Zwift Goes Virtual Mountain Biking, Offers Steering - Eurobike 2019

Sep 4, 2019
by Mike Levy  
Eurobike 2019


If you're not familiar with Zwift, it's pretty much one-third stationary trainer, one-third fitness program, and one-third video game. Your bike is attached to a trainer of some kind, and this communicates wirelessly (if you have a ''smart'' trainer) via science to your computer to tell Zwift how much power you're putting out. Zwift itself is a virtual world where you ride your bike, along with thousands of other people, and the more power you put out, the faster you go. Just like outside.


Eurobike 2019
Eurobike 2019
It ain't as good as being outside, but Zwift has its place. Now you can go mountain biking and even steer.


It's not intended to ever replace actual riding - you're inside, on a trainer, staring at a screen - but it lets you train, if you're into that kinda thing, during times when you might not be able to ride outside, be it due to injury or weather. Think of it as a tool to make your actual riding even better. Up until now, it's been entirely road bike-based (you can run, too), but I wrote two years ago that it's only a matter of time until they offer mountain biking, probably with some sort of steering system. And that's exactly what we're looking at here.

Zwift is releasing it to the public in a few weeks under the 'Future Works' name that's intended to signify new developments, but it'll only be a 2.1-mile segment in Watopia (one of their multiple worlds you can choose to ride in) for now. Expect new, longer off-road routes to become available down the road, though, all designed to mimic the grade changes that you'd see on your mountain bike. That fact will be important for riders who use Zwift to train for mountain biking as it's ideal to replicate the steeper, shorter off-road climbs that you wouldn't usually see on the pavement.


Eurobike 2019
Eurobike 2019
Accelerometers in your phone let you steer and pick the best lines.


Oh, and you're graded on your line choices as well, with higher marks unlocking new features. The steering is managed by mounting your phone on the handlebar and using its accelerometers, and you'll be able to adjust the sensitivity as well; the one at the show is a bit touchy. Your front wheel rests on a rotating base that allows you to easily turn the handlebars. If you're already using Zwift, you have everything you need to head off-road.

The idea here is to make training fun and more engaging, and this isn't going to be for everyone. But for those that know how Zwift can turn that winter frown upsidedown, it could be just the ticket.


94 Comments

  • 94 0
 Next thing you know, Wahoo is releasing the mud sprayer to go with the virtual experience...
  • 36 0
 And next comes the flat simulator module with the "forgot the tyre levers" add-on.
  • 23 0
 ...and the next thing you know, Ol’ Jed’s a millionaire.
  • 10 5
 @P3N54 I have a young kid who's potty training, plenty of mud spraying going on in my house lately.
  • 8 0
 Best kind of e-bike. Smile
  • 2 0
 Wahoo’s “Annoying horse rider that leaves poop around randomly on single track” probably won’t be a big seller.
  • 33 0
 If I can just convince a local hiker to stand next to the trainer and glare at me, I'll never need to leave the house!
  • 1 0
 Thanks WAHOO! now I'm wanting one, Wattopia and the roads just weren't cutting it for me. I can see options for tons of cool features.
  • 1 0
 @gkeele: ..and that glare says they want to stab you a thousand times
  • 1 0
 @gkeele: If you pick the right line you'll unlock the North Shore feature of a dog walker losing control of their "herd.' You have to dodge the canines for extra points.
  • 51 0
 I'm waiting for the rampage version now. That way if I fall and die, I'll just have to press restart.
  • 5 1
 When, not if ;-).
  • 7 0
 Or, maybe we are already living in the matrix but all the rampage riders took the red pill and know how to bend reality, but we wimped out and took the blue pill.
  • 8 0
 Dont forget your knee pads if riding on hardwood floors. You could get a bruise.
  • 2 0
 @bmar: *splinter
  • 47 16
 Hot tip: a cheap aluminum winter bike and some quality clothing to ride it in will both cost less and bring infinitely more joy than a Zwift-capable setup.
  • 12 3
 But then which screen do I look at? Didn't you get the memo? Everything has to be an app and needs to have a screen now.
  • 47 0
 Unless you live in a snowy climate. I ride both mountain and road, and even got myself a fat bike last year to extend my outdoor riding, but sometimes getting outdoors just isn't practical. As a training tool, indoor trainers with a virtual environment like Zwift are fantastic. Are they as fun? No, of course not. But using Zwift means that when the weather does cooperate, my fitness level isn't going to hold me back from the real fun.
  • 2 5
 @JasonALap: an old cross bike with nice wide slicks on it would make a bomb winter road bike, assuming your roads get plowed Wink
  • 68 2
 People say this, but I’ll take an hour in my renovated, heated shed with a mega sound system blasting Tool vs. putting fifty layers on to go ride shitty, snowy roads.
  • 3 0
 @NoahColorado: I'm with you. I hate cold weather!!!!
  • 15 0
 There is no joy to be found riding into a -20C headwind on icy gravel sideroads, which is about all we have available once the local trails switch over to "fat tire only". I get my winter fun fix on a snowboard, sled or ice fishing while Zwift allows me to keep a base for spring.
  • 6 0
 @JasonALap: yup, spot on. Basically it's fun to get out once or twice a week on my fat bike and play in the snow. However, to get any serious training done on the winter, I need to use the trainer in the basement. It's just too hard to throw down hard intervals outdoors when you're worried about things like ice or sweating too much. There's also the issue that it gets dark at about 4pm during the winter and no matter how good lights are these days, it's always more dangerous riding icy trails in the dark.
  • 3 2
 @Thisisbenji90: there is these things called ice skating, ski randonneuring and ski skating though. It is also quite nice to train some different muscles.

