As another cold season comes around, it’s incredible to notice just how much Zwift has risen to prominence in a relatively short amount of time. The tech startup launched its game-changing indoor training software in 2014 as a beta test, with paid subscriptions coming online the following year. Few could have imagined how quickly it’d take over the world.
It’s fair to say indoor training was due for a reinvention. As our CEO, Darren, puts it, “In the old days indoor training meant staring at the inside of the garage door and slowly creating a pool of sweat on the floor. It was boring and – to be honest – pretty miserable.”
Whether you rode on rollers or a more technologically advanced turbo trainer, before the advent of Zwift and other services like it you were pretty much limited to dull interval workouts – with a TV on in the corner to distract you if you were really lucky. Is it any wonder most cyclists loathed the turbo and had to battle for motivation throughout the off-season?
Compare that to a Zwift workout, which turns the indoor training experience into something more akin to a giant, multiplayer video game, and you instantly start to see the appeal. You’re not staring at the garage door, but rather a magical world where you can ride up a fairly lifelike recreation of Alpe d’Huez or the World Championship course at Innsbruck one day, and through the caldera of an entirely un-lifelike volcano the next.
Don’t get me wrong though, far from being like a game of FIFA on the Playstation – a Zwift session is still a workout. From personal experience I can say that training with Zwift is an incredibly effective way of improving your fitness and it’s far more time-efficient than riding outside. You can pack the same number of efforts into an hour of really focused and structured Zwifting as a three or four hour ride out on the roads – especially when you factor in all the time spent hacking in and out of your home town or city, plus any intervals potentially interrupted by traffic lights and other road users.
Sure, in the beginning, there were a lot of Zwift skeptics, me included. People poked fun at Zwift as ‘made-up’ riding, the coward’s alternative to a solid three months spent riding through the worst winter conditions outside. But the truth is, riding in the cold is pretty miserable and riding in the wet and cold, well that’s enough to make you put the bike in the shed until the clocks go forward. Zwift definitely has the potential to get a bit dull (like any type of repetitive exercise), but at least you’ll be bored, warm and dry – instead of huddled in a cafe somewhere dripping wet, putting off the moment you go back into the near-zero temperatures outside for the ride home again.
If all that isn’t enough of an incentive to give riding on Zwift a try, how does a shot at a professional cycling contract sound? In the last couple of years the Zwift Academy has offered riders around the world exactly that opportunity. The Academy launched with the women’s team, Canyon//SRAM in 2016, with eventual winner, Leah Thorvilson, securing a ride with the team for the 2017 season. She was kept on for 2018 and joined by last year’s Academy grad, Tanja Erath. Last year also saw the Academy widen its scope to include male riders too – with the potential offer of a contract at Team Dimension Data up for grabs. Ollie Wood from New Zealand won and secured himself a place on DiData’s U23 squad.
From garage door to a chance at the WorldTour, Zwift has truly revolutionised indoor training, and with VR coming down the pipe any day now, you may soon forget you ever rode outdoors in the first place!