Sudden increase in resistance after completing workout going to free ride... is this normal?

Hi all - mostly been riding courses on free ride so far, but I decided to start doing planned workouts. I noticed during workouts, the resistance changing by ERG to be much more preferable, and I am able to ride ‘normally’ maintaining 90 rpm. However, I noticed once the workout is over and free ride mode begins, the resistance kicks up by a huge notch and I’m finding it difficult to even maintain 75rpm.

Power seems to be about 80-85% of my FTP (current FTP is 210W and once I go into free ride mode, power just riding on flat or even -1% at 75rpm is like 175-180W). I’ve been riding like this in free ride mode before and thought that’s what I have to accept. If I tried to raise rpm to 80+, the power kicked up to 230-240W range that I can’t sustain for long. Is this normal when riding free ride? Surely I can’t be going 80% of my FTP all the time during free ride? Am I supposed to play around with my gears until I find a sweet spot? I’m at 50% difficulty, so don’t think decreasing difficulty is the solution?

Keep in mind that when doing a workout in erg-mode the trainer resistance is controlled by an inverse combination of how hard you are riding and the prescribed wattage output. That is, in erg mode as you pedal faster or shift to a bigger gear at a constant cadence the trainer resistance will decrease to keep your wattage output at the desired level. The opposite is true if you lower cadence or shift to a smaller gear at the same cadence.

In sim-mode, however (presuming you are on a smart trainer), the trainer resistance is determined by the terrain. Steeper = more resistance than flat. And at the end of a workout your trainer will switch from erg-mode back to sim-mode, and the resistance will change from what the workout wanted your output to be (which is probably about 50% of your FTP at the end of the workout) and what is required for the specific terrain you are on.

So, for example, if you happen to be doing a workout on the Alpe, as soon as your workout ends the trainer resistance likely increases by A LOT if you’re still headed up, or goes to something close to zero if you happen to be headed back down at the time.

And with the erg-mode trainer resistance being inversely related to the speed at which you are turning the rear wheel, if you are doing a workout in a 53 x 12, again let’s say you’re heading UP the Alpe, the trainer resistance is VERY slight. And when the workout ends, and you revert to SIM mode, you can imagine what it would feel like if you’re climbing a grade like that IRL in a 53 x 12! The amount of watts you would have to put out to keep pedaling at a reasonable cadence would be enormous.

So, my advice to you would be to choose a small-ish gear for your workouts and spin at a cadence that is comfortable for you. The trainer will adjust the resistance as necessary. (Your avatar will move at the same speed in-game for a specific wattage on a specific terrain no matter what gear you are in.) And when the workout is over you will revert to sim-mode, riding a small gear at a comfortable cadence. You’re certainly likely to still feel the change, especially if you happen to be heading uphill at the end of the workout, but it shouldn’t be too drastic. From there you can find the right gear to ride in for the rest of your free-ride.

I hope that helps at least a bit.


Thanks so much for this. This is by far the most insightful feedback I got. I think I finally found my sweet spot for Zwift, which was to drop down to small ring and then have the back gear on 5th of 10 speeds. This makes ERG mode feel fairly manageable and when I go into free ride mode, offers realistic resistance and speed/cadence while going on a flat (about 17-19 mph at 90rpm, while my HR is about 135+ when I ride outdoors)