How to train for cyclocross indoors with Zwift

January 13, 2021

How to train for cyclocross indoors with Zwift

For decades, enthusiast cyclists have built fitness on trainers with magnetic, fluid, or air resistance. Indoor trainers allow you to stay active and grab a workout when it's dark out, or in poor weather. Those workouts were self-paced, however - other than perhaps putting on a Tour de France DVD for entertainment, there wasn't any interaction or connectivity possible.

Indoor training has been revolutionized with subscription services like Zwift*. These services combine the indoor trainer with a display (iPad, TV, etc.) where riders can look at scenery, statistics, and even participate in virtual races against online competitors in real-time, over the internet. 

* For the purposes of this article, "Zwift" refers to any of the competing virtual racing and training services, such as BKool, TrainerRoad and so on, since the hardware and software requirements are similar or identical across services. If you purchase a trainer that works with Zwift you can use the same equipment with many other apps too. 

Why you should be training indoors

Indoor cycling offers a fresh perspective for racers. Specifically for those who race cyclocross, the opportunity to race outdoors simply doesn't exist in Spring or Summer. Zwift also provides a refreshing change of pace to riding the same local routes with the same people. 

The motivation of racing, of course, can't be ignored. Training indoors requires self-motivation; adding the racing effect to the mix can can provide a boost to your interest and engagement.

For riders in areas with bad weather, especially in wintertime, indoor cycling can provide a workout when weather makes training outdoors difficult or impossible. There is much less wear and tear on your bike when it isn't getting wet and muddy. 

Background

You've no doubt seen the ads on YouTube featuring superstar Mathieu van der Poel for the Zwift service. As far as I know these services don't publish their subscription numbers, but Zwift seems like it has the largest adoption. 

What you need to use Zwift

To use Zwift, you need some gear. It falls into "must-have" and "nice-to-have" categories. Let's take a look at the requirements: 

Must have - your bike, an indoor trainer, and the Zwift program or app. Your trainer should broadcast power (watts) to Zwift. If your trainer doesn't measure power, you may be able to use a speed sensor as a substitute. In that case, Zwift will translate that speed data into a "virtual power" measurement.

You'll also need a high-speed, always-on internet connection. 

Nice to have - a more sophisticated "smart" trainer that measures power and varies the amount of resistance based on the conditions in the game - like going up a hill. 

Your trainer will use ANT+ or Bluetooth to communicate with Zwift, depending on your computer or device. You can add ANT+ to computers that don't have it built-in via a USB stick, such as Garmin's dongle

Recommended hardware

If you're buying a trainer from scratch to use with Zwift, definitely consider a "smart" trainer that can vary the resistance based on input from the app. The trainer you select should have a power meter that can broadcast to Zwift with ANT+ and/or Bluetooth.

Models of this type include:

  • Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Control
  • Saris Hammer Direct Drive
  • Wahoo KICKR
  • Zwift keeps an extensive list here

If you already own a trainer, you can consider adding a crank arm or hub based power meter to your bike as an alternative way to capture power. 

Software Requirements

Zwift runs on modern Mac, PC, Apple iOS (iPhone, iPad, AppleTV) and Android devices, subject to the minimum system requirements. The GPU (i.e. graphics card) and amount of RAM is the primary determinant of whether your system can run Zwift.

As with video games, the system requirements refer to the minimum. Because these applications are heavily graphics-dependent, a faster, newer computer or device with more RAM is better, if available. 

For specifics, visit this page: https://www.zwift.com/video/how-to-cycling/compatible-devices

Structured Workouts

Even if "virtual racing" isn't for you, having a connected trainer setup allows you to access a wide variety of self-paced, solo workouts. Subscription services like The Sufferfest allow you access to professionally structured and coached workouts with real-time feedback on your performance based on your power output and heart rate data. 

Getting started on Zwift

Ready to give it a try? Zwift offers a 7 day free trial for most new users (in the USA) and then costs $14.99 a month (tax is added in some areas.)

Once you've got the bike, trainer, and software hooked up, you're ready to use Zwift. Start the app and follow the instruction steps to confirm Zwift is receiving a signal from your hardware, then start riding!

See you out there -

 



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