A Zwift Use of Time

A Zwift Use of Time

This winter I’ve been riding a Wahoo Kickr and using Zwift to inspire my rides. I was at the launch for Zwift a couple of years ago and found the promise of the system to be compelling. And then at the Tour de Pier in 2015 I participated in a four-person, four-team relay race that used Zwift to track our progress. My team won, but due in no part to my effort. What I found remarkable at the time was the degree to which the system was able to goad me into riding to the point of complete exhaustion. I almost fell off my imminently stationary bike at the end of my 45-minute effort. It was the hardest effort I made in 2015.

But each of those experiences came with them a social component. There were other people right there and if there’s a central truth to stationary trainers, it’s that riding a trainer is much like bathing—it’s almost always done in private. It wasn’t until I found a good space where I could set my bike up and still have wifi access that I really began to use Zwift as a workout tool.

I hark from an age when most of us who weren’t busy burning holes in couch cushions were watching old tapes of European bike racing as we pedaled on trainers louder than our TVs. The disciplined workout (a la Cycleops) was a big step forward. Those days and that technology are to Zwift what a 45 is to iTunes.

I can choose whether I do a structured workout or not. If I want to do a structured workout, I’ve got loads of choices. Recently, I did a set of three 15-minute intervals at my Functional Threshold Power (FTP). It was a 100-minute workout that left the lower half of my body effectively compromised. I was so happy.

Near the end of an interval the world goes dark and blurry. It was a familiar sensation.

The Kickr that I have can handle up to 1500-watt efforts; there’s a new version that can handle up to 2000 watts. Mine will simulate up to a 15-percent grade while the new one does 20-percent grades. The new one is quieter, but mine is the quietest trainer I’ve ever used. They also moved the handle, making it easier to pick up and carry. That the bike mounts—sans rear wheel—directly to the trainer which is already equipped with a cassette helps to make it the most stable trainer I’ve ever used as well. There are a dozen other features that make it a compelling buy, rendering one’s only counter-arguments either: 1) you live in a place that doesn’t have winter, or 2) you are unwilling to spend $1200 for the finest trainer ever made. If your argument is point 1, I get it. I’ve got a rebuttal to that, which we will come to in a second. On point 2, may I suggest the still effective Kickr Snap, which is a more traditional style of trainer that requires the rear wheel to remain in the bike, but only goes for $600.

Wahoo Kickr

My life has changed in a number of significant ways in the last four years. Time allocation for riding, even though it constitutes a professional duty, has become a challenge. The big realization for me is that my best opportunities for riding right now are either before everyone is up, or after everyone is asleep. Thankfully, even though the garage is immediately below the bedrooms, the Kickr is quiet enough that no one can hear it operating, even when I’m going hard enough to cripple a skinny white guy. No names mentioned. Also, in deference to anyone who is differently able, I amend my last statement to reflect efforts that might temporarily hamper a slight caucasian’s ability to walk without demonstrable difficulty.

We could drill down on the many features of both the Wahoo Kickr and Zwift for another 1000 words. And that would miss the point almost exactly. The beauty of this duo is that even spin classes can’t inspire the ultra-concentrated workouts that Zwift can guide you through. Even if you decide just to pedal around, the terrain is rich and varied, the interactivity stunning. Go up a hill and the resistance increases. Latch on to someone and once in their draft your resistance drops. Do a workout where you’re instructed to pedal at 230 watts and you’ll have to produce 230 watts, no matter what. It’s up to you what cadence you turn.

On the road or in the woods, I hate structured workouts. Nothing could be more anathema to why I ride. I go hard when the terrain suggests I ought to. I cruise when I feel like it, but Zwift gives me the excuse and sufficient peer pressure to turn myself into a guy who will sit down on the stairs in 50 degree rain because he wants to rest before climbing the other flight.

It’s not like I was going to get any wetter.


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  1. Andy G

    i couldn’t agree more. I use a Kickr and Zwift (and previously TrainerRoad) and that combo is great for surviving Ohio winters. I have lots of friends who laugh at the thought of riding inside and love to throw a good ‘HTFU’ at me, but to each their own. I hate the cold, and getting the same sort of structured workout results from riding outside is almost impossible. Its a win-win for me. I really like where Zwift is going and the social aspect really makes riding the trainer ‘fun’.

  2. AC

    Not sure I buy the kickr being the finest trainer ever made. It is good, no doubt. However the tacx neon seems to be currently regarded as the best out there, as it should be given it’s even higher price. The venerable computrainer does quite well also, as do half a dozen others. Very few have enough experience on all of them to declare one as the finest ever made.

    1. Author

      The Tacx NEO unit is really nice, no doubt. However, it is louder and didn’t feel as stable when I was on it. And honestly, with all the plastic, it doesn’t feel as well made. (I should mention that I’ve been riding and reviewing trainers for more than 20 years.) And Computrainer doesn’t even come close because it still requires you to use your rear wheel on the trainer. I’ve not used a trainer that felt as secure and stable as the Kickr while offering calibrated resistance that was easily as smooth feeling as any of their competitors. Now that the handle is in a better location on the unit, it’s a good deal easier to carry, arguably easier than most, if not all, of their competitors. Finally, it folds up, making it easier to pack away than some trainers.

    2. AC

      Interesting, as reports are that that the Neo is the quietest one out there.

