Hailing outside, I decided to go for a spin grind up the new Zwift Watopia mountain routes. First impressions? The graphics are stunning. From the mountain vistas and single track winding roads, to the snow and the mist, and the small details such as the cracks in the road.
How good are the new Zwift mountain routes?In short, very. I spent three hours, yup, three whole hours, cycling on an indoor trainer. Madness. This is mostly due to Zwift’s virtual world and especially the mountains. Whilst I still prefer TrainerRoad for structured intervals, Zwift is great for the longer tempo efforts as the scenery does suck you in.
It helps that the new mountain courses are truly beautiful with many hints of the real world. Staring at pixelated mountain tops and peering through virtual fog might not beat the real thing but it’s better than staring at a clock praying for your interval to end.
Approaching the mountain reminded me of my cycling tour in the Alps. Formidable mountains on the horizon, a wall of seemingly impassable rock, snow covered peaks reminding you that you’re about to travel to a very different world. Zwift mimics the lower alpine valley too, as you ride through the green and lush tree filled pastures to the base of the mountain proper.
Next up is the imitation Alpine village, so realistic I was looking out for eau potable signs to fill up my water bottles as I would on a real climb. Before you know it, the village is behind you and the climb begins in earnest.
Day turns to night quickly on Zwift and so you get to ride some of the climb in the pale blue moonlight, an ethereal experience further drawing you into the game. I also found other riders few and far between on the mountain which added to the proper mountain isolation. Yes, I’m the only hero climbing this thing.
The road soon narrows to a single track, snow nestled either side of you. At this point I recommend you turn your fan up higher and pull on a gillet. I love the little details of the cracks in the tarmac and the wet patches at the road edge from the ice melt as you twist and turn your way into the heavens.
A snow storm strikes and visibility reduces, fog. Now we’re truly cycling in the clouds / hallways / sheds. Up ahead a tunnel of sorts, one side open and supported by pillars. Other cyclists speed past you as they descend, bullets gone in the blink of an eye.
Snow piles beside the road deepen the higher you ride, the fog clears and reveals the beautiful mountain peaks, the road curving left then right, winching you up the mountain pass. A false flat near the top (nice touch designers) kids you into thinking you’ve made it but you must still slog on until finally you summit, a king of your very own virtual mountain.
Zwift mountain descentJust like in real life the best part about climbing the mountain is the thrilling descent. I was riding the mountain as part of a structured interval session and the massive downhill actually made my intervals feel a lot easier, my brain kidded into the sense of speed, the scenery blurring all around.
Newspaper stuffed down my jersey, I was ready. The narrow twisty roads suck you in and just like a real descent your focus intensifies, all that’s missing is the feeling of wind rushing past your face (turn your fan up!).
What’s missing?Not a lot. I think the game’s designers have done a great job. One thing I would like to see is bournes, the little countdown markers every kilomtere on the road. It can be difficult to know how much further you have to climb so pacing up the mountain can be difficult.
The avatar on the descent could also lean into the corners a little more as it’s a little wooden at the moment. Perhaps some zig-zagging across the road on the climbs too when your speed drops below 4mph! Some nice touches could be added in future, like pulling on your virtual gillet for the descent or having a few random goats cross the road in front of you at 50mph.
I was riding a ‘dumb’ trainer. I imagine the experience is more immersive on a smart trainer when your resistance changes to the gradient. As it was my speed slowed as the gradient changed. I was riding a structured workout so perhaps I also missed out on some of the fun.
That said, I attempted to attack the mountain on my final climb and was left fighting for breath and praying for the summit, just like climbing a mountain for real.
Zwift Mountain 8 routeThe climb averages about 4% with a few sections hitting 8%. Climbing the route forwards is 6.4 miles, with an elevation of about 400 metres. The route is already picking up various nicknames if you look at the Strava segments of Col du Zwift and Epic KOM.
The full Mountain 8 route is actually two climbs, the same climb tackled from either side. At the time of writing there were less than 400 people who have climbed both, compared to the 10,000 who climb one side. I guess indoor training is still for the time poor.
Zwift Pretzel routeUnfortunately I couldn’t ride this as the mobile app crashed half a dozen times and never seemed to reset itself so whenever I approached the turn I was unable to change direction and take on the climb.
The Pretzel gradient reaches a tasty 15% plus, which means extra gears if you’re on a smart trainer or a very slow speed on a dumb trainer. The climb peaks towards a radio tower, a homage no doubt to Mount Ventoux.
Here’s my Zwift mountain ride on Strava if you’re into that sort of thing.
Zwift mountian course video
Enjoy the stunning graphics on this mountain fly through.