Zwift and digital cycling aim to elevate cycling into the real world

During the 2020 Tour de Zwift, riders had the opportunity to unlock a place in a virtual Tour de France, the ultimate cycling event, straight from home.

The Tour of Zwift, fittingly, took place on Zwift, a hugely popular multiplayer online cycling and running fitness program that allows users to interact, train, and compete in a world virtual. Not only does the app attract home cyclists with road bikes and trainers linked to the Zwift system, but more than 100,000 people also watched the 2022 UCI Cycling Esports World Championships, hosted by Zwift on February 26. body for sport cycling and oversees international competitive cycling events.) As people from New York to the Netherlands cheered on virtual riders, Zwift’s palpable ambition was on display. Not only does the company want to remain a global leader in esports and gaming, but it also wants to bring digital cycling racing to the same vaunted level as real-world events, elevating the sport of spinning for everyone.


February’s world championships, for example, attracted pros like South African road cyclist Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, who has competed in the past three Summer Olympics and won the first Zwift Women’s World Championship in 2020. The app even builds its own professionals who play on the platform.

Jay Vine went from Australian mountain biker to second place on the Queen Stage of the Tour of Turkey for Belgian UCI ProTeam Alpecin-Fenix ​​via Zwift. Vine earned her pro sponsorship through the Zwift Academy contest, a week-long elimination challenge akin to a reality show set in Zwift’s electronic world, Watopia. Kyle Smyth of InGoodTaste PR (a Zwift rep) claims that this success is entirely due to the bonds forged between Zwift users.

“Zwift is an enabler for the recreational cyclist as well as the athlete. It’s the community that drives Zwift’s success,” Smyth said. “They truly live up to Zwift’s tagline, ‘Ride On.’ Someone struggling or someone flying past you can wave at them or shoot them to make less of an effort.

Founded in 2014, Zwift had 3.3 million registered accounts in 190 countries as of February 2021, double the previous year. The Zwift system has two distinct advantages: its home accessibility and its collaborative platform enhanced by ever-improving home drive configurations.

“I’m a father of two little ones now, so I don’t have access to go out in the morning or at night when we have to put them to bed,” Smyth said. “It’s revealing for my schedule [wake up before them] and go for a walk at 5 a.m. or escape to the office in the evening after putting them to bed.

Zwift riders also avoid mechanical issues like flat tires and weather complications like rain, snow, or too much heat when they can train in “pain caves” right from home. Road bikes, typically (although mountain bikes also work), attach rear tires to trainers — fixed-gear systems that allow riders to pedal in place — which connect to the Zwift system. Emerging accessories further mimic real-life conditions to take indoor cycling to the next level. Climbing forks, for example, can attach to the front of bikes to climb and descend over bumps or hills. There are platforms available for the bikes to sit on for more of a side-by-side ride feel.

Zwift offers cyclists thousands of options across the four main Watopia maps, personalized structured workouts, training plans, and data-driven records. Rides can be solo rides or scheduled rides with other riders online. Gameplay aspects like badge hunts and over 110,000 events keep the competition juices flowing.

“The fear of running for someone who’s never done it is pretty much alleviated,” Smyth said. “You can do an FTP (Functional Threshold Point) test in Zwift and it will tell you which category you should ride in.”

Celebrities are also in on the action, with more than 700 professional athletes participating in Zwift events over the past year. Last week, for example, players had the opportunity to take a spin with former multi-sport superstar Bo Jackson.

Trainers cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to around $1,200 for elite setups. Zwift is still focused on the app, but is slowly moving towards more hardware. They now sell smart bikes for around $3,000.

Zwift means that this esport complements real-world cycling instead of serving as an alternative. Now a sponsor of the real Tour de France Women, the esports firm is pushing to equalize wages between men and women.

“It’s a real moment in cycling, not just an afterthought,” Smyth said. “With more people on more bikes more often, everyone wins. We want you to ride, and that’s likely to get you using something like Zwift.

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