Zwift Vs Outdoor Cycling

Zwift Vs Outdoor Cycling

Zwift has undoubtedly helped make indoor training more exciting both for experienced and beginner cyclists.

It used to be tough, trying to maintain speed and cadence, pedalling as hard as possible and staring at a blank wall or a TV because it didn’t feel like riding. One of the biggest complaints about training inside is that nothing can compare to the scenery and camaraderie of the real thing, and while Zwift may have changed some opinions on that, can it ever hope to compete with riding outside? 

Zwift Vs Outdoor Cycling 

What is Zwift?  

Zwift is a cycling app where riders train and compete in virtual environments using a bike, a trainer and a screen. Subscribers are represented on-screen as avatars, riding different courses and interacting with other platform users like in a video game. But unlike other sports-related games and apps, Zwift is highly regarded by many cycling enthusiasts and professional riders because it offers a realistic and data-driven ride that’s ideal when outdoor conditions are poor or riders are short on time.   

Zwift doesn't care about weather reports 

One of Zwift’s biggest benefits is that it’s a year-round training platform.  Whether your bike is set up in a living room, a garage, the utility or a shed, it won't be affected by weather conditions. Outside it could be hailing golf balls, but you can still jump on and ride a course. It could be 1 a.m., but you can still clip in and complete a time trial. Trainers have always been one way of cycling indoors during poor conditions. Zwift is part of this evolution, helping to keep rides interesting, enjoyable and competitive even when riders are cycling alone in their homes. 
 

Cyclist on rollers in a white studio in front of a grey fan


But Zwift also has no chill
 

There are some disadvantages to this all-weather solution. Firstly, Zwift riders don't experience fresh air, which is more than just enjoying a pleasant cooling flow of air on arms and faces. As our body temperature rises during exercise, we start sweating. This sweat on our skin is evaporated into the air in a process called thermoregulation, helping cool us down. When you’re exercising indoors, however, this doesn’t happen. There’s no self-made breeze because you’re not moving anywhere unless you exercise next to an open window (with a breeze outside) or using fans.

Riding indoors without a cool air flow makes you sweat more and dehydrate more quickly, raising your heart rate and making it feel like you're riding harder. For a more comfortable training session, think about how to recreate that outdoor flow of air, using indoor fans, for example.   

You can pick from several virtual environments 

Zwift lets you ride in nine different worlds including London, New York, Paris, and Makuri Islands. According to Bike Radar, these worlds are regularly rotated, so the platform’s subscribers aren’t too thinly spread, maintaining the app’s important social element. This also keeps things interesting; outdoor riders may be bored or uninspired when faced with the same local rides they’ve completed many times before.

The gamification of Zwift also makes it attractive to subscribers who may find indoor cycling difficult to enjoy compared to outdoor routes. Riders can also compete in races, set up meetings to ride with friends or ride alone with a pace-setter. 

Of course, cycling on an app will also be safer than cycling outdoors. For starters, there’s no traffic to worry about and no dodging pedestrians or wildlife. Zwift won’t leave you halfway up a mountain with a flat, either. Your biggest worry is probably going to be your internet connection dropping out.  

But there’s no accounting for the real thing 

For most people, there’s nothing like riding outdoors. Whether it’s the scenery, fresh air or the thrill of discovering new places, there’s more than just missing out on real-world environments. Cycling is a skill honed by experience, and everything from bike handling and maintenance to perceiving and managing hazards is key to growing your proficiency as a rider. Zwift may be a safer option, especially in poor weather or during darker nights, but it can’t teach you the skills to make you a confident and competent outdoor rider.  

 two road cyclists on a country lane with a village ahead of them

You May Be Riding Harder 

There’s no coasting on Zwift, so it can be a more intense workout because you’re constantly pedalling. This could give you a more intense and effective training session. Conversely, when you’re cycling outside, you can take a break from using your legs to catch your breath or rest for a moment as you ride down a hill or stop for traffic. 

But Will You Quit Sooner?  

An intense ride is one thing, but taking a break from a hard slog can help a rider recharge and get ready for the next section of road or terrain and pushing too hard for too long could mean an early end to the ride.

One of the potential downsides of indoor cycling is that you tend to maintain one position throughout the ride, so it can make muscles ache more keenly and make you feel uncomfortable more quickly. With outdoor riding, the body is constantly making micro-adjustments, so you’re not holding the same pose for extended periods as can happen when using Zwift.  

You Control the Ride with Zwift 

If you’re doing time trials, Zwift is very useful because you don’t have to worry about other road users or weather conditions. You can jump on your bike and pedal, focusing on power or cadence in a way that’s not always possible outdoors. One of the big problems of riding in urban centres is the stop-start of traffic.

In rural areas, it may be hard to focus on cadence if the road surfaces are uneven or if external factors make it challenging to achieve your targeted training routine. Zwift allows riders to concentrate on what they’re doing in a controlled environment where you can go as hard and fast as you want. This makes training more time and energy efficient.

