are limited to 140 characters and disappear after 10 sec)

[SPACEBAR]  Grabs PowerUps which are supposed to have no effect on leader boards bizarrely.


I took quite a few screen grabs using the helicopter function, it looks quite a cool location for a ride and the graphics blow the old I-magic simulator off the page. Click the thumbnails for a full view.
rear low viewside viewmountains and sunrisebay and snow2015-02-13_16421318rock corner sunsetbay night snowcap peaksblimp over coastchecking out rider

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