QUESTION: Is Zwift good for beginners? I know it has a lot of racing and workouts, and those seem difficult. I have access to a Wahoo Core smart trainer because my roommate doesn’t mind me using his, and he says my bike will fit on it. I just want to get in some basic exercise and thought it might be more fun than just pedaling and listening to music. – Mark P
ANSWER: Zwift is definitely good for beginners, even though it’s also used by serious cyclists who train and race.
Zwift is the Swiss army knife of cycling apps. There are many, many different ways you can use it, and there are riders of all different abilities using the app whenever you log on. Let me give you some examples of the ways people use it.
Free ride. This is probably how most people who have never used Zwift imagine it. Just a bunch of cycling avatars riding around on a computer screen. This is the default if you just log in and start using the app, and lots of people really do use the app this way.
Zwift has at least 9 varying “worlds” that are often based on real cities like London, Innsbruck, Tokyo, New York and Paris. When you log in, you might appear in any of them, which keeps things feeling fresh. As soon as you start, you find yourself surrounded by other avatars from all over the world. You can find another rider or a group and try to stay with them, or you can try to pass as many people as possible, or you can just ride at a comfortable pace. It’s totally up to you, sort of like taking your bike out to ride in some area where there are a lot of other cyclists riding.
If you don’t want to deal with racing or workouts, then you can always just stick to free riding and never do anything else!
Ride simultaneously with friends who are also online. If you have friends who also use Zwift, you can add their usernames and “follow” them and the app will show you when your friend is online, giving you the option to join them wherever they are located on the course. Friends who follow you can see when you’re riding and join you too. You can use the Zwift companion app to chat back and forth if you want to type a message to them while you’re riding.
Group rides at varying paces, including social. You’ll find these organized rides in the Events section of the app or companion app. They start at a specific time, and then you end up with a large group of people riding at the same pace. Sometimes the group rides are set up so that it’s easy for everyone to stay together in a group even if you are pedaling at a slower pace, and you’ll only lose the group if you stop pedaling completely and fall out of the pack.
Racing. Here’s another aspect of Zwift that most cyclists have heard of. You’ll find Zwift races scheduled almost every hour of the day and night. Some are very short 10 mile criterium style races, and others are very long 100k or even 100 mile races! The courses vary too, so you might be racing up a mountain pass, or on a flat course, or something hilly.
You’ll need to figure out your race category, which is based on how fast you’ve ridden on Zwift in the past for a 20 minute period. But if you’re a beginner, it’s safe to just look for the D or E (everyone) category races and start there and work your way up to a higher category if it seems too easy.
You already mentioned that you don’t want to race, but you might change your mind about racing and workouts after you use Zwift for a while. Since races are free, there’s no harm in trying them just to see what they’re like.
Training plans that run over time. Zwift has a very large number of multi-week training plans to prepare you for rides or races in the real world. For example, there are training plans to prepare you for criterium races, or for completing a gran fondo or century ride. There are plans to prepare you for mountain bike racing and gravel events too. Or you might just look for something straightforward like a plan to raise your FTP to help you just get faster and fitter in general.
With these training plans, Zwift starts by giving you a fitness test, so that the workouts will be just the right difficulty for you — even if you’re a beginner. So don’t be intimidated if you decide you want to try out a training plan. It shouldn’t be harder than you can handle, because it will be adapted exactly for your current abilities. You might find out that it’s actually kind of fun to see your fitness improve over time with a structured plan.
Individual workouts. If you don’t want to commit to a long term structured training plan, you can also pick and choose from dozens of individual workout options. You can pick a workout based on how much time you have available to train, or choose a workout that trains you for something specific like sprinting, or raising your VO2 max. The workouts are based on your current fitness levels as Zwift has learned from your previous riding, so like with the structured training, these should be just the right difficulty that might seem hard, but not “too difficult” to complete.
Upload your own workouts or create workouts from scratch. If you use a coach, you can upload assigned workouts to the app and ride them on Zwift. Or maybe you know exactly which type of workout you like to do (like 8 minutes at a certain pace followed by 2 minutes of rest, repeated 3 times), in which case you can create it as a custom workout.
As you can see, there are lots of ways to approach riding on Zwift if you’re a beginner. None of them require a major commitment. It’s just an app, and you can quit a workout or quit a race or stop a training plan at any point if it turns out you don’t like it. Free riding on Zwift can be great, but the other options give you different ways to approach riding on the app too. You never know which one of those options might be the most motivating and fun for you unless you try them, and you might change your mind about which one you like best over time.