The Zwift Effect

My iPhone beeped with a notification. I glanced at the screen to find that Strava was alerting me that one of my KOM’s had been taken by John James. Sure enough I found that John had taken Walker Wimps – one of the KOM’s along the Sunshine Cycle Shop Saturday morning shop ride.

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The image above is a screen shot of the Strava leaderboard as of May 3, 2015. As you can see, John took the segment by one second. Since he weighs a “few” pounds less than me, you can see he was able to accomplish this at 720 watts. It is going to be a challenge to take it back!

Being the gracious (but competitive) person that I am, I commented on John’s Strava entry for this activity. “Of course, this means war!” John and I share a number of close KOM times – even sharing the top spot on a couple of them. However, especially recently, he has been getting the upper hand.

Actually, this post isn’t about our Strava battles. It is about his reply to me, “That is what Strava is all about. Maybe this will get you off that island.” Yes, Zwift had made its way into the conversation without me bringing it up. Frankly it didn’t surprise me.

So, what is Zwift? Check out this video from the Low Cadence YouTube channel.

I typed my reply, “I knew as soon as the app notified me of your comment that it would be something like that! Hey, I rode out to your neighborhood yesterday. That has to count for something.” I was finding myself defending my relationship with my trainer — or more specifically a virtual online world.

I could probably go into some type of philosophical and psychological essay seeking to explain the effect that this interactive simulation has on the cyclist’s internal drive and interpersonal relationships, but that isn’t where my mind first went. My first thought was, “Well, have I really spent less time on the road than I have in the past?”

I defended my Zwift addiction making the claim to myself that it had not taken away from my time on the road, but had only added to it. There was only one way to find out. The activity records from Strava would not lie. So, I went back to see how 2015 compared to 2014.

First, let’s take a look at 2014. From January through April of that year, I rode on the trainer 38 times. I ventured out of the basement and onto the roads 20 times. In January, I didn’t ride outside. In April, I spent the vast majority of my rides outside (12 out of 15). March was evenly split and February had 10 trainer rides to 1 road ride.

So, how does that compare to this year? Over those same months, I rode the trainer 71 times. I put rubber to asphalt 11 times. January (pre-Zwift) I actually rode outside in 2015 more times than I did in 2014. However, April was basically turned around backward with 21 of 25 activities taking place on Jarvis Island and Watopia.

Now, I have to ask you… does that need defending? From January through April of 2014, I was on my bicycle a total of 58 times. In 2015 that grew to 82 times. In 2015, I spent 96 hours riding my bicycle. During that same period in 2014, I amassed 77 hours.

I find people’s reactions to these numbers to be interesting. If you were to say that you did this on a trainer, they would say, “Oh, you are a hard man. I couldn’t discipline myself to ride the trainer that much!” However, if you lead with the fact that you have discovered this new “computer game” that makes it fun to ride the trainer, suddenly the trainer becomes a gimmick.

Well, I’m getting older and I find I’m less and less concerned about what people think of my training methods or my sock height. Bottom line is this… using Zwift has pushed my motivation button. It has gotten me back on the bicycle in a way I have not been since I before I broke my neck in 2010.

As my schedule (centered around a university setting) moves into the summer break period, I’m certain the number of rides on the road will far outpace those on the trainer. However, I know that should the summer showers come or work hours steal away the daylight hours, I still have a place in the Solomon Islands waiting for me. All I need to do is go to my basement.

The end result is that those times when I am on the road I will be stronger than I have been in several years. I will be able to maintain that fitness in a way I have not before. Zwift does not take away from my time on the road. It will simply enhance it.

Hear that, John James? I’m coming for you! Walker Wimps will be mine!

Update: Want to know what happened? Read about the ongoing battle here.