The Ultimate Guide to Zwift for Beginners
Zwift has become a household name in the homes of cyclists around the world but what’s it all about and how do you get started?
It’s all the rage:
your friends’ Strava activities look like they’ve been cycling through water, they’ve managed to become overnight crit racers and they mean business when it comes to training. Our guide to Zwift unveils everything you need to know about getting started in the fabled world of virtual cycling.
- What is Zwift?
- How does Zwift work?
- How much does Zwift cost?
- How to get started on Zwift
- Zwift Courses and Worlds
- Zwift Group Rides and Races
- Zwift Virtual Kit, Equipment and PowerUps
- Canyon Bikes on Zwift
- How to use Zwift as a training tool
What is Zwift?
If you spend any amount of time with other cyclists, you’ll have heard the word Zwift thrown around like it’s some kind of performance enhancing substance. Funnily enough, it’s not far from the truth and it’s why over 1.6 million riders have clocked up over a billion kilometres since its launch in 2014. Zwift is the world’s leading online interactive cycling game where riders can workout with the help of a video game interface.
Zwift provides a tool to sharpen your skills via structured workouts and races, so that you can improve your functional threshold power (FTP) and become a stronger, faster cyclist both on the turbo trainer and on the road.
Zwift is used by weekend warriors as well as professional cyclists, especially with the rise of eRacing within the UCI. More often than not, the pros advertise when they’re training on Zwift so you’ll be able to join them for the ride.
How does Zwift work?
When you set up your profile, you’ll be asked for some basic data such as your weight and power, which will calculate your watts per kilo (w/kg) used to define the difficulty of group rides and races.
Zwift uses Bluetooth and ANT+ technology to read connected sensors (these can be anything from speed and cadence sensors all the way through to a smart turbo trainer) to power an avatar through a virtual world of cycling. If you pedal, your avatar pedals and likewise when you stop, so does your virtual counterpart.
How much does Zwift cost?
After a free 7-day trial, a Zwift subscription is USD$14.99 per month charged in your local currency. During the free trial, you can get a taste for whether the platform will work for you before committing longer term via a rolling monthly contract that can be cancelled at any time.
How to get started on ZwiftThe essential equipment you need to get set up on Zwift is:
A turbo trainer or set of rollersA power meter, smart turbo trainer or speed/cadence sensors that can connect via Bluetooth or ANT+A computer, smartphone or tablet with Bluetooth or ANT+ connectivity
Your turbo trainer must be a Zwift compatible trainer, some of which you can find in our webshop. If you’re already sold on the idea of indoor training, your best bet is to invest in a smart turbo trainer as it’ll give you a much more immersive experience as you pedal through the various courses and worlds. Smart trainers automatically change their resistance depending on the gradient of the virtual hill you’re climbing, meaning you don’t have to shift gears.
Zwift Courses and WorldsThe software engineers at Zwift are constantly working to expand the number of worlds available on the training platform. You’ll need to download the Zwift Companion App to your phone if you want to navigate yourself through your ride, or you can simply be at the mercy of the Zwift gods. Not all worlds are available on the same day, instead you’ll have to choose between Watopia or two others. You can see a schedule of the worlds for the next month on the right hand side of the World Choice screen.
The enchanting island of Watopia is a popular choice among Zwifters featuring over 50 different routes with varying elevation profiles and distances. Within Watopia, you’ll find three challenging climbs: the Epic KOM, the Volcano climb and the pinnacle Alpe du Zwift.
Designed for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, Richmond is a short but punchy course with three options ranging from 5km to 16km.
Ride some of London’s most popular climbs such as Box Hill and Leith Hill from the comfort of your own home. Don’t get too comfortable though: the most challenging route is 173km with 2600m of elevation!
Another UCI Road World Championships legacy route in the Austrian city of Innsbruck that packs a punch and is certainly one for the climbs among you.
Harrogate in Yorkshire was home to the 2019 UCI Road World Championships with an iconic finishing circuit in the British town. Zwift’s version of this course is 13.8km with 245m of climbing.
Ever wondered what New York might look like in 100 years’ time? Zwift has used their imagination to conjure up a futuristic city complete with sky roads zipping through the many skyscrapers of the Big Apple.
The French capital that hosts the start and finish of many events throughout the WorldTour calendar is now accessible to everyone with two courses. Ride along the Champs-Elysees or the Lutece Express to test your strength all the way to the iconic finish line.
If you can’t get to Mont Ventoux itself then Zwift brings it to you. Along with seven other routes, ‘Ven Top’ captures some of the magic of the Bald Mountain in its 20.75km route. It goes without saying: don’t forget your legs!
Zwift Group Rides and Races
Within these courses, you can ride alone or with friends in a Zwift group ride. When you log into Zwift, you’re presented with a list of scheduled rides and races. To join, simply click one of them and choose your desired intensity (A-D), a table for which you can find below.
A: 4.0 w/kg and above
B: 3.2-3.9 w/kg
C: 2.5-3.1 w/kg
D: 2.4 w/kg and below
Racing is also one of the attractions of Zwift compared to other online training platforms. The Zwift Racing League is an extensive seasonal calendar featuring professional e-racing riders (such as those in our Canyon eRacing Team), regional divisions and promotion/relegation at the end of a season. Sharpen those virtual elbows and brace yourself for intense, gripping and exciting racing.
Zwift Virtual Kit, Equipment and PowerUps
In a similar style to many computer games, it’s possible to progress through the levels, upgrade your gear and grab bonuses as you pedal. You’ll begin your journey through Watopia (and the other courses) on board a default bike with fairly standard accessories. The more you ride, the more XP points you’ll achieve and the more upgrades you can buy. It’s not cheap to buy frames and wheels, but if you’re willing to work for it, you’ll soon find yourself on board your dream build.
Canyon Bikes on ZwiftAs your career progresses on Zwift, you’ll unlock the a whole garage of Canyon bikes including a selection of our road bikes, mountain bikes and gravel bikes:
Canyon Aeroad - our aerodynamic road bike
Canyon Ultimate - our dedicated climbing bikeCanyon Speedmax - our time trial and triathlon bikeCanyon Lux - our full-suspension cross-country mountain bikeCanyon Inflite - for fast, off-road, multi-terrain cyclo-cross ridingCanyon Grail - with more gravel appearing on Zwift, the Grail is the perfect tool for the job
How to use Zwift as a training tool
The overarching goal of Zwift is to transform you into a better cyclist and it has successfully managed this the world over. Zwift enables riders just like you to train year round no matter the weather outside or the time constraints in which you find yourself. “Zwift is a fantastic platform for training and racing,” says Canyon’s Esports Team Manager, Rhys Howell. “You can join races and get a high intensity workout trying to beat people from all over the world, join a group ride, do your own workout or even just free-ride at your own pace.”
Online training really came into its own throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic with cyclists all over the world opting to train indoors to combat the spread of the virus. “Throughout the lockdowns in Germany, I decided to ride every route on Zwift which included a few 5 hour sessions,” adds Rhys who manages the Canyon Zwift Cycling Team. “I don't think I would have managed that without something as engaging as a virtual world!”
You can try the ZCC training plan and train like a pro here, and there are plenty of other pre-built training plans available on Zwift that will help you build your FTP. Try them out and see how you get on!
Related StoriesViewport:Maximum reachedMaximum reachedReviewsReviews