Regardless of how you feel about Zwift, its impact on the cycling world is undeniable. If you need convincing, look to the very pinnacle of the sport. During the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, even the famed Tour de France utilized Zwift to hold its first-ever Virtual Tour de France. With over 3 million registered users, Zwift is the defacto platform for indoor bike riding and racing. If there is another immutable truth to consider, KIDS LOVE VIDEOGAMES! From unlocking route badges, customizing avatars, or buying new bikes and wheels, the interactive nature that Zwift provides can be a big draw to young riders. Combine the allure of video games with the physical nature of riding your bike, and you’ve got a great way to keep kids active, especially over the winter months when daylight and good weather can be in short supply. So, how do you go about getting your young rider set up on the platform? Read on to find out!
Getting Registered For Zwift
The great news is that if your child is under 16, they can get a Zwift account free of charge (well, almost). Start by going to the following link (https://www.zwift.com/kids) and completing the online registration form. Your child will need to have an email account to register. This also serves as their username when they log on. The good people at Zwift will review the form to confirm the account activation and, in a day or so, will email you back with your login instructions.
Setting up your Zwift Cave
If you haven’t used Zwift yet, equipment will be required before your kids can start. This section will discuss the required equipment and some considerations for optimizing your Zwift cave!
First, you will need something to run the actual Zwift app from. This can be a computer, laptop, tablet, or even an Apple TV. Each device has its positives and negatives, but as long as your device is relatively new and has Bluetooth connectivity, you’ll be just fine!
If you’re in the market for a new device to run Zwift on, the Apple TV is considered the simplest device and relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of a new tablet or laptop.
The trainer is the next, and probably the most expensive, piece of equipment required for Zwifting. Options for trainers range from under $100 to well over $1000. If that second number has you reconsidering, fear not! For under $100, you can get a setup that works perfectly fine for starting. Upgrading later can be done as interest and budgets dictate.
You will need to ensure your rear axle is compatible for use on a trainer. The following manufacturer specializes in these types of products. https://robertaxleproject.com/ The picture below shows the difference between a trainer axle and a non-trainer axle.
If going with the entry-level budget route, we recommend getting your hands on a fluid trainer, NOT A MAGNETIC TRAINER. Fluid trainers utilize a hydraulic resistance unit to provide smooth, steady feedback directly to the rear wheel; no electricity or Bluetooth connections are required. Fluid trainers can typically be found on the used market for well under $100. The best and most reliable are from Kurt Kinetic, but other manufacturers also make a fine product that does the job.
Next, you will need a way for the bike or trainer to communicate with the Zwift app. Zwift takes a power reading (or estimated power) and converts that into how fast your avatar goes based on the rider’s height and weight. The most basic way of accomplishing this is with a rear wheel speed sensor. Zwift takes the speed of the rear wheel and calculates the estimated power based on whatever trainer you tell it you’re using. Using a wheel sensor doesn’t provide a particularly accurate measurement, but it is sufficient to get your little one riding around Watopia. Some newer fluid trainers have Bluetooth connectivity that eliminates the need for a third-party speed sensor, but they operate the same way. Other ways to connect are with a bike-mounted power meter or smart trainer, which reads a true power input but costs significantly more.
Younger riders on smaller bikes can pose some unique problems with trainer compatibility. Most trainers are made to work with wheels that are 26” or more in diameter. That being said, some fluid trainers have purpose-built adapters that allow for 16-24” wheels.
If you want more features from your trainer, the next step is to look for a “smart” trainer. These trainers use a mix of heavy flywheels and electrical resistance to simulate hills while you navigate through the virtual world. They also provide varying levels of power accuracy depending on the type and brand. A good smart trainer can be purchased used for $400-$700 or new for $500-$1200
Staying Cool in Your Cave!
Riding indoors can be a great way to escape the harsh elements, but it does come with a few important considerations. Since you’re not moving across the ground as you would outside, you won’t be creating the natural cooling effect of airflow. It’s very important to have a good fan blowing on you, even if the air temp in the room is quite low.
Along those same lines, fluid loss from sweat is also exaggerated when riding indoors, especially when the intensities are higher. Be sure to drink plenty of water and consider an electrolyte supplement or sports drink if a longer, harder effort is the plan.
Ways to Ride
Now that you have everything set up, your kids can get busy exploring what Zwift offers.
A good place to start is by completing routes to earn badges. Zwift routes make for easy-to-quantify challenges (routes range anywhere from just a couple of miles to over 100!).
The next thing you may want to try is riding with a pace partner. This automated bot rolls around the world of Zwift at a predetermined pace, allowing others to join like one big rolling group ride you can jump in and out of whenever you like.
Once you’ve mastered some basics, you might try to get them entered in an organized group ride or even a race! You can arrange a private meetup if you know other families or friends on the platform. Group rides can be set up to where everyone has to ride the same pace to stay together or where everyone is “locked” together, allowing people to ride at different intensities but keeping the avatars together. This can be a great way to set up a group ride with riders of differing ability levels.
If your child is looking for a little more structured training, there is an entire workout library available that guides you through each workout step by step.
We’ve found Zwift to be an excellent tool to keep our Move Up Cycling Club juniors (and adults) motivated throughout the winter months. After a couple of seasons of using the online platform to run team races, mileage challenges, and multiple group rides, we’re not sure how we did it before. Sure, getting outside is always our top priority, but when you have short days, nasty weather, and long drive times between teammates, we can’t think of a better way to keep our juniors connected and motivated.
The Move Up Cycling Club is taking new members year-round. It’s free to join for riders 18 and under, and we would love to have you as part of the team! Whether you join or not, once your Zwift setup is complete, please don’t hesitate to join us for some digital fun!