My Zwift Story

New (cycling) Zwifter here. Thought I’d share my initial impressions, and see how they compare to others.

I’ve been a road cyclist since 1999. Caught the bug back when a certain L. Armstrong was riding for US Postal. Did about a hundred or so miles per week in the US mid-west. But never joined a club or trained systematically. I was a happy solo cyclist, riding flat roads.

But I’ve been off the bike for about six or seven years. My mom got sick, and life got in the way. I put on a a half dozen kilos and lost a lot of my fitness. And I moved to SW England. And then covid-19 came along. All of a sudden the social life I’d planned on enjoying disappeared overnight. And I found myself drinking too much wine and watching too much Netflix. I could tell I was headed in a bad direction.

Fortunately there is a strong cycling community near me. I’d see riders of all ages grinding, and sometimes zooming, up hills that would have terrified the Wisconsin-cyclist I used to be. So I bought myself a very nice titanium-framed, gently used bike from a local shop.

Wow! Has cycling changed a lot. We’ve now got disc brakes. And cycling computers come with GPS.

I spent the first couple months getting used to cycling again. Broke in my sit-bones. Restocked my cycling wardrobe. And started logging a few miles. My speed wasn’t what it used to be. I was used to dodging the wind on flat midwestern roads and averaging a good 17-18 miles an hour. Now I found myself panting and puffing up quarter-mile 5% grades like they were Alpe d’huez. And finishing rides between 12 and 13 mph. And then I found Strava. Where I could compare my times to that of other local riders.

Man! There are some strong folks out there. Guys (and gals) who could power up climbs at 20mph+, climbs I was grinding away at 7. My times slowly got better. But I knew that I had some work to do if I was going to be able to stay with the pack if I wanted to do club riding next summer. And it started getting cold, and wet. And dark at 3.30 in the afternoon.

I’d bought a Wahoo Element Bolt, so I was familiar with the brand. So I started looking at indoor trainers. I didn’t want a wheel-on trainer (too noisy and too much wear on the tire.) I looked at the KickR and the KickR Core. The Core was £200 cheaper. But they were sold out for several month. And you need to buy and install a cassette. So I pulled the ripcord and paid a cool thou for the KickR.

Next obstacle: Boredom. While riding outside I’ve been tired. I’ve been sore. I’ve been cold, and hungry, scared, and happy, and hot, and thirsty. But I’ve never been BORED. My prior experiences with indoor trainers (bikes, rowing machines, treadmills) have been so-so. I got bored very easily. You can watch TV or read or listen to music. But it’s hard to do that while staying focused on training.

I’d seen (as have we all) the Peloton TV ads. I been intrigued. But the cost put me off. As did having a dedicated indoor machine that was different to my road bike. So I came across Zwift, mainly through GCN and other cycling-orientated YouTube channels. So Zwift became my goal. Signed up, and started my journey.

Initial reactions: Massive Kudos to the folks at Zwift for taking the boredom out of indoor cycling. I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of the Zwift universe so far. But it gets the balance between realism and excitement just right. I haven’t gotten into the social aspects yet. Right now I’m working through one of the FTP-building plans. And I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how engaging they seem. I’ll let you know in a few weeks if my FTP has moved in the right direction. But I’m pretty confident it will. I’m working on aspects of my riding I’d totally ignored before. And the workouts seem designed to build strength, power, and endurance without leaving my body shattered, as some (too many) of my solo efforts had.

Technically? I’d rate the whole experience as 99/100. Took me a little while (as in about ten minutes) to get the KickR, and my MacBook, and my iPhone, and my Bolt to work together. I’m still waiting for my heart-rate and cadence monitors to arrive. Took me a ride or two to figure out how to use the ERG mode properly.

And I’ve got the project of building my perfect Zwift Cave. I wasn’t happy with my MacBook perched on a little table next to my bike, and I had trouble reading some of the smaller details on the screen. So an unused LCD TV got bolted to the wall of my garage. A couple of industrial fans came from my local builder’s supply shop. I’ve got the process of clipping my road bike frame into and out of the KickR down to a couple of minutes. And I’m still looking around for the AppleTV that I hope to use to run the Zwift app, so the laptop can stay out of the garage. I now know not to start until I’ve got the fans placed right, a couple water bottles to hand, and towels to keep me and my bike relatively sweat-free.

Looking forward to building my FTP and endurance over the next few months. I’ll never win the Tour de France. I’ll never win a club race. And I doubt I’ll ever win a KOM of any hill that’s not in my own driveway. But that’s OK. I feel physically and emotionally and mentally better than I have in years. Thanks to my bike. And thanks to Zwift for giving me a pathway (literally and virtually) for many happy miles ahead.

Hi @Andrew_Henderson, welcome to the forums!

