More engaging racing

I’ve been a part of and lurked in the category enforcement discussions for years. Ostensibly, the point is to make racing more fair, though I think a more important goal is to make racing more engaging. Nobody wants to be dropped off the back in the first 30 seconds and have the bunch race they thought they were entering turn into a boring time trial. Similarly, I find it incredibly boring when the whole bunch flies around the volcano circuit for a half hour with nothing happening and we have a 10s sprint at the end. I will try going off the front, but as we all know there is little point. The blob can chase you down even if you’re doing a full wkg more due to the blob effect.

The goal is to have a happy medium in-between the two extremes. Cat enforcement helps with the first problem—getting dropped at mile 0 and your race turning into a TT, but it does very little for the other problem, which occurs because of the ridiculous blob effect where the bunch can all do fewer wkg or watts than a breakaway and yet chase them down easily (outdoors the people in the draft may be able to do fewer watts, but at least someone has to go to the front and put out more power to close a gap—the blob effect in Zwift occurs precisely because if I’m behind you in Zwift and you’re at the front then if I do the same watts as you I’ll pass through you to the front which creates a yo-yo speed up effect. This doesn’t happen in real life because to move to the front I have to first pull into the wind so if I do the same watts as you I’ll reach a steady state before I pass you—more watts are needed tomm B pull around).

I’ve been racing RGT lately and even though it’s mostly against bots, the racing is far more engaging than a lot of Zwift races and this is primarily because: 1. a chase actually has to work to chase and 2. You can’t just ride through someone else, but actually have to spike your watts slightly to move up in the field. (You also can’t power through corners since each corner has a speed limit and it will eat your watts.) it doesn’t seem like any of these improvements to the physics would be that hard and they make for a much better racing experience.

And I’m complaining as someone who races A’s mostly. I’m a solid B, but I’ve figured out how to draft really well (I’ll do 3.2 wkg in a bunch that is averaging 4 with little issue.) I should not be competitive for an A field but as long as the race is relatively flat on Zwift I am since nobody can ever break away and I can just sit in. And there’s no point for me to try a break because I could do 6wkg and the blob would still chase me down at like 3.8. And when it gets really hilly, it becomes a wkg sorter. Zwift is always at the extremes: either it’s flat enough the blob effect takes over and the best strategy is to sit in all the time or it’s so hilly that draft is useless and we’ve got a wkg sorter. Rarely is it in between—maybe this break will make it, now I have to decide what to do if I got caught behind, or maybe I could actually do something to this field if I go on a break. I will often go off the front if I get bored just to keep things interesting but then it almost always shows how well the blob is able to reabsorb a break without any real work. And because of this few other riders are willing to try things, preferring to just sit in until the finish (which is the Nash equilibrium in this instance, I think).

RGT’s physics make the race break up a lot more into little races, so you are rarely alone, but also rarely at the front in a huge blob. Much more fun. It feels almost like a cyclocross race outdoors. I would personally love to see some improvements that lessen the blob effect a little bit and encourage more dynamic racing rather than the typical Zwift strategy of sit in and sprint at the end.


Only addressing one of your points here: we’ve heard that Zwift are developing a feature to automatically slow down in corners. It was mentioned in the context of steep descents, but hopefully it’s a sign of good things to come in that area.

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That’s good. The RGT crit racing course actually feels like a real twisty race because you have to sprint out of corners due to the slow down or you’ll get gapped. Much, much more like outdoors.

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