What is Zwift? A Beginner’s Guide to the Online Training & Racing Platform

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Cycling has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years with the rise of online cycling games and training programs, which have revolutionized how cyclists ride, train, and connect with others. At the forefront of this cycling revolution is Zwift.

So, what is Zwift? Zwift is an interactive online cycling platform that enables users to ride, train and compete from the comfort of their own homes. While other platforms exist, Zwift is by far the most popular. Its breathtaking virtual landscapes, structured workouts, and gamified elements make it the ultimate destination for cyclists of all levels seeking a fun yet challenging online riding experience. 

However, navigating Zwift’s vast virtual world can be overwhelming, especially for those new to cycling or riding online. If that’s the case, fear not! This guide provides everything you need to know to get set up and Zwifting in no time.

What is Zwift?

Zwift allows you to ride different courses and explore virtual worlds while riding from the comfort of your own home. Zwift

Zwift is an interactive online training and racing platform. It was designed to relieve the boredom and monotony that often comes with riding indoors. Zwift allows cyclists to connect and ride with other riders from around the world, offering a variety of worlds and courses to explore.

Beyond its immersive cycling experience, Zwift incorporates gamification elements such as PowerUps and virtual jerseys. These encourage riders to push harder and ride longer, thus improving fitness and performance along the way.

Zwift also offers a range of training plans developed by professional coaches. These workouts cater to riders of all skill levels, allowing them to track their progress and see their fitness gains over time.

If you’re itching to put all that training to the test, you can even sign up for a virtual race. Zwift offers a variety of races, from short sprints to longer endurance events. All of which allow you to see how you stack up against riders from all over the world.

For those who enjoy the social aspect of cycling, Zwift offers the opportunity to join group rides or create your own. You can even chat with your fellow riders, making it a great way to stay connected with your cycling community even when you can’t ride outside together.

How Does Zwift Work?

Zwift takes data from your bike as you ride and translates it into a virtual riding experience online. Zwift

Zwift takes data from your bike while riding and uses an algorithm to translate it into a realistic virtual riding experience. It does this by connecting via ANT+ or Bluetooth to a power meter, smart trainer, or a simple speed/cadence sensor. As you ride, it takes into account your weight, power output (or calculated power if you aren’t using a power meter or smart trainer), the road gradient of the world you’re in, and the draft from other riders.

When using a smart trainer, resistance automatically adjusts to match your data in real-time. For example, when you climb hills, the difficulty will increase. As you descend, it decreases. Zwift even detects when you’re drafting another rider and reduces your required power accordingly, giving you a more real-life experience.

If you’re using one of the Zwift training plans, it will adjust the resistance to match the structure of the workout as well. Freeing you from having to constantly monitor and adjust your resistance manually.

What Equipment Do You Need to Use Zwift?

The Wahoo Kickr smart trainer and Quarq power meter shown here are examples of sensors that can transmit data such as power and cycling cadence to Zwift when riding indoors. KMV Media

To use Zwift, you’ll need to have the necessary equipment, which includes:

  • A bike
  • A smart trainer, power meter, or speed/cadence sensor
  • A computer, smartphone, or tablet with Bluetooth or ANT+ receiving capability

When it comes to the type of bike, Zwift typically recommends using a road bike with 700c tires for the best experience. A triathlon, gravel, hybrid, or mountain bike compatible with your trainer will also work. Depending on your bike’s tires, you may need to update your tire size in the settings before starting your ride.

The type of trainer or sensor you choose will ultimately depend on your budget and goals. Although it requires more of an investment, as mentioned in the previous section, a smart trainer is the best option if you want a more immersive and realistic experience. 

On the other hand, if you have a power meter, you can use it with any turbo trainer or even a set of rollers. Zwift will use the data from your power meter to calculate your speed. However, unlike the smart trainer, it won’t adjust the resistance to simulate course features or match the structure of a Zwift training plan.