You also don't need to do interval all year long.
  • 2 0
 Just get a mountain unicycle. No chain, no maintenance. Ride it and put it away dirty.
  • 7 2
 @JasonALap: Pornhub also maintains fitness when the weather is poor (and good for that matter), but is a lot more fun than Zwift.
  • 1 0
 @Mnorris122. Maybe on some days ...but if your into training for future adventures there nothing like the pure power and excercise of the indoor scene when your stuck by nasty weather

I'm lucky to live in a area where I can bike year around so I'm not interested in this right now.
  • 7 0
 @JasonALap: Absolutely correct.

I worked hard at training through the winter last year. There were days that I rode gravel when the singletrack was unrideable. Days that I had a blast riding a fat bike on the snow. Days that I got cold-weather badges from my Garmin for going out on a fat bike in sub-15F weather at night. Days that I put on skins and skied up, and then down the mountains I usually ride on.

There were also days when the weather was absolute shit, and training on Zwift while watching TV was far, far more fun than getting out in the weather.

No-one sane is spending time on a trainer for fun, but if you live somewhere with proper winters and you're trying to stay in biking shape, it's a nice tool to have. Plus, some of the structured workouts are pretty novel to someone who's not used to thinking about things like cadence and wattages.

One of the most valid criticisms I've seen of Zwift is that there's so much more they could do to gamify the platform and keep your interest. I can handle a half-hour on the thing no problem. An hour is a slog, and anything longer than that and I'm totally miserable. But there's no reason that Zwift shouldn't be as, or even more engaging than more traditional video games. "Finding your line" on a MTB course is a step in the right direction, but I think there's probably a long way to go before "playing" Zwift is as much fun as any other halfway decent video game.
  • 4 0
 I Zwift due to injury. Have about 1,500 miles on the trainer this year. It allows me to stop immediately if the injury starts to bother me. Whereas if I am out on a 25 mile loop, I have no choice but to finish it, which exacerbates the injury.
  • 2 0
 @mnorris122: I live in a snowy area and that just isnt possible usually. One thing people forget is that while the roads may be plowed, they only plow enough for cars which means IF the surface is decent enough for riding then you're stuck in the middle of the road because there are no shoulders or anywhere else to go. Also another thing is a lot of people don't know how to drive in the snow and I don't exactly want to be on a bike in the middle of that on a bike...
  • 2 0
 @opignonlibre: Meh, I prefer to really focus down and make big gains in fitness over the winter. Then when it comes time for summer I prefer to spend more time working on base training as this allows for epic all day mtb rides without the need to worry about structured training. Luckily the racing I do is all in a two month block, so just before that I sprinkle in some vo2 work outdoors to really get myself going. Other than that though, I'd much rather do things to improve my FTP over the winter on my trainer and save the easier days for when I can mtb over the summer.
  • 2 1
 There are different voices stating that isn't necessarily good for on the bike performance, except for bike specific technique (pumping, jumping, manuals etc) and even then the strength and mobility required are best trained elsewhere. I do realize training programs are a whole can of worms and I didn't mean to open it here. But there is no question that there is a lot of off-the-bike training you can do that is going to help you with your on-the-bike performance. There were a couple of years where I had really little time to ride (little kids, work, study to finish, no trails nearby) so I got myself a trainer (Tacx Bushido). Just so that the few times that I did get out to ride, I was ready. It is an ergotrainer which could be used as a VR trainer but I never bothered. First of all because I simply didn't have a computer powerful enough. But for effective training, I think the ergotrainer programs are just much more effective too. Training on a trainer can be quick and intense. You can do interval training without ever holding back for traffic, slippery spots or anything. You can follow your program real strict. And obviously except for wiping the sweat off your bike, you don't need to do maintenance whilst your body cools down. But that's where I think an ergotrainer is good for. I only see added entertainment value in the VR stuff, but it won't give you a better workout than what you could already have on an ergotrainer. Where it may help is visualization. If someone wants to prepare for Alpe d'Huzes or wants to ride up the Mont Ventoux this next Summer, you can ride the video on your computer as it adjusts the resistance for you. That makes for a great preparation for when you finally ride the real thing.

