Brian O’Donnell on ZwiftApril, 2020
I first started doing Zwift this off season (around October 2019). I had switched to indoor mode for the winter and I was having a hard time getting motivated to do the GCN training videos on YouTube. I saw an ad for Zwift, decided to test it out, and immediately got hooked. The rest is history.
What gear do you need?
This is a pretty big question because there are a LOT of ways to do it. First and foremost, you will need something that can run Zwift. Currently there are several devices that can run Zwift: laptops/PCs, iPhones 5S and higer, iPad, and Apple TV. For the complete list, see here: https://zwift.com/hardware#zwift
Second, you’ll need a way for Zwift to receive signals from your biking/running. This can be done through Bluetooth or ANT+. I recommend using ANT+ if your device supports it. For PC/laptop users, you can buy a USB ANT+ sensor off Amazon for pretty cheap.
Now for the biggest and most diverse section is your trainer for your bike. When explaining this to people I usually break this up into 3 categories:
The Cheapest Version: for this set up, all you will need is a standard “dumb” trainer (a trainer with no electronics/Zwift capable control unit built in), a speed sensor, and a cadence sensor. This is a bare minimum setup that will get your avatar moving in the game and start your Zwift journey! This is how I was originally setup when I started out. I would recommend it for people who are just dipping their toes into Zwift to see if its something they want to use. This setup will probably run you about $150 for the trainer and sensors.
The Moderate Version: This is the setup I’m using and is best of both worlds. I have an on-wheel trainer (wheel + tire still attached to the bike) with a Zwift compatible built in control unit (adds/removes resistance depending on where I am on my route. for example: if my avatar is going up hill in the game, the control unit will add resistance to my tire to simulate the hill). To me, having a control unit on your trainer gives you the fullest experience. These units run about $500 new. I would also note that for an on-wheel trainer, I recommend getting an indoor training tire for your wheel because the trainer will wear out a regular tire very quickly.
The Pro Version: This setup from what I’ve read gives you “the best road feel”. This involves getting a direct drive trainer (no rear wheel and the cassette attaches directly onto the trainer). These units also add resistance for uphill/down hill but additionally send vibrations through your bike depending on the terrain in the game. For example, riding on “dirt” feels different than riding on a paved road. Its the ultimate Zwift experience. That being said, these units all run for around $1,000.
Of course there are other optional features like heart rate sensors, and a “climb simulator” that raises and lowers the front of your bike depending of the grade of the road, but the above list is a good high level break down. For a full list of compatible trainers, see here: https://zwift.com/hardware#ready
What routes or rides are there?
There’s a bunch! The main world is Watopia, a made up world that has a bunch of varied landscapes, routes, and climbs. Since this is a video game, Watopia is the most whimsical course available, sporting dinosaurs, a volcano you can ride through, and a massive Alps level climb. Watopia is available every day, but there is a rotation of other maps as a second (and in quarantine, 3rd) option. This includes Central Park in NYC (with some futuristic tweaks to add some climbing), London, Innsbruck, Yorkshire, and our very own Richmond, VA! Each map has several routes for you to ride with varying lengths and elevation gains.
There are also daily events, races, time trials, and casual group rides that you can join to change things up. This is handled best through the Zwift Companion app that you can download on your phone. You can also use the companion app to find friends (and fellow DC Tri members) to follow and cheer on while they ride.
Do you have a favorite one?
For casual riding, I really like the Figure 8 route in Watopia. It’s got a great combination of rolling hills, flats, and climbs. For racing, I really liked the race specific map Crit City; its super flat so its full gas the entire time.
Zwift has been a great way to meet the team and stay in shape through all this. I hope that reading this how-to will help other people find some solace in being able to ride together virtually while being apart physically. Ride On.