Thursday, 4 February 2016

Zwift Racing - How real is it?


It's been 12 months since I first installed Zwift and started chasing friends and strangers around virtual roads in cyberspace. Back in the early beta on Jarvis Island, after only a few rides, I knew there was massive potential in the platform beyond just rolling around for fun and interval training.

ZTR Wednesday - Pre roll-out.

As the Zwift community grew and the group riding dynamics within the game were refined, organised events started popping up all over the place. While we're still on the edge of our seats (saddles?) waiting for the official Zwift event/race module, the Zwift community have already taken things to the next level. Training rides, tempo rides, races catering for all levels, automated results, race reports - It's all happening right now.


Where to find events/rules/details?

The best location at this point is at http://zwiftcalendar.com. It'll show upcoming events in your local timezone with all the rules/details of the specific events listed within each entry. Take note of the route your event will go so you know which one to select when logging in.

A great overview of the ZTR (Zwift Training Race) events and racing in general can be found here: http://www.virtualonlinecycling.com/2015/11/what-is-ztr.html


I've never raced before!

That's not a problem, this is a great way to start out. There's no entry fee, so there's nothing to lose. Just kit up, log in, and join in. Be prepared for some pre-race nerves. After all, you are up against real people who'll want to beat you. Don't let this be a hindrance, it'll prepare you for what you'll go through on race day outside.



Just how "real" is this racing?

Some cyclists will tell you unless you're on a fixed wheel, on the cobbles, in Belgium, in 1974, you're never really racing. Most of us ride indoors to maximize the time we have, and to replicate the efforts we'll be doing outside. From first hand experience, I can confirm the effort required to race in any category on Zwift is EXACTLY what you'll be doing out on the roads... in some cases it'll require more!

Stats from the ZTR-A race on February 3rd 2016 -



302W average for the 48km, NP of around 314. ~4.19w/kg. Depending on what level you're at, those numbers might not mean much.... the key is that I never hit the wind until 1.5km to go! Those numbers were me sitting in the bunch or on a wheel for the majority of the race, on a relatively flat course.

The final 1.5km -



After sitting in the bunch all race with 'fresh legs' (well, in reality, anything but!), the finish was hotly contested over the last two minutes. 541W for 1:53 after just over an hour racing. 7.5w/kg. And you could throw a blanket over the three or four of us at the line it was that close.

How real is the racing? The effort required is VERY REAL! It is the same across all categories, and even with those who get dropped and spend their time chasing back on. When you've got a virtual race number pinned on, the motivation to push yourself will be there.


What really makes "just an ergo session" feel like real racing?

The Effort - As outlined above, the physical effort is on par with real racing, across all categories.

Concentration - Like in a real race, you can never let your guard down. You're always working on your bunch positioning, responding to attacks/accelerations, and there's no time to check your Facebook feed (which I've been known to do the middle of standard ergo rides....) #holdthewheel! :)

The Randomness - No two races are ever the same. One race may have riders pulling Nabali like moves on descents and Froome style attacks up the KOMs... and the next race it might all stay together for a massive bunch kick.

The Racing Experience - Once you've got a few races under your belt, you'll be ready for anything people can throw down. If you want to mix things up, go to the front and dish out some pain! What's the worst that can happen? You drop off, roll in a few minutes down...  then check the calendar for the next race to do it all again! :)


Looking Ahead - The Potential 

Extending beyond just standard bunch races there could be hill climb TTs (on the proposed mountain pass climb), solo TTs, criterium / kermesse races on the newly opened Richmond flat course, multiple group handicap races (like the current Fox and Hound races), the possibilities are endless. If they open up some single-track on mountain bikes, there's a whole new world of opportunity there for dirt racing action!

Given what I've seen and experienced so far, I predict the next 'big thing' will be the race/event module. Automated event joining, neutral roll-out, and instant results will get a lot more people participating and competing against others around the world during their ergo sessions on a daily basis.

Details on exactly what it will include are sketchy, but from past updates we know the team at Zwift are on the ball with what the community wants.


For now. Kit up and #RideOn! Virtual racing is already here and it's going to get bigger!





Further Racing Info/Links:

http://zwiftblog.com/how-to-race-on-zwift-strategy-tips-etiquette-and-more/
http://zwiftnation.com

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Canyon SRAM Zwift Ride with Tiffany Cromwell - Tour Down Under - 2016

For their final trick at the Tour Down Under, Zwift pulled a rabbit out of their hat and announced they've partnered with Canyon-SRAM professional women's team for 2016 and would be using Zwift as a talent ID platform for female racers. The Canyon-SRAM Racing Zwift Academy Project is GO!

More details on the project can be found all over the Internets, and in upcoming press releases.

Like the two events earlier in the week, I was given a backstage pass at Ergo Fitness to come along in person. I took the opportunity to sneak in The Cycling Maven, who was super keen to ask Tiff a few interesting questions for his daily vlog. But not before I got my own 'viewer question' answered during the global live feed....




For more llamas, visit canyonsram.com and teamcanyonsram.com....  And for more info, visit the official team site wmncycling.com.

