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Real bike, digital road – how augmented reality brings gaming to training.

Bike Short

To say I love cycling would be an understatement. I’ve taken cycling vacations, sponsored a racing team, and even worked with a trainer to enhance my performance. To stay in top form, the Fell Swoop racing team does weekly rides on Wednesday, but the Seattle weather doesn’t always cooperate. On those days, we’re often forced to complete our training indoors using stationary trainers. These are fine, but they’re no substitute for the real thing; fortunately, augmented reality is making the transition a lot easier.

Zwift is an augmented reality game that’s taking the cycling world by storm. It’s an online environment that brings a gaming-like experience to a cycling trainer.

The game allows riders from all around the world to train, race, and connect with one another.

To experience Zwift, you’ll need three things

  1. Bike
  2. Computer (connected to the internet: a laptop or desktop will do)
  3. Cycling trainer (ideally a smarttrainer: I use a Wahoo Kickr)

A cycling trainer lifts your bike’s rear wheel off the ground and applies some resistance for stationary training. A smart trainer works with Zwift to give you the full augmented experience. When you speed up, your avatar in the game speeds up. When you go up a hill, the trainer increases the resistance and it does it in a way that feels natural.

More and more people are using it every day. For myself, a tech guy that only discovered cycling and racing in recent years, my interest in Zwift wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. What has surprised me however, is how lifelong cyclists and bike racers with decades of experience have truly embraced the platform. Cycling is by no means a new sport, but riders who observe one-hundred-year-old traditions have somehow rapidly made room for this new way of training and connecting with fellow riders. And with this connection, we can see the true potential of augmented reality.

Augmented reality and user experience

Zwift 1

Augmented reality is not supposed to substitute for reality. It, well, augments reality. It adds to the experience. It helps us experience things we might not have been able to otherwise; like training with cyclists from around the world, all while staying away from the rain. Zwift has found a way to connect users on a social platform, all around an augmented reality game. Zwift understands that cyclists love riding together, and that sometimes life gets in the way of “real” rides. The augmented experience brings us together in a new way that isn’t really a substitute, but a great alternative to riding alone on a trainer. Where Zwift has seen success, others are likely to follow. In fact, Zwift recently announced they are adding running to their platform.

If your workout of choice is lucky enough to have an augmented option, ask yourself a few key questions when you kick the tires: does this detract from my experience, or add to it? Is it just a new game, or does it let me connect with others in ways I couldn’t before? Any good design should add to the user experience. Zwift figured that out, and we’re excited to see what other companies can bring to the table.

Come ride with us

Now, if I’ve piqued your interest, you should join the Fell Swoop Racing Team for a ride sometime. Every Wednesday a 5:45pm PT we have an hour-long high-intensity training session. Group rides like these are an everyday occurrence in the cycling world. With casual cycling clubs, friends and racing teams joining one another for a casual spin or team training session. Now these group rides are also happening in a virtual gaming world, and they sure are fun!

So come ride with us: we hope to see you on Zwift.