The most basic option is a speed/cadence sensor. It also allows you to use your bike while attached to a traditional trainer or on rollers. Zwift will then use the data to estimate your power. While not as accurate or realistic as a smart trainer, it’s a much more affordable way to get started on Zwift.
An alternative to the above equipment is a smart bike. These differ from the bikes you find in a gym or spin class. Smart bikes are a recreation of a traditional bike but designed specifically for indoor riding. Some, such as the Wahoo KICKR Bike and Stages SB20, can be used with Zwift. The downside to a smart bike is it can be pricey.

How Do You Get Started On Zwift?

Setting up an account on Zwift, whether online or through the app, is quick and easy. Zwift

You’ll first need to sign up for an account to get started. 

Zwift is available on various devices, including computers (PC or Mac), Android and IOS smartphones and tablets, and even Apple TV. It’s accessible through a monthly subscription with a 14-day free trial. Because Zwift recognizes it might take you a minute to set everything up, it doesn’t start the clock on your free trial until you take your first ride. After your trial, it costs $14.99 per month to continue using Zwift.

To sign up, you can visit the Zwift website on your computer or download the app for iOS or Android on your smartphone or tablet. If you’re using a computer or Apple TV, it’s recommended that you download the Zwift Companion app from the Apple App Store or Google Play as well. 

The Companion app allows you to chat with other racers, control some of your in-game actions, and follow your route on a built-in map. It also allows you to search and sign up for group rides and events.

Once you’re signed up, you need to pair your device with the equipment you’ll use when riding. The equipment should appear on your screen as clickable options. If they don’t, you may need to wake them up before continuing.

To finalize your account setup, you’ll be asked to provide details such as your age, gender, height, and weight. This information is not only used to create your avatar but also used to calculate your speed and watts per kilogram. 

Additionally, you can link Zwift to third-party apps such as Strava, Training Peaks, Garmin Connect, and other fitness tracker applications. This can be done through the Zwift website or the Companion app. In Settings, click Connections, choose your preferred application, and enter your account login details when prompted.

How Do You Customize Your Zwift Avatar and Bike?

A big part of the fun is customizing the look of your avatar and using in-game currency to upgrade your bike and wheels. Zwift

Once your account is set up, it’s time to customize your avatar and bike.

To get started, click the Garage icon next to your profile picture in the upper right-hand corner of the Home Screen. If you want to change your avatar or bike while in the middle of a ride, you’ll need to click the Menu button. This will bring up the Paused window. From there, select the Garage icon on the right-hand side of the screen. Both ways will give you access to your Garage and the Drop Shop.

The Garage is where you can get creative and personalize your avatar to look just like you or to take on characteristics of your alter ego. Customizable items include headgear, glasses, jerseys, gloves, socks, and shoes. You can even customize personal attributes such as skin tone, hair, and facial hair. In the beginning, you won’t have many options to choose from. However, the more you ride, the faster you progress through levels and unlock additional options.

The Drop Shop is where you can redeem in-game credits, or Drops, for virtual gear such as upgraded frames and wheels. Drops can’t be purchased. They can only be earned by cycling in Zwift. The farther you go, the higher you climb, and the more calories you burn, the more Drops you’ll earn. Better frames and wheels require more riding to earn them. The upside is they’re usually lighter and more aerodynamic, which impacts your speed.

Where Can You Ride On Zwift?

In addition to Watopia, the nine different worlds are on a rotating schedule, including this futuristic version of New York. Zwift

Zwift currently has nine different worlds you can ride in addition to its main world, Watopia. These worlds consist of:

  • France
  • Innsbruck
  • London
  • Makuri Islands
  • New York
  • Paris
  • Richmond
  • Scotland
  • Watopia
  • Yorkshire

While the nine worlds are modeled after real locations, the geography of Watopia is loosely based on a pair of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Each world offers a number of different routes, with each varying by distance, elevation, and duration.

The only downside is you can’t access these worlds whenever you want. While Watopia is always available, the other nine worlds are on a rotating schedule and are only featured two at a time. You can view the world schedule for the current month by clicking on the World icon in the upper left-hand corner of the Home Screen, then selecting World Schedule.

