We first saw a glimpse of Zwift's updated system at Eurobike
and now, aspects of it are available. If you're not familiar with Zwift, it's a program that operates on your computer or phone via a link to a smart trainer. The trainer communicates the power output of the rider back to the application and allows users to ride against others in a virtual arena in real-time. You pedal faster on the trainer, you go faster on the screen. You can compete with others and it's meant to make riding the trainer a little less boring and more engaging. It's not a substitute for riding outside.
The game now contains two new training plans designed to meet the needs of off-road cycling where the specific demands of power output and pedaling are different than riding on the road. There's a 'Pebble Pounder' plan, designed as an entry-level plan for those looking to get into gravel events and then a more intermediate level plan called the 'Dirt Destroyer' for riders who have a developed endurance base but are aiming to improve mountain bike specific strengths. It uses repeated surges over threshold to up anaerobic capacity and peak pedal-torque which, in theory, will transfer to helping out on steep climbs.
According to Eric Min, CEO, and Co-Founder of Zwift, "We already have a strong user base of riders who spend most of their outdoor riding off-road. This may not be a total surprise - indoor training isn't just an effective training tool for road cyclists. However, this first coordinated move to cater for the (trail) audience is a significant step. For the first time, we will have dedicated training plans and bikes that suit the needs of off-road cyclists."
There is an additional, more advanced training plan for XC riders that will roll-out in early 2020.
On top of the new training plans, Zwift has also added in a new crop of what I'll call vBikes (short for 'Virtual Bike' - to keep things simple) to the game. The vBikes can be purchased in Zwift's Drop Shop where VR training and exercise enthusiasts can use Zwift's 'Drops' virtual currency earned by riding in the game to purchase the Canyon Grail, Inflite, and Cervelo's Aspero gravel bikes. Mountain bikers can choose from the Canyon Lux, Scott Spark, and Specialized Epic.
The vBikes are said to not only look like their real-world counterparts but they share a few ride characteristics - gravel bikes are fastest on gravel, moderate on the road, and slower off-road. Mountain bikes are fastest off-road, slower on gravel, and slowest on the road.
The announcement doesn't mention anything about the steering component that we saw at Eurobike however, Zwift did say that there will be further updates announced in the following months.