Over the past few weeks I’ve seen a lot of people in social media really hating on ZWIFT.
In my view, ZWIFT is probably the best thing to happen to bike racing since racing a bike. In a world where literally anything is possible in the technical age, why would you not get excited by the fact you could be a professional cyclist?
I see a lot of people saying ‘get out and ride your bike’ and ‘why would you sit staring at a screen pedalling when you can get out doors?’ Or ‘back when I was younger’ I’ve even seen a few old pros saying ‘when I started out racing…’ well, we’re not back when you were younger or even when you started out racing, we’re in the modern world with news, videos, the other side of the world and even unwanted opinions are at your fingertips.
The concept of eRacing and sports simulators are nothing new, tennis for two was created back in 1958 and was an incredibly simple game played on an oscilloscope. The first football game was in 1967 with Crown Soccer Special, followed by Grand Prix in 1969. The first cycling computer game was Cycling Manager released in 2001, today it’s called Pro Cycling Manager where you can pretend to be a manager of a cycling team, would you believe.
My point is, sports simulators have been about for a very long time. The biggest today would be FIFA or even Gran Tourismo, both of which you can still do in real life, if you were that way inclined. You can still go up the park or in the back garden and kick a ball around, I take my two year old to football classes each week. If you have a car you can go to a race track and drive it around for sport or leisure. Are you going to? Or is it simpler and easier to do it on a games console? Probably cheaper too if you bin your car in the gravel trap!
I saw a lot of people giving the World’s first professional eRacing team a lot of gyp, for what I could only understand was because they were not racing their bikes out on the road. I don’t get it? Why is that an issue? There’s so many eSports in which the winners are handed millions of pounds for just sitting and playing a simulator and you’re getting angry at someone for pushing their body to the limits on a bike and they’re not doing it properly because it’s not on the road? If these trailblazers inspire people to get on a bike and ride, indoors, outdoors, in a spin class, at the gym or just about anywhere they can, how is that a bad thing?
I wouldn’t want to go bike racing in real life because I would be nervous of not being accepted. Cycling can be so insular, so cliquey, so snobby that if you’re not dripping in Rapha or Cafe Du Cyclist on a bike you’ve had to remortgage your home in order to buy on finance then you might as well as not turn up. Then add to that the pressure of being dropped… No one wants to be dropped.
What ZWIFT offers me and many others is a chance to ride a bike an escape in a time and environment which suits me, does that mean I’m not a proper cyclist? Or am I just a person who likes to ride a bike as a form of fitness? I’m a dad of two who has a family life, I can’t commit each week to going out and doing century rides or even two hour rides in the saddle on the roads because sometimes, family life just doesn’t allow for that. What I can do though is get myself on the bike for however long in the garage and keep my fitness levels up, it offers escape without the need for leaving the house. I can put my kids in bed, have their monitors with me and still exercise knowing they are safe. It wouldn’t be the most practical to get out and ride for two hours after the kids are down. What I get from 45 minutes on ZWIFT, for me, feels like doing two hours on the road. Fair enough, I’ve probably not done the same distance, but I’ve not stopped pedalling, not stopped pushing and I’ve also not stopped for coffee and cake at any point.
Bradley Wiggins documented it in his book about his shed, heated the temperature of France in the Summer time pushing out 400 watts for 45 minutes was what Tim Kerrison believed Sir Brad needed to win the Tour, after months of training in his shed Wiggo achieved that goal and went on to be an Olympic Gold Medalist, again, this time on the road in the Time Trial. Fair enough, he did it on rollers but many professional cyclists can be seen on ZWIFT, Mark Cavendish is a user, Contador, Adam Yates, Alex Dowsett, Hannah Barnes, Danielle King and Leah Thorvilson who actually came through the ZWIFT academy, of course. All professional cyclists who use the platform. Tell them to go out and get on the road…
As I’ve mentioned the ZWIFT Academy, I might as well go on to explain for those who don’t know. Essentially, a competition in which the winner is handed a contract with a professional team. Which cyclist out there wouldn’t want to experience a professional team, even if it were just for one season? If I was told I was good enough just by riding my bike from my garage, what an experience that would be.
I’ve never known a computer based platform which offers someone so much freedom. Yes, you are confined to predetermined routes and can only go as fast as your legs will take you but what ZWIFT has done over its years is fantastic. I don’t know any other sport in the world which will allow you to get so close to being a professional. You can ride World Championship routes, with the pros or even, now, ride the prologue stage of the Giro d’Italia. The very stage which the professionals will be riding. You don’t even have to go to Italy for it, how amazing is that? How much of a fantastic opportunity is it?
If that doesn’t excite you and make you want to get on your bike and try ZWIFT out for yourself, then maybe cycling just isn’t for you.
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