There are also two other worlds:

  • Bologna
  • Crit City

However, these worlds aren’t part of the regular rotation. They can only be accessed during events such as races.

What are PowerUps On Zwift?

PowerUps are another one of the gamified elements on Zwift. Zwift

PowerUps are small bonuses you can receive while riding on Zwift. They provide you with one of three benefits: extra experience points (XP), a temporary boost to your avatar’s speed, or making it easier to break away from other riders.

PowerUps are awarded anytime you pass through a course arch (start/finish, end of a KOM, or end of a sprint). You’ll hear the sound of a roulette wheel and see an icon appear in the upper-left corner of your screen. However, you won’t receive a new PowerUp if you have an unused one when passing through an arch.

Here are the nine different PowerUps currently available in Zwift:

  • Large Bonus: Instantly gives you 250 XP points. This is equivalent to riding 12.5 km.
  • Small Bonus: Instantly gives you 10 XP points. This is equivalent to riding .5 km.
  • Feather: Reduces your body weight by 10% for 30 seconds. Use on a steep climb, where weight reduction can help improve speed.
  • Draft Boost: Increases the draft effect you’re experiencing for 40 seconds. Use when already drafting and riding at higher speeds (flats and descents).
  • Aero Boost: Gives you improved aerodynamics for 15 seconds. Although it can be used when drafting, it’s helpful when there isn’t a draft, and you’re riding at higher speeds (flats and descents).
  • Burrito (event only): Prevents other riders from drafting in a cone-shaped area behind you for 20 seconds. You still have the ability to draft as normal. Helpful when trying to break away from a group or to make it harder for riders trying to follow you.
  • Invisibility (event only): Makes you invisible for 15 seconds as long as you’re more than 400m from the finish line. Ideal when you want to break away from other riders. Make sure to create a gap before you reappear.
  • Steamroller (event only): Decreases the rolling resistance for 30 seconds for any bike on any surface to match a road bike on pavement. Helpful if you hit a dirt patch while riding a road bike or when riding a mountain bike in the jungle.
  • Anvil (event only): Makes you heavier for 30 seconds. Use on descents to maximize your speed.

To use a PowerUp, press the spacebar on your computer or click/touch the PowerUp circle on your screen or device. When using Apple TV, click the Play button on your remote. Once activated, a timer will appear, indicating how much time you have left before your PowerUp ends.

Can You Race On Zwift?

Crit City is a world dedicated to criterium races (crits), scheduled group rides, and workouts only. Zwift

Absolutely! Racing on Zwift has become extremely popular in recent years. There are races for the average cyclist up to competitive events like the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships. You can even find races for formats such as fondo, time trial, team time trial, and sprint.

Upcoming races are published on the Main Menu screen or the Companion app. Each race is broken into groups that are based on Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and shown in watts per kilogram (w/kg):

  • A = 4.0 w/kg and above
  • B = 3.2–3.9w/kg
  • C = 2.5–3.1 w/kg
  • D = 2.4 w/kg and below

The goal is to keep riders of equal abilities together. However, if you don’t know your FTP, you can use one of the FTP tests available on the Zwift Workouts page.

Once you’ve signed up for a race, Zwift will automatically take you to the starting line when it’s about to begin. Make sure you have your water, towel, fan, and anything else you might need set up and ready to go. Most races start fast and furious, so be sure to give yourself time to warm up beforehand. And don’t forget to use drafting and PowerUps to your advantage.

Does Zwift Offer Structured Training?

In addition to individual workouts, Zwift offers training plans tailored to fitness level, cycling goals, and even the number of hours you’re willing to dedicate each week. Zwift

One of the most popular features of Zwift is its structured workouts. Zwift has become such an effective training tool that many professional cyclists use it to stay fit during the off months or to help recover from an injury.

Zwift offers both individual workouts and longer-term training plans. Many of which have been developed by professional cycling coaches. While some workouts focus on specific aspects of cycling fitness, others target training for particular events. Zwift also gives you the ability to customize your workouts as well. 

