ZWIFT: FINDING FRIENDSHIP IN A PANDEMIC
The clock ticks slowly. You twiddle your thumbs and start to feel restless. Out of the window, the outdoors looks inviting. It’s a clear day and the sun is shining. But everything is closed, there’s no cafes, restaurants or cinemas to go to. You’ve done your supermarket shop and the government has given strict instructions to avoid “non-essential travel.” The year is 2020. And we’re locked down.
The cycling world isn’t immune to these restrictions. Everywhere, races have been postponed and all planned training sessions are cancelled for the foreseeable future. With growing concern over the strain on the health services, group rides with clubs and teams are off the cards. Your bike sits in the corner, tempting, but another solo slog around the lanes? You miss the company, the chats. Shooting the breeze with your friends about their training plans for the week. Is this really the reality of the next few months?
For some, it didn’t have to be.
“We all loved it and couldn't wait to get onto it, because it was company. It was the only time you really spoke to other people in the club.”
London-based rider Steve Cave was one of many who found solace in the world of Zwift during last year. While headlines were made about the rise of e-racing and the virtual Tour de France, there was another side to this software, one that went much deeper than rankings on a results sheet.
All over the world, a community of amateur cyclists discovered a replacement for the group rides that had, for so long, shaped their weekends. Zwift Insider reported an all-time high of people using the indoor training platform in April 2020, with the number of users riding simultaneously tipping over 30k for the first time in Zwift’s history. As of late November, Zwift's subscriber base had grown by 270%. We witnessed a seismic shift in attitudes towards virtual riding, as people rediscovered a new social side of cycling that they thought had been snatched away. Zwift was no longer a platform for the most techy among us. Instead, it had become a crucial part of any cyclist’s armoury.