The Cycling Maven -




Full 1hr Broadcast -




Backstage Pass Pics - 

Hands down the best looking pro bike colour scheme for 2016!


Tiff and Vonm






The team behind the scenes working hard.

Cycling Maven - He can't look any more excited! :)


Cheers R. Wilson for carrying the theme. #llamas! 





Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Jens Voigt Zwift Ride - Tour Down Under - Jan 19th 2016

Hot on the heels of the Team Dimension Data Zwift event here at the Tour Down Under, the team at Zwift lined up crowd favourite Jens Voigt for a world-wide group ride on Watopia.

A professional media company had taken control of the broadcast on the Zwift YouTube Live channel. It was a pretty impressive set up.

Jens was a true professional - Answering questions from all angles while cranking out the watts with everyone who'd joined the ride.

It'll be "all systems go" again tomorrow for the Canyon//SRAM women's team event.... along with a pretty huge announcement on that front during the broadcast. See the Zwift Facebook page for details/times.




Here's some of the back stage action!




















Monday, 18 January 2016

Team Dimension Data Zwift Ride - Tour Down Under - Jan 18th 2016

Just a day before the official start to the 2016 World Tour season, Mark Renshaw and Songezo Jim from Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka dropped into Ergo Performance Fitness in Adelaide to ride a few laps of Watopia island with people from all over the world. 

The guys were mic'ed up for the live audio feed (via the Zwift Twitch Channel) as Sophie Smith interviewed both riders and Team DiData management about the 2016 season.

I was there to see what goes on behind the scenes to bring these events to life, and there's a lot more to it than I expected! With two more #TDU Zwift events this week, keep an eye on the Zwift Facebook page for details, tune in, and RideOn! Something tells me the January 21st ride with Canyon/SRAM will get a lot of attention...... don't miss it! 
















Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Alienware Alpha i3 - Quick Upgrades


My pain-cave PC is an Alienware Alpha i3. An all-in-one mini desktop computer with enough features to run everything I need right out of the box. I went with the lowest spec model with plans to upgrade both the RAM and HDD in the near future. 

The future is now! 

Having taken advantage of the Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 upgrade from Microsoft, I chose to bump the RAM from 4GB up to 12GB, and the 5400rpm HDD to a SSD (solid state drive).

Here is the quick rundown of how I went about the upgrade - 

RAM Upgrade

The base model i3 comes with one 4GB stick of DDR3L 1600Mhz Low Voltage RAM. L is the important part, you can't mix standard voltage DDR3 (1.5V) and Low Voltage DDR3 (1.25-1.35V). You can run either in the Alpha, just not both at the same time. As I was keeping the stock 4GB, I went for a matching 8GB DD3L to boost my Alpha to 12GB.

A quick price check online indicated an 8GB stick would set me back around AU$65. The first store I went into in Preston felt more like I'd walked into some seedy bro's bedroom while he was looking at the latest Zoo magazine. I double checked the sign on the door, yes, this was a computer store. I got strange looks when asking for a stick of 8GB DDR3LRAM, and he was both unwilling and, according to him, unable to help me. I kind of got the feeling that the store was a front for something else other than computers. Dodgy.

Further up the street I had more luck. The store had a stick in stock! My 8GB stick came with no packaging, no bag, and a complete lack of service. I handed over AU$80 for what would have cost me a lot less online. 

Anyhow, my tip - Avoid the mistakes I made by stumbling my way into a drug den / computer store then getting ripped off at the counter. Order online


My i3 Alpha now looking nervous.

Flip it - Only four screws to unleash the beast within. 


Pop the CPU cover to access the RAM

The stock 4GB DDR3L 1600Mhz Low Voltage stick

A matching DD3L 1600Mhz Low Voltage 8GB stick.

Installed - 12GB ready to RAMble! 

That's it. Just boot up and away you go!


HDD to SSD

While more RAM is nice to have, the system really wasn't hitting any performance limiters with only 4GB, so I went with the upgrade to SSD too.

The i3 Alpha has a generous 500GB drive, albeit only spinning at a lowly 5400rpm. This IS a performance limiter for the system. I had a spare 128GB SSD from a previous project that would go straight in, well, it did after messing about with partitioning software.


It was as if they expected you to upgrade this... easy to get to.


Copy copy, partition, copy copy - Thanks to Reflect Free.

After some partitioning magic (oh yes, the old-school will get that reference), it was a case of throwing it all back together for a #RideOn! 

Side note - 128GB is more than enough for my pain-cave PC. Most content is streamed, and now I have a 500GB portable HDD I can connect via USB thanks to this upgrade. The Alpha with Windows 10, Zwift, and a few other tools installed takes up around 40GB of space.


Conclusion 

The RAM upgrade will assist when multi-tasking ergo software, music playlists, and the like. The must-do is the SSD upgrade. It is BLINDINGLY FAST. Crazy fast. Less than 5 seconds to boot into Windows 10, and a lot snappier doing everything else. As for Zwift, the frame rates are still the same, it just takes less time to get it all up and running.