All workouts and training plans on Zwift are based around your FTP, which means, ideally, you’ll want to ride with some type of power measuring device. As mentioned in an earlier section, either a smart bike, smart trainer, or a power meter will do the trick. If you don’t have a device that measures power, Zwift will estimate your power output using data from your speed/cadence sensor. The downside is the resulting power data won’t be as accurate. 

To access workouts on Zwift, click on the Training icon in the upper left-hand corner of the Home Screen. You’ll see a link for workout collections, one for creating a custom workout, and another for training plans.

If you already have an FTP established for your profile, you can simply select a workout and get started. If you’ve done any riding on Zwift up to this point, there’s a good chance it’s already calculated an FTP for you. However, it’s still worth doing an actual FTP test. This will ensure you have an accurate measurement for Zwift to base your workouts around. For that very reason, many of the longer-term training plans include this as a first step.

Zwift also offers scheduled group workouts that begin at fixed times and involve multiple riders. Like individual workouts, group workouts are based on FTP. Although every rider may be performing the workout at a different effort level, group workouts keep everyone together. Similar to a spin class.

How Do You Ride With Friends On Zwift?

Whether it’s two friends or a large cycling club, Zwift has made it easy for groups of individuals to get together and ride online. Zwift

Although riding and training alone can be nice at times, one of the many benefits of cycling is the community and social aspect. Because of this, Zwift also allows you to stay connected with others while riding from the comfort of your own home.

There are a few ways to ride with friends on Zwift. The first is to agree to meet at a specific time and place on a map. Another is to use the Join a Zwifter feature (make sure you’re already following the person you want to ride with). Although both methods work, staying together on the ride can be challenging when choosing either option. The easiest way is to create a Meetup.

The Meetup feature is only available in the Zwift Companion app. To get started, select Events, tap the Meetup icon at the top of the screen, and then click Create Meetup.

From there, you’ll be able to set the date and time and choose the world (only from a list of those available on that date), route, and distance or duration. Additionally, you can select whether or not to keep everyone together on the ride or if you want the ride to be a race.

Once you’ve customized the ride, it’s time to invite your friends. However, you can only invite another Zwifter to a Meetup if they follow you. Lastly, include a message for the group if you’d like, and then tap Create Meetup.

If you get invited to a Meetup, select the notification from the Companion app’s home screen and tap “Going” or “Not Going.” You can then set a reminder in the app or add one to your calendar.

On the day of your Meetup, log into Zwift a few minutes early. Prior to the Meetup beginning, you’ll automatically be taken to the start to wait with your friends. If you happen to be running behind, the good news is you can still join up to 30 minutes late. Unless, of course, it’s a race!

Can You Chat With Other Riders On Zwift?

Whether your goal is to motivate and encourage or talk a little smack, Zwift makes it easy to chat with your fellow riders. Zwift

Chatting with fellow Zwifters while riding in a group, racing, or just free-riding is another way to take advantage of the social component of Zwift.

You can chat with other riders using your computer keyboard or the Companion app. To use your computer keyboard, press M and type your message. A little speech bubble will pop up next to your name, and anyone within 500m will be able to see it.

If you’re using the Companion app, select the Group Text button to send a message to everyone within 500m or tap on the chat box next to an individual rider to send a private message.

What are Zwift RoboPacers?

RoboPacers are bots that ride at a steady controlled pace throughout Watopia and Makuri Islands. Zwift

As an alternative to an organized event or group ride, you can ride with a RoboPacer. These are bots that ride different routes at a predetermined pace around Watopia and Makuri Islands. RoboPacers provide a flexible alternative to events and some group rides by allowing you to join or leave at any time.

There are currently nine RoboPacers. All of them weigh 75kg and are 175cm tall. However, each of them rides at a different power output:

  • Taylor: 1.1 w/kg
  • Bernie: 1.5 w/kg
  • Miguel: 1.8 w/kg
  • Maria: 2.2 w/kg
  • Coco: 2.6 w/kg
  • Yumi: 2.9 w/kg
  • Jacques: 3.2 w/kg
  • Genie: 3.7 w/kg
  • Constance: 4.2 w/kg

RoboPacers also use dynamic pacing to simulate how people ride in the real world. Since most Zwifters pedal harder when going uphill and then rest on the downhills, each RoboPacer will follow these natural pedaling habits to keep the group together. Dynamic pacing can lead to an increase of power by up to 10% on the uphills and a decrease of up to 20% when descending.

