Indoor training and the virtual world of Zwift

Alexandre Morel Banville
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Would you be surprised if I’d say one of my favorite places to ride is virtually? Of course, I enjoy riding outside and exploring, but indoor has its advantage. I’ll be talking about some benefits of riding indoor and what I personally did to make it more fun and interactive, to the point that 75% of my yearly KM is done inside. 

Platform 

Many ridings platforms exist nowadays that all have their twist. All of them usually come with a Free-trial period. This period is great because if you are starting, you can explore those different platforms and see which only aligns with the purpose you are trying to get out of it. 

I have been using Zwift for quite a while now. This platform allows you to ride a few different virtual worlds. Some of them even copy a few actual real locations - example: Alps the Zwift is an identically virtual replica of the Alps d’Huez. To my knowledge, it’s the most popular platform, so there is a lot of social interaction possible with a vast choice of group ride/group training/race (more on that later). 

Other platforms allow you to ride on the “real” roads. Your avatar is added to a film video of the actual route. So visually, what you’ll be seeing is what you would be seeing if you were riding the existing road. It’s excellent for triathletes since many of those videos are the bike course of certain races so that you can be training on the actual course in the comfort of your house. If that sounds interesting, the platform Rouvy and Fulgaz are worth checking. 

If you are looking to get a platform to do some specific training, TrainerRoad and Sufferfest are the go-to. Those platforms don’t offer any visual distraction but were made to build a training plan depending on your goals.  

            

Interactive – Factors that will make indoor training more enjoyable 

Trainers 

One way to make indoor cycling more interactive is through the cycling base (Trainer). What I mean here is the “Dumb” trainer versus “smart” trainer. Dumb trainers are typically a base where you put the bike on, and it has a cable to control the trainer’s resistance. In that case, you need a cadence and speed sensor (or a pedal/crank-based power meter) to use Zwift, for example. The only resistance you are getting from the trainer is what you choose. So, there is no interaction between the cycling platform and your trainer. A smart trainer is a base when such interaction is possible. Typically, the resistance you feel while cycling comes from the game or your manual input through a phone application. What I mean by this is that if you are going up a 4% gradient in Zwift, the trainer will add some resistance and feel the gradient change. So, you can see cycling in a virtual world with some elevation change, how more interactive it is with a smart trainer.  

It is important to note that the price of a smart trainer doesn’t mean it’s “more” interactive. Typically, all smart trainers, no matter the cost, will get you around Zwift and the other cycling platforms without problem.
What the pricier smart trainer has over the others: 

  • The maximum gradient % possible 
  • The power output 
  • Some added analysis from the trainer (ex. pedal stroke analysis)  

If you are looking to buy a new training base, those are some features and the purpose of your trainer you need to know. You may find more details about the differences in our Bike Trainer Guide.

Visuals 

Another thing I changed to make the whole indoor riding experience more interactive is more prominent visual. I used to run Zwift on my laptop and decided to get an adaptor to mirror my screen on a wider one. It seems like such a small detail, but it does make a difference! A bigger screen allows you to immerse yourself in it and see details you previously didn’t! Some people even run Zwift through a projector, can you imagine!?  

Badges 

For Zwift specifically, there are many challenges available. One is route badges. Every route in Zwift will give you a specific badge and XP to level up. Those are great, especially if there’s a day where you don’t know what you want to do. You can also create a meet-up with friends and ride the course. You can view those routes in the menu and try to unlock all of them! Here’s one of the most challenging badges to get. 

Community 

You can join/create a team on Zwift and this, for me, was a game-changer. I was looking for a team that was competitive in Zwift racing. Ultimately, I found a great community of Zwift riders from across the world and became great friends with some of them. We are all connected on Discord as well, so interacting with each other is more effortless. It just made me love indoor training even more. I have a small team that we meet up with every Tuesday and Thursday to race together and chat. On top of that, we organize many groups rides a training throughout the year. It is excellent not only for the social interaction that indoor training may lack, but also, it’s something that I look forward to every week, and they keep you accountable in some ways! 

Why I love indoor training 

I do admit indoor training is not always fun, but I’m hoping the tips shared above will help you in some ways to enjoy it more. Living in a country where the weather is either too cold or not ideal to ride outside 4-5 months a year once winter hits, indoor training is crucial if you don’t want to lose all that fitness. And maybe for you, it’s the ideal time to do other sports like cross-country skiing, and that’s fine! But here’s some reason why I love riding on Zwift! 

Fast and easy

Riding indoors is very quick to set up. It doesn’t take much time to prepare, and if you forget something mid-ride, it’s just upstairs. Zwift, for me, is very convenient. I want to ride for two hours, but it’s already dark out or too cold, or I don’t have enough time to get everything ready and leave. I can just put some bibs on, fill a water bottle, open my laptop, and off I go within 5 min.  

Workouts

This one is also partially related to time. Do you have some intervals to do? Long steady effort? The reality of living in an urban area stops signs and traffic lights. Especially when you have a specific workout to do, and you are on a time crunch, riding outdoor is not always ideal. Riding on Zwift allows you to have a quality session from start to end without interruption (as long you don’t have a power outage ;) ). Using Zwift, there are already many pre-made workouts, but if you have your coach, you can import or create a workout quickly.  

Safety

The reality of sharing the road with vehicles is you never know who’s paying attention. Therefore, it’s always essential to be safe and visible. Although this is not the main reason I use Zwift, you are safer, and there’s no shame in putting on some loud music and letting your guard down. Whenever it’s rainy, dark, or even a Friday afternoon, I tend to opt for Zwift.  

Socializing

As mentioned above, Zwift can be great to catch up with your cyclist friends. You can create a meet-up on Zwift, get on Discord or a call, and ride together with catching up. 

Weather

Never have to worry about the weather indoor. It’s always warm with a nice little fan breeze. 

Better cyclist

In some way. Let’s say your handling skills won’t improve by riding on Zwift! But you will improve your power. If you haven’t ridden on Zwift before, you might notice it’s a little more complicated because you constantly must push on the pedals to move. Compared to outside, you have a lot of time to coast without losing too much speed; this isn’t the case on Zwift. At first, it may be pretty exhausting or even frustrating, but I found riding outside for an extended period is more manageable.  

 

If you are someone that dread indoor / winter training, I hope one of those tips might help you! Which platforms do you use and why? Share your pain cave with us!  

 

-Alexandre Morel Banville, Cycling Avenue Ambassador