Zwift Review: An Online Video Game not Only for Cyclists & Runners (2021)

Zwift review

Zwift is by far the most popular indoor cycling app out there. If you have not tried it yet and you want to find out more about it, you are in the right place.

In this Zwift review, I share my experience and compare Zwift with other popular indoor cycling apps. You learn who is Zwift for, its benefits, disadvantages, and more.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Zwift Summary

Pros

  • Unique virtual world
  • Sophisticated motivational system
  • Huge community & user base
  • Social-interaction friendly
  • A lot of supportive websites with plenty of tips
  • A lot of events (group rides, races, time trials, etc.)

Cons

  • Routes may get repetitive
  • Graphic design may not suit everyone
  • Sometimes confusing user interface

What is Zwift?
Zwift is an indoor cycling app designed as a game. It features a unique virtual world where you cycle or run with your virtual avatar. You can ride solo, train, connect with other users worldwide, or race. You gain ‘drops,’ which are a currency for buying better equipment by riding and accomplishing challenges.

Who is it for?
Zwift is ideal for people who lack motivation for indoor cycling. It has a sophisticated engagement system. You ride – You get rewarded. Thanks to the huge number of users and community, it is easier to survive the winter months and indoor training sessions.

Who is it not for?
Zwift is not for people who require route diversity and real-world footage. Since it is a game that should motivate you to train more, it is not the best choice for people who generally don’t enjoy playing games.


My Experience with Zwift

I’ve been using Zwift last winter and these days again for this review. Here are my takes on the ease of initial setup, in-game experience, engagement, and more.

Initial Setup

The initial Zwift setup is straightforward. Your display device (laptop, computer, smartphone) has to feature Bluetooth or ANT+ connectivity to connect with your devices (cadence and speed sensors, power meter, trainer, etc.).

There are plenty of tutorials on how to get started with Zwift, so let me jump straight to the pairing process and my experience.

I didn’t experience any problems when connecting borrowed Elite Direto 2 and the HR monitor (Wahoo TICKR).

NOTE: The first setup that I’ve been using last winter included Inpeak Power Meter, Wahoo TICKR, and Wahoo speed sensor. Everything connected without any issues.

It took me about one minute to set everything up. The pairing process is straightforward.

Zwift Pairing Process
Zwift Pairing Process

I recommend using one of these bike trainers for Zwift to get the best experience when using Zwift. They will calculate your power and adjust the resistance based on the terrain you ride.

These power adjustments are smooth, and depending on the trainer you use, they are also pretty realistic.

However, you can use Zwift even if you have a dumb trainer or rollers. You just need a cadence and a speed sensor (so Zwift can calculate your power) OR a power meter.


PRO TIP: Bike trainer accessories will take your indoor cycling to a whole new level. A fan will keep you cooled down, and a trainer mat will protect your floor.


In-App Experience

Zwift is unique. Their built-from-scratch world will engulf you if you like computer games.

Depending on your goals, you can choose whether you just spin your legs and cruise through different routes, train according to training plans, race, etc.

I used Zwift mainly for preparation for the next season. So I enrolled myself in the ‘Active Offseason‘ plan and started training.

This 12-week plan is focused on building endurance and requires about 8 hrs of training per week.

Shorter and medium workouts for up to two hours were fun. I immediately had better motivation when I saw completed intervals, achievements, and other challenges.

The rides above two hours were a true challenge. I zwifted while watching movies because three-hour endurance rides on an indoor trainer are simply boring and require a lot of determination.

When you ride, the screen shows you all the important information like your power, HR, speed, time, cadence, etc. Thanks to this information, the workouts are easy to follow.

In the end, I finished all 58 workouts except one or two. So when I saw the following screen, I felt a sense of accomplishment.

Zwift Active Off Season Plan Finished
Zwift Active Offseason Plan Finished

Zwift also includes racing. Thanks to a vast user base, a lot of races are held daily. These are categorized according to FTP so that you will compete with people of similar fitness levels. Participating in Zwift races is a great way to relax and clear your head.

Group workouts are another feature worth trying. You can train with friends (regardless of their location) and train together. Zwift will keep you together in-game even though your FTPs (and watts) are different. Additionally, you can chat via the Companion App.

This interactivity, social and game elements (more about them later) make Zwift unique and fun.

Engagement

Zwift is a game, so it uses gamification frequently. You get ‘drops’ for riding and accomplishing routes, training, etc. You can later use them to purchase better equipment.

Naturally, there is also a level structure. You gain experience by riding, completing workouts, challenges, etc. – just like getting drops.

Every level unlocks certain items (bikes, components, clothes…) that cost drops. To spend your drops wisely, make sure to check out Zwift Insider’s shopping guide.

Zwift Garage
Zwift Garage

Zwift is not far from an MMORPG game. It tries to keep you engaged and motivate you to ride more.

Does this motivation work? It depends on what type of person you are. If you are competitive and you like games, then yes, it does.

I have a few friends who tried Zwift, but these gamification mechanisms didn’t work on them. They rode outside during winter instead.

Routes

One of the most significant downsides of Zwift is its limited range of routes. They will get repetitive. Please don’t take me wrong. Zwift developers work hard to add new routes. But apps like ROUVY or FulGaz offer hundreds to thousands of routes. These apps use pre-recorded footage.

Zwift Route Library
Zwift Route Library

The real-world inspired routes in Richmond, London, New York, etc., and the unique Watopia, had to be built from scratch. That’s why Zwift lacks more routes.

TIP: Browse the list of Zwift available routes on What’s on Zwift.

The graphics is more game-like than in FulGaz. I like Zwift’s graphics more, but some people prefer FulGaz’s real-like graphics.

Training

Zwift also offers an extensive workout and structured plans library. It includes more than 2000 workouts. You can browse them all here.