To find a RoboPacer, go to the Home screen and scroll down to 24/7 Group Rides. Find the RoboPacer you want to ride with and click Start Ride. Although the game will give you a small burst of speed to ensure you don’t get dropped immediately, it’s best to start pedaling before you begin so you’re already up to speed.

What is Zwift Academy?

Zwift Academy is a training and talent-identifying platform that’s offered each Fall. Zwift

Zwift Academy is a global training program that brings cyclists of all levels together annually for a series of training rides and events. It’s also a worldwide talent-identifying platform. Whereas most Zwift Academy participants are recreational riders looking for a fun way to improve their fitness, elite riders have the opportunity to compete for a professional contract with WorldTour teams.

To graduate from the program, riders must complete eight rides:

  • 1 Baseline Ride
  • 6 Structured Zwift Academy Workouts (can be performed individually or in a group)
  • 1 Finish Line Ride

The best way to track your progress is with the Zwift Companion app. This is where you’ll see the results of your Baseline and Finish Line rides, as well as the workouts you have left to complete.

As an added incentive, you can earn new kit elements as you progress through the program:

  • Complete two events, unlock Zwift Academy socks
  • Complete four events, unlock a Zwift Academy sweatband
  • Complete six events, unlock the Zwift Academy kit
  • Complete eight events, unlock the Zwift Academy Road paint job for the Canyon Aeroad frame (you have to buy the frame, though!)

To view upcoming dates and sign up online, visit zwift.com/academy.

Next Steps

Now that you know what Zwift is and how to get started, it’s time to take it for a virtual spin and see what you think. If you’re like most cyclists, you’ll be hooked before the end of your first ride. Lastly, if you’re looking for additional cycling tips and advice or help finding your next bike, be sure to check out our other articles and guides.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Zwift suitable for beginners?

Yes, Zwift is suitable for beginners. The platform allows users to start at their own pace and gradually increase the difficulty as they progress. In addition to its free-ride feature, it also offers a variety of training programs and workouts designed for all fitness levels, including beginners. Zwift also provides a supportive community where beginners can connect with experienced users, get advice, and participate in group rides or events tailored to their skill level.

Can I use Zwift with my existing indoor training setup?

As long as your equipment is compatible with Zwift, such as having a smart trainer, power meter, or speed/cadence sensor, you can seamlessly connect it to the Zwift app and start using the platform. Zwift supports a wide range of trainers and devices, so chances are high that your current setup will work with the platform.

What is the Tron bike and how do I get it?

The bike is actually called the “Zwift Concept Z1,” but everyone calls it the Tron bike. To unlock it, you have to first sign up for the Climb Mt. Everest challenge. After signing up, every ride from that point forward will add to your elevation total. Once you get to the top of Everest (8,850 meters), be sure to keep the challenge selected. Then just climb another 41,150 meters and you’ll claim your prize!

Can I use a time trial bike on Zwift?

Zwift currently offers 20+ time trial frames in the drop shop. Similar to the real world, time trial bikes are faster than road bikes when riding solo on a flat course. However, they’re not allowed to draft in Zwift, which puts them at a disadvantage in group rides and races. Time trial bikes are also heavier than road bikes, which impacts climbing performance. Additionally, they’re not able to take advantage of the full list of PowerUps. Time trial bikes are only eligible for the Small and Large Bonuses.

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Hey there! I'm Michael, founder and chief editor of Bicycle Review Guru. I've been an endurance sports junkie the majority of my adult life and fell in love with the sport of cycling when training for my first Half Ironman triathlon over 10 years ago. My passion is sharing my knowledge and expertise to help you get the most out of your cycling journey.

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