Hi guys - I have been trialling Zwift for the past 7 days and wrote a review which also includes a suggestion for a future enhancement. Have a read when you get a chance and let me know what you think. Thanks.
So… I usually spend a few evenings each week sat atop my spin bike during the winter months and generally I’m fine with that however this winter, using the spin bike has seemed more mind numbing than in the past. So much so that I have been looking for a distraction and a week or so ago I found one!
For a while now, I have been aware that some of my regular cycling pals use Zwift – a piece of training software that harnesses the power of the internet to add a gamification experience to training and with someone offering me a used turbo trainer at a price that was too good to resist, I thought that it was time to dip my toes into all that is Zwift, for a seven day trial.
First up was to ensure that I had all of the equipment that I needed:
• Turbo trainer – Check
• Road bike – Check
• Speed / Cadence sensor – Check
• ANT+ dongle – Erm nope (although that was quickly remedied courtesy of Amazon)
• Computer running 64 bit Windows operating system – check
My first task was to actually get Zwift. This was easy and straightforward. I simply navigated to the website and downloaded & installed the software which was painless. Getting it to work was a little more difficult – Not I suspect due to Zwift but due to my aging PC (seven years old). After around 45 minutes of locating and upgrading the video drivers we were up and running with the now familiar and punchy Zwift theme tune coming through my speakers.
My next task was to get everything talking to each other nicely and after around 2 minutes this was achieved simply by selecting search and then turning my pedals by hand a few revolutions. Next step, set up my profile which had a few pleasant surprises. Not only was I able to create a pretty good likeness of myself (complete with correct skin tone), I was also able to choose the Jamaican flag (mom & dad would be proud) and then I was ready to start riding!
My initial thoughts were that the graphics looked pretty good – even when run at the lowest resolution and there was a general feeling of responsiveness to it all. The heads up display (upper left hand side of the screen) had the usual elements that you’d expect: Speed, cadence, Heart rate, Power output etc and a narrow margin on the right hand of the display contained information pertaining to riders around you and your position within the pack. All very useful and Zwift have managed to fit all of this useful information in easy to read locations using large enough fonts without getting in the way of the action and without the screen feeling cluttered. This was clearly well thought out.
The gaming experience felt very responsive. Stop pedalling your bicycle and your on – screen character stops too. There was quite a feel of realism especially at times where I’d sit upright on my bike and coincidentally my on – screen character would do so almost instantaneously! Overall there is a lot to love about Zwift. That having been said there were just a few things that left me undecided at the end of my trial as to whether the subscription is for me.
I’ve discussed the good so now the not so good. For me, the social aspect is a key element of a good game and I’m not sure that Zwift quite has that part just right yet. Despite the software working flawlessly for me throughout the trial, I didn’t feel quite as immersed in the experience as I had expected to and here’s why…
On one evening I had arranged to ride with two of my regular cycling pals who use Zwift. Perhaps it was just my lack of experience but trying to find them proved extremely difficult and then even once I had, I quickly lost them and trying to determine whether I was ahead of them or they were ahead of me proved impossible. Now my understanding is that there is a mobile phone app that can be used to enhance some elements however for me personally, the idea of pressing buttons on my mobile phone while working out just doesn’t appeal.
Another thing (and again this could just be me) was that far too often I found myself not looking at the screen at all but instead looking down at my handlebars. Not because there isn’t much to see on screen but because I (perhaps wrongly) was using Zwift a lot like I use my real bike on a Sunday training ride. I usually put my head down and pedal as fast as my legs and lungs will permit, only looking up every now and again when the pace of the peloton slows somewhat. While doing this, using Zwift offered no real advantage over grinding away on my spin bike.
So how could the team at Zwift help me out here…? Well, for me personally there is one thing that would make the game infinitely more social and therefore more of an immersive experience. It sounds simple however I expect that it’s one of those enhancements that sounds simple but would see developers pulling their hair out by the roots when trying to implement it but here goes anyway…
Improve the social aspect and realism by allowing riders to turn on their microphone and so that riders can hear audio from other riders within 1 or 2 metres of them. This would be a really cool feature as it would allow a deeper level of interaction and engagement between riders. I could for example say ‘Ni Hao’ to the Chinese rider on my left, shout ‘Allez allez’ to the French rider going past on my right, or ride up to a rider who’s also flying the Jamaican flag and plan a sneaky attack at the next left hand bend – Now that would be really very cool indeed!
I should close by saying that trying out zwift was a really fun (if tiring) experience. It was a nice touch to find that even at the end of the trial, I was still able to log into my account and download my latest ride for upload to Strava and a pleasant surprise to see a counter appear on the left hand side of my screen informing me that my next trial period would start in 29 days and 4 hours time. More than generous of the Zwift team if you ask me.
So… Have I decided if I’m going to sign up yet? No, not really however what I can say is that the jury will have deliberated and come back with a verdict within 29 days and 4 hours!