So yeah if you already have an ergotrainer, I don't think the Zwift software is going to help you become better except if you really need that kind of motivation to even stick to your schedule.
  • 1 0
 I don't mind spinning in the winter. I have avoided a fatbike as I'd rather be ski touring though that argument is getting harder as fatbiking takes far less time than a tour and we have some rad people grooming trails for it. But- if I want to keep the legs loose- an hour on the trainer watching a movie after the kids go to bed feels fairly productive. I have zwift but generally ignore a lot of what goes on with it. I'd rather just watch a movie than get pseudo competitive with the skin suit crowd. I'll srt my own distances, times and elevations and just use it for that.
  • 2 0
 @JasonALap: I'm with you, got a studded hardtail to spin and commute with but for a sweatfest nothing beats a zwift race or workout. Sweat like that and need to stop for whatever when its -20C things go sideways in a hurry
  • 2 0
 @Slimeo: Hard to train when the family is about though. Wife gives me the disapproving look when I tell her I’m getting my winter base training in.
  • 1 0
 @Intensevp: Hahahaha!
  • 1 0
 @vinay: To your point, the gamification of VR training systems can be a great motivator. Spinning on a basic erg will have me watching the clock after 10mins, whereas on Zwift there are enough carrots to keep me going much longer... go to the next even 100m vert or next km or next 10min mark. And the training programs are much better than I'd ever put together and certainly are easily to follow.
  • 1 0
 @robwhynot: Alright. I've got to admit I've never tried more than a Tacx Fortius (well over a decade ago) in the shop. It never got close to how fired up I can get when doing intervals. Maybe just the past experience of having a coach nearby yelling "go go go thirty more seconds go go go give me all you got" makes my fantasy trigger me much more than watching a rider on a screen I can't quite identify with. Sure technology must have progressed over time so maybe it would with what they have now. That said, a programmable ergotrainer does great for me. Got to admit that after I got my new frame with a different axle standard over a year ago (142x12 instead of the old 135qr), I haven't quite gotten all the parts to make this new bike fit my trainer. Once I have, I might look into the VR stuff again. If my computer is actually up to the job too!
  • 12 0
 Fantastic. Zwift helps me get through the cold dark winters in Denmark when there is barely any daylight out and I'm sick and tired of "suiting up" and cleaning bikes etc. Been looking forward to a MTB option.
  • 9 0
 Riding a virtual mountain bike is like eating a virtual doughnut. Though I would pay to see Mike Levy eat a dozen virtual donuts.
  • 16 0
 I do prefer the real ones, though.
  • 7 0
 Most every decent mtb guy I know trains pretty hard in the offseason. Living on a mtn is awesome but its rarely nice for winter mtb riding. This seems like a nice way to keep your legs/cardio and have a bit of fun (once it gets dialed in). Sure snowboarding a couple times a week is great but it sucks to hit spring and have to build back up. Indoor training totally has its place and it's a lot more fun than going to spin classes. Why the hate? This seems like a good thing right? (I've never used one of these fwiw... )
  • 3 0
 For sure! I just do 3 trainer rides per week over the winter and it's plenty to keep me primed for the spring when we get to hit the singletrack. Usually something like Vo2 Tuesday, Threshold Thursdays, and Sweet Spot Saturdays. Hell, since I do these in the morning they don't even get in the way of any winter activities. It's really not a big deal to wake up Saturday morning and bang out 1.5 hours of sweet spot work before going snowboarding.
  • 8 0
 cool concept but why isn't the sensor for the steering built into the rotating base? surely that would be much more accurate?
  • 7 0
 Added cost? Simple to build into the app and no extra hardware? Just as effective for this application?
  • 2 0
 Phones already have the accelerometers built in. Unless you want the base to be $400 instead of $100 it makes more financial sense.
  • 6 0
 See I was gonna talk shit like most people are but then we had hurricane Dorian hit this weekend and I was inside a building for 4 days without nothing to do and I would’ve love to do instead of anything else
  • 1 0
 There are a lot you can do as well, like some core body exercises.
  • 3 0
 Awesome. Finally some MTB Sections. It was always hard to train for the upcoming MTB Season. Zwift overall is great. Can't wait for some upcoming ZWIFT MTB Races and some replica XC Courses to ride!
  • 4 0
 Let me know when the ebike version is out. This sounds fun but creating all my watts without assistance. No thanks, I'm a modern mountain biker!
  • 3 0
 Zwift made my winter training so much more enjoyable! a great software. But I would like to see this on the road version to Smile
  • 4 0
 Unlock the VanDerPoel....up up, down down, left right, left right, b a select start.....for you old school dudes...
  • 1 0
 This is great news. I use zwift to keep some level of fitness in the colder/darker months and if I only have limited time to do some riding.