You’ll Save Time By Riding Indoors 

There’s a lot of prep work that goes into cycling outdoors. You must check that your bike is good to go and that you wear the correct clothing. You may want to decide on a route ahead of time or account for the weather and plan according to the conditions you expect to encounter. And this takes time, especially if you’re planning a long ride and have to pack additional supplies. Zwift lets you jump on and start riding without the extra time needed to get your stuff together. This means that you could take a long ride in a short period, making it more time-efficient for people with busy lives. You can ride before work, on a lunch break or even at 11 pm when the children are asleep. And all of this is before accounting for the other time-killers of outdoor riding: the stop-starting at traffic lights, the pedestrian dodging, the road closures and diversions, etc., which can easily add additional time to a ride that you might not have.

It’s not just Zwift that makes this possible, it’s one of the most significant benefits of indoor cycling, and it’s why when we started developing the software for an electricity-generating stationary bike, we made sure it was Zwift-compatible.

 

close up of Zwift on a screen attached to an indoor bike Credit: Algi Foods

Zwift Lets You Compete with People All Around the World  

COVID-19 taught us the importance of interacting with people even when we’re indoors more than we might like. There’s a big community built around Zwift with riders sharing set-ups on social media and in forms and arranging to meet up online, riding together despite different time zones. You can create meetups on Zwift, inviting people via their profiles and then riding at a set time. You can send messages to other riders using the chat feature. If you’re a solo rider tired of training alone, it adds an element of companionship that may otherwise be missing from your routine.

As Zwift is cycling-specific, it also means you’re with people who share cycling as a passion, whereas relying on more generic websites like Facebook and Twitter to find a community may require a deeper search. 

Outdoor Bikes Have to Come Indoors 

Riding indoors on Zwift may make maintaining and cleaning your bike easier, but your bike will take up space in your house. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a separate room for working out or a garage with enough space, but if not, bringing an outdoor bike inside can be a pain.  

The bike might be dirty or awkward to carry through hallways and doors. You’ll also have to buy a turbo-trainer and a screen, an added expense many people don’t need. You may find it more beneficial to buy a smart stationary bike that’s Zwift-Compatible to save on the hassle of taking a road bike indoors.  

Indoor Cycling is Data Driven 

Indoor cycling gives you easy access to metrics and data points that you can use to support your training. It’s easier to get an accurate and more consistent understanding of your progress because the conditions will always be the same. This is rarely the case outdoors where there will always be variations in weather, terrain or hazards.  

Zwift uses Functional Threshold Power (FTP), a cycling metric designed to measure the highest amount of power a cyclist can maintain for one hour. This is then used to measure progress or set training plans for personal goals or races. The RE:GEN measures FTP, too, so even if you aren’t using Zwift on your indoor cycling bike, you can see whether you’re underperforming to exercising at your peak.  

But Numbers Can Be Boring  

Data may be important, but it can take the fun out of cycling. That feeling at the top of a challenging climb isn’t just about how powerfully you pedalled. It is also about the air in your face and the view. You can physically look back to see what you’ve accomplished and how hard you’ve worked to get there. No virtual environment can compete with being out in the world and experiencing it first-hand. People who aren’t training and aren’t measuring success by data may also find that Zwift and cycling apps take the heart out of what they love.

Zwift As a Starting Point for Beginners and Employee Wellness 

Most people know how to ride a bike, but outdoor cycling makes some people nervous. It's why indoor bikes or bikes that use trainers are a good choice for team-building and employee wellness days. People are more likely to feel safer and less exposed on an indoor bike because they don’t have to worry about the rules of the road or about hurting themselves or other people. What’s the worst that can happen on Zwift? 

In November 2021, Energym spent 2-days in London with members of the public and employees from Bloomberg HQ creating indoor cycling classes using RE:GEN bikes. It was great to see beginners exercising alongside more experienced riders in a safe place. Indoor cycling, whether using Zwift or in a class setting, can be as competitive or fun as the rider likes. During the Bloomberg event, we even had Olympic Champions, Jason and Laura Kenny, on our bikes and generating clean electricity.  

ceo energym with Laura and Jason Kenny sitting on RE:GEN bikes

 

But Cycling Is About More Than Just Training 

Outdoor cycling comes with a raft of benefits that aren’t just about fitness. It's also a great mode of clean energy transportation and is invaluable to people who either don’t have or don’t always wish to use a car to get from A to B. Zwift is a great training platform. Still, it’s less suited to occasional cyclists or people who don’t consider themselves avid cyclists. You can do many things on cycling apps, but you can’t ride to the shop for a pint of milk, ride to the pub or commute to work using one.   

Cycling Indoors with Zwift Vs Riding Outdoors 

When it comes down to Zwift Vs Outdoor cycling, it boils down to personal choice and goals. There’s no right or wrong option, only what’s right or wrong for you and your training. Most cyclists prefer riding outdoors for the scenery, the fresh air and the camaraderie, but many also choose to supplement their training with a cycling app like Zwift because it’s more time-efficient and gives them the chance to train consistently even when the weather is poor. Using gamification can also help engage riders who may otherwise find indoor cycling dull and repetitive. 

 

If you’re interested in trying Zwift, a 7-day free trial is available. And if you’re looking for a Zwift-compatible indoor cycling bike that generates clean electricity as you ride, check out the RE:GEN and pre-order yours today.

 man of colour riding RE:GEN stationary bike inside a white-walled home


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