Fix Drafting

I’ve recently participated in a couple of races which have left me particularly frustrated with the way drafting is implemented in Zwift. While I understand that Zwift is a game, it is also supposed to imerse us in a life-like riding experience, and the current drafting algorithm is a constant reminder that we are not really riding.

The standard draft, we have learned, is something like 50% of reality, and includes “stickyness” to help riders stay together. I can see how this approach might have some benefits in social riding, but it is nothing but annoying in a race as you continually get “stuck” to slower riders and have to drasticly increase power to break free. Each of those efforts burns a match that you would not need to use IRL, and eventually you run out of matches.

Recently we have seen the introduction of Double Draft/Real Draft/True Draft, but this also bears little resemblance to drafting in real life. Riding a flat road in the middle of a large pack of riders at 35-40 kph I should be able to hold my position soft pedaling at less than 100 watts. In Zwift I have to keep the power at 250-300 watts or I’m quickly out the back of the peloton.

Can drafting in Zwift please be made more like real life? Perhaps at least for racing?

  1. Change or remove stickyness.

    Stickiness should only apply if the rider behind would be going slower than the rider ahead in the absence of any draft. If the rider behind puts in just enough more watts that they would be moving faster than the rider ahead (in the absence of any draft) they should gradually move on by.

    The strength of stickiness should also decrease as the draft effect decreases. If the draft effect drops below a reasonable threshold (say, 5 watts benefit) then stickiness should go to zero. When riding up a steep slope at 8 kph I should not get stuck to other riders.

    This archived post contains a link to a video showing what should NOT happen. (Video by Wes Salmon, no less.)

    Better yet, just get rid of stickiness and make the draft more realistic.

  2. Make the draft uniform across the road.

    Since we have no control over our lateral position, make the draft dependent only on our distance behind the riders ahead. If the Zwift application decides to move our avatar left or right we should not suffer the consequence of getting kicked out of the draft. So make the draft equal across the width of the road. Or give us some left/right control over our avatars.

  3. Make the draft global.

    At the moment, the draft seems to be tied to a single rider ahead. Even in a large, dense blob the “Close the Gap” message is popping up every few seconds and my avatar keeps moving between the drops and the hoods. There is no way the draft benefit I’m getting should be changing like that simply because a rider ahead in the pack moved 12 inches forward/back or left/right.

  4. Increase the strength of the group draft.

    The strength of the draft in a large group is far too low. If I’m in the middle of a pack, I should be able to keep my position while getting some recovery time. If I hammer to catch a group up the road, when I catch them there should be immediate relief and the opportunity to sit on the back and get the lactic acid out of my legs. In the current drafting algorithms, even DoubleDraft, there’s not enough draft benefit to recover.

    The study below has been linked before, but I’ll include it here for reference.

The numbers are the drag force as a percentage of the drag force of an isolated cyclist riding at the same speed.

I have mixed feelings about changing the drafting in Zwift. I have the same problems as you, with the standard drafting where I have to apply an unrealistic amount of power to break out from the sticky rider. I really like the double draft, which is more like IRL but at the same time makes it easier to stay I the draft till the sprint. I’m having racing in mind here. I have too often stayed in the draft till the end myself, and it can seem a bit unfair to take the sprint without having to do any real work.
Most races on Zwift are short for a reason. It is not very comfortable to ride fixed to the trainer for too long. So the action has to happen in a short amount of time.
If the race is flat as well, there are not many opportunities to break away. If we would get even more effect of the draft, even if it is more like IRL, the race would be boring and predictable. On the other side, I find myself selecting the double draft races since I will have greater chances to stay with the front of the group till the sprint :thinking:
For free rides, these reflections do not nessesary apply.

  1. Remove stickyness. Yes!
  2. Ignore lateral position for draft. Yes!
  3. Make the draft global within the peloton. Yes!
  4. Increase the strength of the group draft. Yes!
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I hear what you are saying. But if Zwift is supposed to be realistic, let’s make it that way.

In real life, it’s difficult for a breakaway to succeed on a flat course. Races on the flats tend to keep the peloton together, and that’s where sprinters get to shine. Maybe there’s a break with five or ten riders that manages to keep away from the main pack, and a realistic draft will help with that. In real life or Zwift, spriniters and heavier riders are going to seek out and enter races on flat-ish courses.

The current drafting algorithm in Zwift makes every flat-ish race more like a time trial.

If you’re a lighter rider or a hill climbing specialist, you’re probably going to look to compete on hilly or mountainous courses where in Zwift - as in real life - the sprinters are left far behind and you can fight it out with other climbers.

There are plenty of races on a variety of courses to choose from every week in Zwift. Riders are free to choose the ones they like and in which they think they will be most successful.

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I hear what you are saying too, but if most of the riders can stay with the group till the sprint, we could just as well have arranged 2km races where the best sprinter would win. Kind of boring i.m.o.
I think the current approach, where the race organizer can choose the drafting algorithm is the way to go. There should maybe be more algorithms to choose from, like a more real-life drafting as you describe, a TT algorithm, etc. This is where Zwift can apply some gamification to the experience.

Hi Bhaltair,
I think all your points are good.
I’ve been on about removing stickiness especially on the hills.

It makes no sense to bridge a gap to the next rider only to get
stuck or to have to power up to break the stickiness. I may only
going slightly faster than the rider ahead but I feel I should just
slowly slip past without any extra effort. Total nightmare on a
long climb having to power up when I’m probably at my max

On point 2 I’d like to be able to move to the side of a rider to
avoid getting stuck. Maybe that could be achieved by using
the companion app? Pressing a button move left or move right.

Point 3, I agree with your point here I hadn’t noticed that.
I’d also like to get rid of "close the gap"message or have
the ability to go into setting and disable it.

Point 4, It could be good to increase drafting in the pack.
Maybe it would give more riders the chance to rest then
make a break. With repeated rests and attacks perhaps
one of the breaks would stay away?

The stickiness and drafting defiantly need changing.

Cheers “Ride On”