Great story! Glad you are enjoying Zwift. I noticed you said you were waiting on a cadence sensor when you really shouldn’t need it. The Kickr has built in cadence, doesn’t it already pair as the cadence source when you load up Zwift? Unless you got an older model that was used or just really old stock, the newer ones had a firmware update over a year ago that added cadence (it is an estimation, but very accurate).

:ride_on:

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Hi @Andrew_Henderson! Welcome to the forums! I loved reading your story and wish you many fun and productive hours on Zwift. Hope to see you out there. Ride On!

Sorry but my experience and the other Zwifters of my acquaintance have a substantially different experience in the “Built in cadence sensor”. Always WAY off and largely unusable. I don’t even know how the Kickr can estimate cadence without knowing exactly which gear you’re in since figuring it out based on power and wheel speed doesn’t make any kind of sense to me.

A cadence sensor costs 20-40 bucks and makes a material difference in the Zwift experience. I would never counsel someone to ride without one.

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Excellent story. I hope to see you out there on the virtual road sometime soon.

Thanks.

That’s what I thought. It seems pretty much inevitable that any cadence sensor built into the KickR is going to be kludgy on any bike with multiple gears. Plus, the other advantage of a separate cadence sensor is that I can use it when I’m out riding on the road.

For me the cadence training drills built into Zwift’s FTP plans have been a bit of an eye-opener. I’d previously been almost exclusively a spinner. Keeping a steady 105 rpm no matter the terrain or circumstances. Except that’s not always practical or desirable. You inevitably run out of gears if the hill is steep enough or long enough. Being able to generate good power through a wider range of cadences is going to help me a lot.

Probably one of those things I’d have learned if I’d had a dedicated cycling coach twenty years ago. Or if I’d been riding places where they had actual hills, as opposed to freeway overpasses. :laughing:

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Good story. Your ftp should grow quickly with all of the old riding experience you have. Good luck and enjoy!

A short update.

I’m making progress with by 6-week FTP builder plan. And constantly learning.

Back when I first started road cycling, back in the early 2000s, wattage and FTP was the province solely of the serious amateur and professional racer. Power meters were out there, but their price and availability was beyond the reach (or desire) of most of the cyclists I knew. The most “high tech” I got was a Polar HRM. The limited structured training I did was purely based on heart rate. And I had literally no idea how many watts I was making.

That’s all changed now. Thanks to smart trainers and apps like Zwift, a good FTP and watts/kg has become the Holy Grail of every cyclist with ambitions beyond the odd Charity 10k. That’s not a bad thing, and it really does allow one to get a reasonably accurate reading of one’s pace and fitness.

Earlier this week I decided to do my second Zwift group ride. I’m in a “transition” area right now. The first group ride I did was 1.5 watt/kg group. It was a lot of fun, but I kept finding myself running into the red fence and having to back off. So for my second I (perhaps foolishly) joined a 2.0 w/kg ride. The difference was immediately apparent. I kept with the lead group for the first 10km. Then slid back to the second group for the next 10. But I could tell I was running out of gas. And I knew there was a pretty big climb at the end. The Sweepers and the Grupetto were about 30 seconds behind me. But I had a feeling that I’d struggle to maintain their pace for the next half dozen kilometres to the base of the climb. Discretion took the better part of valour, and with a jab on the “I’m toast!” button I ground to a halt at the side of the road. I’m glad I rode, but I felt bad about joining a ride I couldn’t finish. As a “consolation prize” of sorts, Zwift told me my FTP had been reset to a level about 20 watts above where it had been. I’m tantalisingly close to the 2.0 w/kg figure. But I know in my heart I’ve got some work to do before I ride with a more powerful group again.

Today I’m doing some work on my Zwift Cave. A lot of folks call it their “Pain Cave.” Which has a certain logic. But it also sounds a lot like either a dungeon or a torture chamber. Not the look I’m going for. Today’s job involves installing some serious locks on the garage door so I can leave my bike, smart trainer, and computer setup in their semi-permanently. I live in a pretty low-crime area, but the thought of leaving several thousand pounds worth of high-tech gear protected only by a flimsy lock seems unwise. This job will require making a series of holes in the steel tube frame of the garage door, so I’m off to buy a step drill. I always like going to the place I buy tools, but since its pouring with rain - I’ll take my car.

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I like Zwift Cave better than Pain Cave too. We call ours the Zwifting Room as we are fortunate enough to have a dedicated room for our set up. What I would love is to have some more posters, but those seem harder to come by than they once were.
Which week are you in on the FTP building training plan? I am in week 6 of my second go-round of the Beginner’s FTP Builder and after making it through the first 6 weeks just fine, I find this time around to be much harder. I was supposed to do five 5-minute segments at FTP during the second half of yesterday’s workout and wasn’t able to finish it. Sigh. I’d be interested in your experience with the training plan.