Obviously I rather be out in the real world, but for some of us it's just not practical or possible.

It's no surprise there is plenty of hate for it here (as per most things in our sport it seems), but those who are down on it, either give it a go, try and see the world from someone else's perspective or ultimately.... move on.

Also zwift hold events and races, which again could be fun for those of us who do use the system.

Anyone wanna go for a virtual ride?
  • 3 0
 Mountain biking, an outdoor sport preferably done in the dark whilst raining!!
  • 4 0
 All of your base will soon belong to me.
  • 1 0
 Glad this finally showed up.
  • 1 0
 do these things have servos in them to make the pedalling more difficult? would be good to get that integrated; mimic rocky climbs.
having said that, i'm not sure i want to throw my weight forwards on a static bike. Smile
  • 2 0
 Yes they do
  • 1 0
 Some of the high end trainers can mimic rough road surfaces. Certainly nothing like riding a real off-road surface but may be useful to give feedback for surface traction.
  • 1 0
 @mcvittees: Finally! A use for my tyres with torn casings and most f'ed rims. Offroadatron simulator 3000.
  • 3 0
 Now we will never need to get muddy or clean our bikes.
  • 1 0
 "If you're already using Zwift, you have everything you need to head off-road."

Except that I have a static front wheel holder.
  • 2 1
 remove it and put a book instead. Done
  • 1 0
 Anyone know who makes that turning riser under the front wheel? And that monitor stand? I have been looking for this exact setup for a year.
  • 2 0
 Steering isn't a thing. It needs to work with rollers or an inside ride so you can lean. C'mon people.
  • 1 0
 Imagine if Zwift were to partner with RipRow to integrate their...um, machine...into the steering element of their MTB course.
  • 1 0
 my 15 year old TACX fortius trainer does this. you can even ride with actual footage or google earth and have the resistance change according to the terrain.
  • 1 0
 Pretty cool. And at $15/month it does make me consider getting a zwift compatible trainer for those days in winter when I really don't want to go outside. Good article PB.
  • 1 0
 Why isn't this in first person instead of third person. And make it VR. And the steering should be in the base
  • 2 0
 You can switch to a first person view.
  • 1 0
 I think goggles during an intense workout might not be the best idea. Unless you don't sweat. Turning in the base is a added cost you would complain about. And we can assume their will be base integration for people not wanting to use their phone. And there is like 10 different view angles. By hitting V on the keyboard.
  • 1 0
 I just wet myself with excitement. Now I'll never need to go outside to ride one of my bikes again! Big Grin
  • 3 1
 GET ZWIFTY... YA ITS TIME TO GET ZWIFTY....
  • 1 0
 "This isn't going to be for everyone" pretty much everyone except mountain bikers.
  • 1 0
 I would rather do this than suffer the embarrassment of riding a dirt moped (ebike)
  • 3 2
 Zwift - ebikes aren't just for Strava anymore...
  • 2 0
 You try racing on Zwift with a 15mph top speed and let me know how that goes for you Smile
  • 1 0
 Damn, I wish we could hook this up to Descenders. That would be so sick.
  • 1 0
 You can do this while you're charging your eBike. Win-win.
  • 1 0
 Can I ride my road bike on virtual mtb rides or is it not compatible?
  • 1 0
 The best part of MTB is that it's IRL
  • 1 0
 “I still jerk off manually.”
  • 1 0
 Na, i'll just get wet ta
  • 1 0
 Or ride through central London at night? No thanks. I'll take indoor training, any day!
  • 1 0
 conflicted
  • 1 2
 Tried Zwift once. It was boring as shit, even compared to some of the other training simulators...
  • 1 0
 Next on sick sad world!
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