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by Shane Stokes
October 6, 2014
It’s already something which could revolutionise the way people will train indoors, but if things go to plan for the Zwift company, some very interesting features will be added to the training/gaming platform that was unveiled last week.
The setup comprises a simulated cycling environment which connects to the speed and cadence/power sensors already owned by its users and which enables people to ride together in a virtual world.
No more staring at walls or watching television or videos while using indoor trainers; instead, users around the world will be able to ride with and against each other, with each able to see the Zwift world on a laptop/personal computer (or TV screen connected to one of those).
Users will be represented by pedalling figures and it will be possible to race others and, once the full version is up and running, to be able to ride alongside and talk to participants as well.
Longer term, there are bigger plans again.
“There are many different directions that we can go in. But certainly one of the things we are doing in the near future is working with real promoters and virtualising it,” Zwift CEO and co-founder Eric Min told CyclingTips at the launch in London.
“What that means is we are taking their real courses and putting them in our game and allowing their customers and fans to train on their courses before they get to the real event.
“Some of these iconic events are incredible tough to get into. So if you don’t get into the real event, you could do the virtual race, or the virtual Gran Fondo, for example. We have partnered with seven so far for 2015.”
In addition to that, there is the possibility that mountains such as the Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez could be virtualised and that participants could ride the iconic climbs of the Tour and other events.
Further down the line, Min said that there might be a possibility that riders can be part of a virtual peloton during actual stages in major races.
“We haven’t had that discussion with the promoters, but that is certainly possible from a technology standpoint,” he said, speaking in the video interview above. “Imagine being able to do the last 50 kilometres with the pros when the pros are being rendered real time within our game.
“How fun would that be? In the real world that is just not possible. This is what Zwift is all about – taking all the things that are really hard to do in the real world and making that possible in the virtual world.”
Using Zwift requires the aforementioned indoor trainer plus a mounted bike, an ANT+ device transmitting speed and cadence or, ideally, power [such as SRM, Quarq, PowerTap and Stages systems], an ANT+ dongle and a Mac or Windows computer purchased in the past three years.
Smart phone apps will also be available to download, enabling participants to view data and change rider viewpoints from their handlebars.
The cost is free during the beta period (a limited number of invites will be issued; application for these can be done via the Zwift site), then $10 per month thereafter. Subscribers will get an ANT+ dongle free. Thus far the response has been very strong; 10,000 people requested inclusion in the beta programme during the first three days.
An active internet connection is needed to be able to ride against others, although it will also be possible to ride in offline mode too. The latter setup will not feature other online users, and will require a monthly login to validate subscriptions.
For those who own so-called ‘smart’ trainers, these can be controlled via feedback from the software. This will mean that changing environmental conditions like road terrain, wind, and drafting will impact on the power outputs needed to ride at certain speeds.
As a result, steeper pitches on climbs will be felt by the user, making the experience more realistic again.
“Zwift is all about making indoor cycling fun,” Min explained. “It is something that I think no-one has really cracked over the last 30 years and we are going to try to crack that code.
“I have spent a lot of time riding indoors. I live in London, I have got children. For me, whether it is the time, the weather or the light, it is a challenge to get outside. I do a lot of riding indoors, but that riding experience is not that fun.
“It is something that I think the video game industry has figured out. So why not apply all of that technology and psychology to indoor cycling? I think it has huge potential.”
Min said that a broad range of people can use the system, but that the initial focus will likely be on busy people who find it difficult to get time to ride.
Using Zwift will tackle issues with riding in dark conditions, bad weather or busy traffic, but also do so in such a way that the virtual world removes much of the boredom often experienced by those on home trainers.
Once the two way communication is integrated, it will mean another aspect of real outdoor rides will be included; the ability to interact socially, either in a training ride chat or in competitive situations.
There will also be integration with Strava and other similar systems.
What it all means is that no matter where participants are in the world, they will be able to ride together within the Zwift environment, pedalling together despite being thousands of kilometres and several time zones apart.
Indeed that’s what happened last week in London; similar launch events were held simultaneously in New York and San Francisco, with those present able to compete against each other and race for intermediate sprints, hill primes and in-game race jerseys.
For more on the new system, see the video above. Further details can be found at Zwift.com.