      My experience is with Computrainer (mine, for going on 11 years), and a couple group rides in the local shop on a Kickr. To me the Kickr feels smoother. Whether due to flywheel vs direct drive, I don’t know. It’s noticeable when I get on, yet the CT doesn’t feels substandard when I go home. The kickr does fold up nicely. Not sure how much benefit that really is though, as having the set up ready to go is the way to saving time and being able to hop on.

      I agree re the rear wheel, and really, the Snap is the more comparable version to the computrainer for this reason.

  3. MCH

    From a tech perspective, what’s needed to run one of these systems adequately? Seems like I’d need to invest in another computer and large monitor/tv.

    1. Andrew

      I haven’t used Zwift, but I get the ad for the Ipad app all the time. So I don’t think you need more than that. The really limiting factor seems to me to be a very fast internet connection. I am fairly certain that my home connection, in the basement at least, wouldn’t cut it.

    2. Author

      The system requirements with Zwift aren’t all that stiff if you’ve replaced a computer relatively recently.

      Here are the system requirements:
      • OS: Windows 7 x64 bit, OSX 10.8
      • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo
      • Memory: 4GB
      • Graphics: 1GB dedicated GPU, or embedded Intel HD 4000/AMD R5
      • Hard Drive: 4GB of free space

      It’s also available for iOS. A (recent) iPad is actually big enough to get along though a bigger monitor would be nice.

    3. Lyford

      I tried iOS Zwift on an iPad Air and it worked, but the screen size was small for my old eyes. Now I’m using the iOS version on an iPhone 5s with the Apple Lightning-to-VGA adapter and an old PC monitor. Seems to work fine, but I ‘ve never seen the PC version. Fulgaz works with the same setup. I haven’t tried any other trainer apps. Apple also makes a Lightning-to-HDMI adapter.

    4. AC

      Zwift will run on ios, and I think trainer road and sufferfest will as well. Personally, I have a cheap desktop in the garage that is a dedicated trainer machine, and use ErgVideo and Zwift. ErgVideo for training, Zwift for group rides/racing. With all of these, the bigger the monitor, the better. Zwiftalyzer.com can help wtih determining optimum PC specs.

    1. Robot

      Full disclosure: I have no idea what I’m doing, much less what Padraig is doing, at any given time.

  4. cycloscott

    For those folks who don’t care about the social aspect of Zwift (me), or don’t want to pay the monthly fee. There are plenty of other options for driving the Kickr in a structured workout. I happen to like Golden Cheetah. It works with all of my current sensors and has a recently much improved workout editor. It’s also a damned fine training log.

  5. Nick Hutton

    I’ve been zwifting for he last 6 months and it has completely changed my life. Like you Padraig, with a young family and a busy work life, snatching an hr on the trainer before the rest of the house wake up has revolutionised my training. Gone are hrs on the road of slow base miles, and instead an hr of hurt has me doing intervals I just never used to do. As for your reasons to get one – for someone who lives in the tropical north of Australia, the ability to ride inside with the aircon on allows me to train on days that I wouldn’t venture outside in the heat of our summer.

  6. Hoshie99

    I agree w/ the comment on preferring being outside, however I can say the Kickr is saving my fitness the last 3 months since I bought it.

    Between a heavy work, travel and family schedule, the Kickr is better enough than my older fluid trainer that I actually use it. And that’s the point – 45 minutes, all business, done. It’s the difference between going backwards or holding AND improving from my current level.

    Although I have tried Trainer Road and dabbled w/ Zwift, the Kickr plus the Wahoo App and my own interval workouts works for me. YMMV.

    Last point – I am a “bargain” hunter and look for price performance so getting a Kickr was a highly considered purchase. I asked my local shop, tried one out, and talked to a host of cyclists before I bought it. I don’t regret it one bit – it has become an essential part of my cycling routine.

    In short: an excellent tool to further your cycling fitness and help you reach your season’s goals.

  7. Rob Beard

    Fat bike owner here. Previously not very interested in Zwift, but spent a couple rides on a borrowed Elite Drivo riding Zwift group rides last fall and became a quick convert. The group ride/race element is awesome and it allows me to ride with old friends in NYC and London a couple times per week. Like you, I find early mornings and late evening are the best times to ride, particularly when trying to take kids night skiing to take advantage of the heaps of snow we have this winter. The Watopia Pretzel Course is fantastic. Zwift has made a very tough winter for cycling (in Boise, ID this year) much more bearable. Also have to give a plug for the Elite Drivo. I rode all of the new trainers this year and liked the Drivo best, with the Tacx NEO being a close second and the new KICKR third. The NEO has a cool feature that lets you feel cobbles, etc., but the Drivo has such great road feel and power accuracy (and is priced lower) so it was impossible to pass up.

  8. Shane

    I started when Zwift was still in Beta and have not stopped a tragic convert to indoor training.
    Man oh man its fun addictive and it will make you stronger.
    I’m on my third trainer..started on a old 150.00 mag trainer to a Vortex to a Kickr and the kicker is the one.
    I get to ride outside only sporadically due to work hours and family life as much as everyday is a wish its not possible.
    I do a local group ride that the c grades used to drop me 1/2 way around not its B grade contesting those group sprints and winning the odd one.
    2 to 4 hours a week on an indoor trainer that is not a chore who would have thought!

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