I’ve been riding bikes nowhere indoors for years. In Michigan, many of us get the same (or more) numbers of miles on a trainer over the course of winter as we do outside during the summer. As the cycling studio I worked at for seven years closed its physical location this month, I found myself searching for a new way to ride bikes and stay (or get?) fit during the winter months without dying of boredom.
After being exceptionally late to the party, I tried Zwift. And it was magical.
Cartoon Bike Riding
A few years back, I saw one of my friends on Strava had done a ride in New York. I found that strange because I had just seen him the evening before on a group ride. I thought it was weird to travel so far the next day without mentioning it to anyone. Over the next week or two, a few more of my friends also went to ride in New York. What the hell was going on?
My brother, finally, explained that, although New York City is a wonderful vacation destination, these riders were in fact riding on Zwift. The platform is ubiquitous now, but at the time, I was wowed that there was this virtual world out there that could allow riders from all over the world to ride together on the same courses, at the same time, and make it pretty realistic.
Having a free membership at a fitness studio, I tended to prefer the social nature of classes than riding with strangers in my basement. But last week, I finally took the plunge and gave Zwift a try on my indoor bike. In an instant, a digital-cartoon world took me to a course, where I hopped into a ride with people from Ireland, Japan, South Africa, and other countries from around the world.
It’s Really Great Fake Bike Riding
If you’ve never tried Zwift, you should give it a go. It takes special versions of a smart trainer that provides resistance to your bicycle as you ride up and down hills on virtual maps alongside hundreds or even thousands of other riders. Think Mario Kart, except you’re the motor.
Taking your height and weight into account, the trainer applies resistance to simulate climbing hills and even takes into account the fictional gradient you’re riding up to make your indoor bike riding as realistic to outdoor riding as possible. Riders can view their speed, wattage, and heart rate (if you have an HR monitor) to ensure they get the exact workout they’re going for.
If you know cyclists, you know that they like to turn everything into a race. As such, there are races and entire race series taking place all day every day that you can participate in. There are also group rides to make things more social; you can send messages to other riders from around the globe as you ride along together – it’s mind-boggling what a social butterfly one can be while riding nowhere in one’s basement.
Winter Riding Changed Forever
It may come across as hyperbolic, but I’m pretty sure Zwift is going to change my off-season riding completely. Especially now that I can’t take classes at a studio, getting a real workout in the off-season was looking to be a real challenge. Simply put, I don’t have the ilk necessary to push myself into the red when I’m riding along. Never have.
But on Zwift, there are riders everywhere to try to keep up with, races to try, and even planned workouts to choose from to increase your FTP and get ready for the outdoor season. If you’re on the fence, I totally recommend giving Zwift a try. Sure, the trainers aren’t cheap. But if you’re in Michigan, you have about eight solid months of indoor trainer time – if you can swing it, a smart trainer and a Zwift subscription are totally worth the investment in your health and fitness.
If you want to dip our toe into Zwift, check out Zwift Insider. A few friends told me about it when I first started Zwifting and I found some of the information incredibly helpful as I tried to understand the platform in more detail.