Review: Zwift Companion App
(2018) Cycling used to be so simple. Freddy Mercury commanded, “Get on your bikes and ride!” That imperative could be updated to, “Get on your bikes, start your Strava, wait for everything to pair, adjust your glasses for maximum effect, and ride!” Perhaps our last article talking about the allure of Zwift got your attention. But what’s this about the add-on app, Zwift Companion? Read on to add another step to indoor riding. But frankly, it’s worth the download.
There is nothing that replicates the open road. There is the solitude and independence that comes with taking the bike out for an honest effort. Zwift, the online cycling gaming platform that also provides great workouts in the darkness of the offseason has gotten so big it needs a companion application to work with its virtual rides. With Zwift striving for realism, its Companion application attempts to add a little more entertainment of the – virtual – open road.
Think of Zwift Companion as your virtual notebook. From the pre-ride application set up, or ‘Home,’ one can see which friends are Zwifting, which have already climbed off the bike, and Add a Goal. Navigate to the icon at the bottom labeled ‘Activities’ and a thirty-six-hour global schedule of virtual rides becomes available. Rides are described and RSVPs are possible. If a ride/ race looks enticing click on the orange plus icon and reserve your spot at the start. A reminder option is suggested to avoid missing the event start. Don’t be late; you can’t join a ride in progress. From the pre-ride home menu one can also find other Zwifters such as your cross-town rival or that global social media friend who would otherwise never get to line up with you.
The immediate interactive feature displayed is a route map for the Zwift universe. This comes in handy to give the rider control over route direction. In Zwiftland there are options as to which way to go. Companion allows the user to easily select varied routes using the map and tiles on screen. Also featured is telemetry that shows up on the iPad within Zwift, though a side-by-side comparison rarely has matching numbers. For instance the wattage on the VR screen shows different wattage from the Companion application. In some cases the discrepancy is substantial.
Along the bottom of the map are selections that, once mastered, can simulate open road experiences. Some are humorous. One option is the ability to make a U-turn. Should you find your buddies in VR world going in the opposite direction, a quick tap of the U-turn button will send you double-backing. As in the real world you’ll have to work extra hard to make up the distance.
Zwift has tried to make drafting realistic. Drafting could be one of the reasons you closed the gap so easily but struggle to get around a rider. If you find your mates not pulling through, Companion features a flick o’th’elbow option. Clicking on the elbow button (which initially looked like a knee) will send your avatar flapping his elbow in encouragement. Some people have wrongly cited this as a chance to get combative. Give the thumbs-up icon to encourage other riders to keep at it while you call it a day. You can tell who has been given the ‘Ride On’ icon by the glowing blue borders sticking out of the jersey pockets. Collecting them is a good thing.
Other choices along the bottom of the screen are meant to add to the virtual riding experience. A movie camera icon means the user can change perspective mid ride. A handprint means the rider can wave to mates headed in the other direction. Comically a rider can hint that the legs are not responding today with, “I’m toast!” by tapping the frowning toast icon. What’s a cycling virtual reality world without a bike bell? That, too, is possible from the Companion application.
Zwift is considered a video game by and large. Because of this, there are video game functions that occur throughout the ride. For example you may find a feather at the top of your screen. The feather is a Powerup and it decreases your weight by fifteen pounds for fifteen seconds. This comes in handy when going up a virtual hill. There are two more Powerups that focus on drafting. They can be activated by the space bar or through the Zwift Companion app. These little perks make the experience virtually realistic, not completely realistic.
Within the Zwift central video the riders in close proximity can message the board to provide encouragement. This communication is made easy through Zwift Companion. Virtual route leaders will use the message board to dish out group ride instructions. Our last visit to Zwiftland we shot a message to say, “Good climb!” to those hammering up one of the inclines. Should we occupy the same virtual rides as other riders, we could plan to meet up properly in an event coordinated through Zwift Companion.
After purchasing the smart trainer, the heart rate monitor, the Bluetooth fan, and all the hardware, why not go ahead and add this easy-to-navigate gem to the Zwift experience? So far it has added enjoyment to the virtual experience. We have waved riders off our wheel to signal our indoor ride was over. Let’s hope we never have just enough energy to tap “I’m toast!” No matter how much Zwift strives to mimic an outdoor riding experience, the upside to an indoor ride is avoiding the limp home after all firepower has gone out of the body. As a matter of fact, forget the Toast icon even exists.