What is the point of climbing on your turbo and then riding in a group online? This was the question I set out to answer this morning. The answer? There is no point, at least not for me.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Zwift in my first review of the virtual indoor cycling world and today hasn’t done much to sway my opinion (update – new Zwift mountain routes). It’s probably not helped that I’ve been using TrainerRoad since I last rode on Zwift, which I find is much more motivating in a nice simple way.
As always, it depends on what motivates you as a cyclist. Riding with other people, staying competitive? Then Zwift group rides may be for you.
How to join a Zwift group ride
Joining a Zwift group ride is pretty simple:
- Find out when the next Zwift group ride in on. Somebody has put together a Zwift group ride calendar which shows all upcoming group rides and races. It’s great, if a little 1980s looking. I think it is community driven whilst the Zwift development team get around to putting something together with a little more class.
- Choose a suitable group to ride with. Most of the group rides will state the speed. Some are pootles on Zwift Island whilst others are very quick and will often be quicker than the stated pace.
- Get ready and warm up. Log on to Zwift and don’t forget to choose the option “follow riders around me” when choosing which route you will automatically take. Give yourself at least 15 minutes before the start of the ride to set-up and warm up. Depending on which group ride you join, the group might be very quick so be ready for a quick start.
- Wait at the start line and make sure you are cycling in the right direction. My group ride was a reverse loop so I simply turned around during my warm up.
- Go! Pay attention, I was waiting with about 60 other riders and before I knew it they were off. Read the group messages and be prepared for a fast start. It’s a little like a sportive where for some unknown reason everyone shoots off as if they’re late home for dinner.
How to stay with the Zwift Group
I’m going to moan here because the unfortunate truth of Zwift group riding is that it is exactly the same as riding with unknown riders out on the road. Nobody knows how to pace and so you play a game of yo-yoing. One minute slow, one minute fast. A sure-fire way to ruin a bike ride. I road with a fairly quick group so perhaps others are better paced.
Here’s my group riding tips which mirror those you’d use on the road:
- Stay near the front. With all of the surging you’ll be surprised how quickly you can find yourself out of the back of the group leaving you with a mad chase to catch them again.
- Pay attention. Drop, or even just maintain, your power and you might find yourself slipping out of the bunch. As in real life you need to pay attention to the speed of the other riders around you which, despite the best efforts of ride leaders, is often above the target group speed.
- Choose eating and drinking times wisely. Be sure to up your cadence and maintain your power as it will dip and, boom, you’re off the back of the group again!
- Use your power ups wisely. With extra free speed you can take a quick breather or eat and drink. I found it best to use these near sprint points where the group surges forward.
- Watch out for sprint points and hill climbs. The group will get faster.
- Turn off chat / messaging on your phone and ignore most of the messages. Blah blah blah. Some riders will feed misinformation in an attempt to split the group. Yeah I know, hilarious.
Do I need to change my name or wear a special jersey?
Most group rides advocate that you do follow these rules but it is not necessary. It helps you see others who are in the group but this is more a symptom of a game still in development and Zwift should have a better way to show you who is and isn’t on your group ride.
Why should I bother?
I honestly don’t know. Personally I found the experience a chore but then I’m a solo rider who doesn’t enjoy riding at speeds set by others. The group ride also detracts from the solo experience on Zwift. The graphics on-screen become jerky and you can’t really enjoy the scenery because of all the other riders jumping around ahead and behind you.
In many ways I didn’t enjoy the Zwift group ride because it was too real. You need to focus and move with the flow of the pack. Something I don’t enjoy all that much on the road.
If you’re the type of rider motivated by others then I’m certain Zwift group rides will make you ride harder and faster. Give it a go. If nothing else your average speed and distance will look impressive thanks to all of the simulated drafting. Meantime I’ll return to my long, lonely and lovely solo rides. And maybe I’ll even venture outside!
Got a question? Fire away in the comments. Here’s my Zwift group ride on Strava if you’re curious.
All images courtesy of Zwift