Fitness for Nerds: Numbers that matter

May 14, 2021

There's more to life than work we are often told, but sometime life just gets in the way.   Most people don't really think of IT engineers as an active and sporty bunch, but we don't all have to be couch potatoes.

At vBridge, we have the Ultra Runners like Corey and Ben, but there is also quite a strong Mountain Biking  contingent.

I'm reasonably keen on this form of exercise, it gets me out into the open air and away.  But we can't always disappear off to the hills.  Keeping fit can be a challenge and if you are not a runner/jogger or have access to a gym then it can be a struggle.

Especially in our industry we need to juggle things like On-Call and being available, but we also like data, and as I get older I don't bounce as well as i used to.

Now what if we could combine all of these......

Zwift is mostly an indoor cycling platform (it does running as well) and I'm going to tell you why it I enjoy using it.

  1. I get bored with training. Really easily.   I don't enjoy the Gym and if I try and ride on a stationary trainer, I'm over it in about 15 minutes.
  2. What happens when you are On Call?  Can't just disappear off for a couple of hours to the hills.  Need to be available to take a call and be close to laptop.
  3. What happens when it's cold/wet/dark outside?  Let's face it, just sometimes it's too crappy to face going outside.
  4. Am I allowed to mention Covid?  Lockdowns round the world have lead to a massive uptake in platforms like this.

So what's this Zwift thing then?

Well it's basically an online multiplayer game, where the primary input comes from you providing the power.

It is a social network.  you can chat and interact with other players from around the world.  You can ride in  groups, workouts or races.

It is based in the Epic Unreal 3D engine, probably more commonly know for games like Fortnite.  

You need 3 things to get started.

  1. A bike
  2. A Smart trainer.
  3. A PC/Laptop/AppleTV or device to run the software.

Now technically you don't need a Smart Trainer to use Zwift.  I started out using an old borrowed dumb trainer with speed and cadence sensors on my bike.  It was OK, but it's not as accurate or easy as getting a Smart Trainer.

A Smart Trainer is a bicycle wind trainer that does 2 things.   It measures the power you output while pedaling, and sometimes cadence as well.  It also can vary the resistance it applies.  This is very important for a simulator like Zwift.

A Smart trainer can vary in price from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand.  I use a Tacx Vortex which a 'wheel on'  trainer at the lower end of the scale, but it works well.

Other types like the Wahoo Kickr are so called direct drive trainers, where you remove the rear wheel and mount the bike directly onto a cassette that is part of the trainer.

What Zwift does, is take your pedaling power, your height and weight and pumps that into a model to simulate how you would be riding on the game roads.

There's plenty of online resources for getting yourself started on Zwift, so I won't cover that here.   But here are some of the interesting things about Zwift.

You can ride in some really cool places...

or hot places.... Try riding through a volcano in real life

The first (and most popular) world in Zwift is an imaginary island called Watopia.  There are also "real world" maps of London, Richmond, Innsbrook, Yorkshire and a couple of other.  Because Zwift also links to some real world GPS tracking tools like Strava, then there are few interesting points to note

Watopia is loosely located on the real world Santa Cruz Islands in  the Pacific.  There are no roads there so the GPS overlays look odd.

Thanks to Strava Global Heatmap

It has  things you can't do in the real world, like riding up and through an active volcano, a prehistoric grove complete with dinosaurs wandering around, underwater glass tunnels, jungles and its own steep mountains.

London is weirdly split, north of the river is kind of real, but south of the Thames you 'warp' to Surrey Hills which in real life are about 30km to the south west.  Yorkshire seems to be a fairly faithful reproduction of real roads.  New York is a futuristic version with transparent sky roads and bridges over Central Park.

What I like about Zwift is that it's there anytime.  I can be On-Call and able to be available and still enjoy a ride. (so excuse me if you ring and I'm a bit out of breath...)

You can ride in social groups.

You can do workouts.  Group workouts are good, you can ride with people of all different level of fitness and the Zwift magic holds the group together like with a giant elastic band.  It's a great leveler and means all fitness levels can participate in the same events.

You can race.  There are even serious e-sports and professional events.

But it doesn't always take itself so seriously....

April Fools?

So enjoy the ride, or just enjoy the scenery.

So that's the riding part.  We are keeping it techy, by having smart trainers hooked up to internet connected laptops via ANT+ or Bluetooth.  We use Mobile companion apps for chats and extra info.  But what about the numbers?

For a lot of people, the exercise in itself if the enjoyment.  But much like fitness trackers and fitbits, Zwift also generates stats.  Lots of stats. This can be viewed on a per ride basis.

Races integrate with zwiftpower to give detailed race results and analysis.

I also use Strava and the elevate app to map out long term fitness progression

Slacking off in March...

So how you are tracking against previous years

Or really go to town on the stats....

I'm not the worlds fastest or fittest rider.  I have nothing to prove to anyone, and all the numbers I just find interesting and useful to monitor myself.  

However, like any game or sport Zwift has gathered it's own set of acronyms and terms (fence, blob, erg) etc.  and there are a couple of really important tips and things that I wish I had know when I started riding.  I'll share all that in a follow up post.

Phil Snowdon

Phil is the Technical Operations Manager at vBridge. Loves all things infrastructure. Network/Security/Storage/Compute and Virtualization.