Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
Popular online cycling platform Zwift debuted steering functionality in limited capacity on a single mountain bike-oriented course back in September, but it’s now added steering capability to all roads and courses in the Zwift ecosystem.
According to Zwift, the addition of steering will make the virtual experience much more immersive as there will now be a fair bit more rider interaction required. Whereas before your avatar would automatically ride through other course users as needed (and vice versa), steering-enabled users will now have to actively steer around them lest they resign themselves to being boxed in.
Steering will also make drafting a more involving process. Zwifters can use the steering function to more quickly tuck into a rider’s slipstream, for example, or even shake off a wheelsucker in the event someone isn’t taking their pull. And once you’re in someone’s draft, you’ll need to carefully navigate to stay in that position, too.
You’ll even be able to use the steering to choose your own line through a corner. Just as in real life, the system will reward someone with superior virtual handling skills by leaving behind other lesser riders. We still need to confirm this part, but as far as we can tell, the system still won’t let you crash if you misjudge a turn, though.
There’s a catch
Ok, so if you’ve already been using Zwift’s FutureWorks Steering function using your smartphone companion app, you should be all good to go, right? Sorry, not so fast.
According to an official company statement, “While the Companion app enabled our initial FutureWorks Steering feature, feedback from Zwifters told us there was consistent drift, making a subpar experience.”
In other words, if you want to steer, you’ll need to spend some more money.
Currently, steering is only enabled by adding Elite’s new Sterzo Smart steering plate, which sells for US$110 / AU$180 / £75 / €85. The Sterzo Smart functions like a turntable in that it helps level out your bike so you’re not artificially pointed downward, and also allows the front wheel to turn side to side. Position sensors inside the Sterzo Smart (with 0.1º claimed resolution) send signals to Zwift via ANT+ or Bluetooth for quicker and more accurate steering commands than what the companion app could pull off before.
According to Zwift, the Sterzo Smart will allow for up to 34º of movement to either side, it’ll accommodate tires up to 56 mm wide, and there’s a self-centering function to provide a more realistic feel. Power is supplied by conventional AAA batteries, with a claimed run time of 500 hours.
Way better than a stick in the eye
Zwift is clearly continuing to improve its product, but even with this expanded and enhanced steering function, few people will argue that it’s as good as the real thing. That said, that’s not really the point here, and for riders that are already dedicated Zwifters, there’s no convincing required that the system has a lot to offer.
And these days, when many of us don’t really have the option of riding outdoors as we normally would, this sort of thing suddenly looks and sounds very, very enticing.