I absolved the Active Offseason, and except for the 3-hour long endurance workouts, I pretty much enjoyed it.

I am sure you will find a workout that will suit your needs. And if not, you can build your own using the workout builder.

Zwift Workout Builder
Zwift Workout Builder

According to coach Dylan Johnson, Zwift training plans have one big problem, though. They are overly complicated, too high-intensity, lack proper recovery, and are not individualized to meet your personal needs.

This is because they are supposed to keep you engaged. Imagine riding the same tempo for 2 hours. You appreciate every change of it. That’s why so many Zwift workouts are so variable.

I also cannot forget to mention the Zwift Academy. It is a collection of structured workouts designed by coaches.

This eight-week structured training should help you understand training essentials. The 2021 Academy includes new Baseline and Finish Line Rides. These were not available in the 2020 Zwift Academy.

You can also take advantage of Zwift’s pace partners. They will guide you through routes depending on the difficulty you choose.

Zwift partners are suitable for warmups, cooldowns, intervals, etc.

User Friendliness

Although I consider myself an experienced technology user, I sometimes struggled to navigate the Zwift user interface. It was confusing for me due to its design.

For example, if my friend hadn’t told me about the ‘Climb Mt. Everest’ challenge, I wouldn’t know where to find it.

The following picture shows Zwift’s dashboard. There are many buttons, colors, and other clickable areas. Do you find it as confusing as I do?

Zwift Dashboard
Zwift Dashboard

The app seemed to be pretty slow as well. I have MacBook Pro 2020 with 16 GB RAM, a 5-core Intel processor, and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 1536 MB.

It felt sluggish and not very responsive. It also froze when saving workouts sometimes. I noticed this happened especially when I used Zwift on an external monitor.

Furthermore, when I turn on Zwift, I can’t browse the internet or watch videos on YouTube. I contacted Zwift support to find out why it keeps happening, but they couldn’t find the cause.

It is possible it was because of my internet connection. I have a 25 Mbit/s internet with a ping of around 5 ms.

Platforms Availability

Zwift is available on all major platforms, including iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, and AppleTV.

Zwift platform availability
Zwift platform availability

I’ve been using it on macOS and iOS. Except for the issues described in the previous section, they worked fine. The Zwift Companion app is a great extension that sets Zwift apart from other apps.

It allows you to communicate with other zwifters, skip intervals during training, browse events, and much more.

There is always a small percentage of users who can’t get an app working due to unique circumstances. However, positive Zwift reviews prevail, and you shouldn’t experience any issues on any platform.


Zwift Alternatives

There are plenty of indoor cycling apps out there. However, the following are my favorite.

  • ROUVY – unlike Zwift, ROUVY uses real-world footage of routes from around the world. You move through them with your virtual avatar.
  • TrainerRoad – is focused purely on making you a better cyclist—no distractions – only structured training plans.
  • Wahoo SYSTM – displays your ride data with pre-recored footage. It is a universal app not only for cyclists but also for yogis and people who want to strengthen their mental health.
  • RGT Cycling – is the closest alternative to Zwift in terms of graphics. The RGT Cycling world is virtual, but it is inspired by real-world roads.
  • FulGaz – like ROUVY, uses real-world footage of routes worldwide. The main difference is that there is no avatar.
AppPriceFree TrialWorldMultiplayerConnectivityPlatform Availability
Zwift14.99 USD / month7 daysVirtualYesANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth, BLE FTMSAndroid, iOS, Windows, macOS, Apple TV
ROUVY12 USD / month
144 USD / year
14 daysRealYesANT+ FE-C, BluetoothAndroid, iOS, Windows, macOS, Apple TV
TrainerRoad19.95 USD / month
189 USD / year
7 daysn/aNoANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth, BLE FTMSAndroid, iOS, Windows, macOS
Wahoo SYSTM (formerly The Sufferfest)14.99 USD / month
129 USD / year
14 daysRealNoANT+ FE-C, BLE FTMSAndroid, iOS, Windows, macOS
RGT CyclingFree or
9.99 USD / month
14 daysVirtualYesANT+ FE-C, BLE FTMSAndroid, iOS, Windows, macOS, Apple TV
FulGaz12.99 USD / month
108.99 USD / year
14 daysRealNoANT+ FE-C, BLE FTMSAndroid, iOS, Windows, macOS, Apple TV
Updated on the 17th of September, 2021.

I created a rating system for evaluating the following features. It helps to keep the comparison between training apps consistent.

  • Price – how expensive is the app relative to other indoor cycling apps?
  • Ease of setup – is the app easy to set up with a smart trainer? Can it be used without it?
  • Engagement – does the app keep you engaged and motivated?
  • Routes – does the app offer a wide route library?
  • Training – does the app include prebuilt workout plans? Do they help you get faster?
  • User-friendliness and intuitiveness (UX) – is the app easy to navigate, easy to use, straightforward, and intuitive?
  • Platform availability – is the app available for multiple platforms like iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, AppleTV, etc.?

The following table shows my ratings of specific areas on a scale of 1–5 (5 is the best).

AppPriceEase of SetupEngagementRoutesTrainingUXPlatform AvailabilityTotal
Zwift345343526
More apps coming soon.

Zwift FAQ


My Verdict

Do I recommend Zwift? Yes, to people who enjoy playing games and who appreciate in-game social interactions. Zwift has a sophisticated motivation system. If you lack motivation, Zwift will probably make you do the work.

Do I recommend it to everybody? No. Its virtual world may not appeal to everybody. Some riders prefer real-world footage and more routes to choose from.

On the other hand, Zwift has users worldwide. Thanks to the huge community, plenty of races, and structured workouts, it will help you survive the winter months with ease.

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