Zwift has revolutionised indoor cycling for many riders, changing the way they cycle all year round. The immersive gameplay not only allows users to continue cycling regardless of poor weather conditions but also enables them to connect with cyclists from around the world through the Zwift Companion app and action bar.
However, for some users, their setups prevent them from fully utilising these features as their screens are positioned too far away or aren't easily accessible while riding. Consequently, they end up slogging it out solo, reading about what Joe Bloggs and Jane Doe are up to over the weekend on the right-hand side of the screen.
Zwift in fact found that only 15% of its users use the action bar, while those using touch screen devices were three times more likely to use those features. But if Zwifters don’t have the right set up for interacting with these tools, the features are almost redundant due to impracticality.
To address these issues and ensure users can make the most out of the Zwift's features, Zwift has introduced Zwift Play – a game console-like controller that fits neatly under the bike's shifters and is secured with a silicone strap. With the touch of some conveniently place buttons, users can engage with Zwift without the having to pause and reach for the keyboard. Zwift said in a presentation which announced the brand’s new technology that Zwift Play will enable users to “leave keyboards behind and never reach for your screen again.”
The left controller features a direction pad that helps users seamlessly navigate game menus and make turns or U-turns during gameplay. The right controller allows users to give Ride Ons, deploy PowerUps, skip workout blocks and teleport to pacer groups or friends more easily using shortcut buttons, similar to those found on a game console.
Zwift Play not only enables users to interact more easily with Zwift's tools but also provides the ability to steer and brake with simple in and out movements of the devices. This feature enhances the competitive aspect of Zwift, optimising drafting, allowing users to shake riders off their wheel, take the fastest line through corners and have more efficient time trial pacelines.
Zwift Play will be launching alongside new Beta Zwift Play game experiences, such as the Repack Rush. This experience will put users’ Zwift Play devices to the test on a time trial course, where they must negotiate tight turns, avoid ‘brake pads’, snagging ‘boost pads’ and collect time bonuses to achieve a best time.
Having taken two years to develop, Zwift said the Play devices have undergone rigorous testing to ensure their quality. The American brand said that the controllers have been tested on 400 real bikes – not just top-of-the-range bikes, but the real everyday bikes many people use – working with a local bike shop in London. Testing on all different bikes was important for the development of Zwift Play as it allowed developers to see whether they’d work on different handlebars, different sized shifters and bikes with funky setups.
Zwift has stated that the rubber bands, which secure the devices around the handlebars, do no damage to the bar tape at all. If anything, there may only be a small indent on the tape where the device sits, but with over 1,000 hours of real-life testing, no damage was found, and users were generally satisfied with the new technology.
And what about sweat? Hands are right in the sweat pathway, and therefore, so are the devices. Zwift claims to have conducted 300 reliability tests to ensure the devices are 100% sweat resistant. However, it was quick to note that users must also keep them clean and well-maintained to ensure they remain fault-free.
The new Zwift Play devices are also usable whilst charging, and Zwift has produced an extra long cable specifically for this purpose. However, Zwift has said that the devices do have a 20 hour battery life, based on a projected normal usage – plenty of hours considering it found the average Zwift session is just under an hour long. Additionally, the devices are only compatible with Zwift, connecting wirelessly with the Zwift app via Bluetooth.
For the time being, the Zwift Play devices are only compatible with drop handlebars, but when questioned about whether there will be a flat bar version to follow, it simply said, “maybe one day.”
Zwift Play is exclusively available at www.zwift.com for an introductory price of £99 (RPR is £149 after promotion).