Growing up, I never owned video games and when I would play them at a friend’s house, I was a disaster. The buttons, tokens, badges, and tricks were foreign concepts to me. So it comes as no surprise that I don’t know how to use Zwift to it’s fullest potential.
To change that and maybe help my coworker, Spencer, win some races during his 30-day Zwift racing project, I sat down with Jennifer Real, Saris + The Pro’s Closet Zwift racer, in hopes of getting some insight into the nuances of Zwift racing.
Some Zwift racing basics
"Drops," as in sweat drops, are earned on Zwift by time spent on the platform. Drops are the currency on Zwift. You can spend your drops on things like bikes and new gear.
"XP" points are earned as you spend more time on Zwift. XP is an indicator of your seniority or your experience level. Zwift has 50 different levels and each level opens up new opportunities — new courses to ride, as well as upgrades for your bike and gear. To purchase newly unlocked gear, however, you’ll need to spend your drops.
Then there's "Power-Ups." You can think of Power-Ups as temporary superpowers. These are the little icons, such as a feather, aero helmet, or burrito, that you can win when you cross underneath QOM/KOM, sprint, and the start/finish banners. To use your power-up, you press the space bar on your computer and you tap the icon on your companion app.
You can only win a power-up if you don’t already possess one, so if you are hoping to get a new one because you don’t like the one you have, it’s best to use the power-up before you get to the banner, otherwise, you won’t be able to win another one. That being said, it’s not a guarantee you’ll get a power-up under each and every banner. There are times when you can go under multiple banners and not get a single one. It’s just the luck of the draw.
Power-Ups are great, but you need to know how to use them strategically for them to be effective. With help from Real, I’ve created a quick overview of each Zwift power-up and when the best time to use them is.
Zwift power-ups explained
Drafting is still a thing in the virtual world of Zwift. If you have the truck icon, for 30 seconds you will be riding as if you were drafting behind a truck. This icon only works if you are already drafting, so don’t use it if you are riding alone. Real suggests using this power-up when you need a short break, when you want to move up in the pack, or when you’re in a group sprint.
The Aero Helmet
As cyclists, we’ve been told that “aero is everything,” so who wouldn’t want to be more aero? The aero helmet reduces your CdA (coefficient of drag times frontal surface area) by a whopping 25% for 15 seconds. The best time to use this is at the end of the race, right before a sprint, or just before the finish line if it’s a downhill finish.
I had always assumed this meant you had extra energy from eating a burrito mid-ride while still on the bike, which seemed like a pretty great bonus and talent, but my thinking is incorrect. On Zwift, the burrito icon means you can turn off the draft effect behind you for 10 seconds, which makes me think this is a bean burrito? Who can say for sure? It’s best to use this when you want to form a breakaway group. The burrito can only be earned during an event, not while you’re just riding around in the virtual world.
Ever wish you could just disappear for a bit to get someone off your wheel? Well, now you can. The ghost makes the user invisible for 10 seconds. This is the perfect tool to use when you’re chasing after a sprint prime or when you need to get a gap off the front. You’ll want to activate this power-up and then lay down some serious watts for 10 seconds so you can pull ahead. Make sure your fan is cranked to the max.
This power-up might be the only one that I wouldn’t want to get during a race. It makes you heavier for 30 seconds. Zwift doesn’t say how much heavier it makes you. Sure that sounds nice on a downhill, but if that downhill isn’t 30 seconds or longer in length, you’ll be struggling when that grade kicks back up. Rollers ahead? Forget about it. Because this is one of the few power-ups you can't just use willy nilly to get rid of it, you can get stuck with it for an entire race, preventing you from getting other, more useful power-ups. Perhaps the best plan is to use it on a flat section of road so you can score a better Power-Up.
Learning about all of these temporary superpowers makes me wish they could be used in real life (IRL), but I guess I should actually try using them on Zwift that I know what they mean. While I might be a Zwift novice, I do appreciate that Zwift owns the “virtual” space. They know that it’s different from riding or racing outside and they embrace it. Superpowers. Why not? Of course, you can ride through a volcano and also up a snow-covered summit on the same ride. Zwift embraces the virtual world and gamifies riding inside, which makes indoor riding and racing mentally stimulating, thus getting me through Colorado winter training.