Indoor bicycle trainers may allow cyclists to keep fit and go through the physical motions of riding a bike, but let's be honest ... as compared to actually riding outdoors, they're stunningly boring. Among other things, one of the problems is the fact that riders tend to use them in isolation, with no real incentive to push themselves. Zwift, however, is designed to change that. It's a massive multiplayer online game (MMOG) platform that lets real-world cyclists ride with or race against one another in 3D computer-generated online environments. Just think of it as World of Warcraft for riders.
To use the service, riders need an indoor trainer (obviously), an ANT+ cadence/speed sensor and an ANT+ dongle – which many cyclists will already own anyway. They also require a relatively current internet-connected desktop computer or laptop.
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From there, once they join up, they'll be able to participate in group rides or races with the avatars of other real-world users in a variety of virtual locations. Using the real-time feedback provided by their ANT+ sensor, their on-screen presence will speed up or slow down relative to both the virtual environment and the other riders (whom they'll be able to talk to, using a headset).
Additionally, should they own a "smart trainer" on which the level of resistance can be electronically controlled, the Zwift system will vary the amount of resistance in order to replicate on-screen variables such as hills, winds and drafting of other riders.
According to the London-based company, its custom gaming platform can simultaneously accommodate tens of thousands of worldwide users within a single map. Plans call for "over 10" maps to be created throughout next year, with special riding events, such as Gran Fondos, licensed races and charity rides taking place at each location on various dates.
Zwift launched its public Beta phase this week, which is open to 1,000 users wishing to try it out. If you're interested, you can apply for an invitation via the link below. It's scheduled to officially launch in early 2015, with memberships costing US$10 a month.