“Smiles, smiles everyone.”
— Mr. Roarke, Fantasy Island
Well, if Zwift Island is my own personal Fantasy Island then Mr. Roarke might instead say, “Grimaces, everyone…Grimaces.” Or Tattoo might be heard shouting from the rooftop bell tower, “Da Pain!! DA PAIN!!!!!”
Zwift, the multi-player cycling workout/videogame launched in a private Beta mode over the winter is a video game where YOU power the outcome. It attempts to kill the monotony of indoor workouts on a stationary trainer. Dead.
As a Beta Tester plucked out of obscurity (really, I never win ANYTHING) a month or so ago I have been tooling around the virtual world where Watts are what matter to win. You are unaware that you are actually working out. I mean when I play video games with my sons we can blow a whole afternoon. This has the same effect. Except for the fact that you can burn 1,500 calories in the act.
All you need for this trip is a computer, a few ANT+ devices and an ANT+ USB dongle (about $40). The dongle was having trouble staying connected to my cadence and speed sensor at first but at the prompting of a swift and cheery support guy named Jason K. I added a USB extension chord to put the dongle closer to the sensors. I also shut off my fan, which was creating a wave of interference. The field that fans generate is only in a sphere around them. As long as you position the fan so that it’s not in between your sensors and your ANT+ dongle, it shouldn’t cause interference. But, the sweating made it seem more real, so off it stayed.
The idea for Zwift came to video game engineer and avid cyclist John Mayfield when the tedium of indoor training led him to create an early version of the game and post it on the triathlon website Slowtwitch.com. The game was so well received that Mayfield hooked up with financier and lifelong cyclist Eric Min to launch the interactive addiction to a lucky few testers over the winter. The game is now open for anyone to join (free, for now) the Beta mode. This fall will mark the end of the Beta phase and the cost will be around $10/month according to Zwift Communications Director Mark Riedy.
Zwift users can tie in to social media fitness sites like Strava and hook up for virtual group rides at specific times with other users. Or, should I say gamers?
“The community is engaged in trying to make it better and, their using it (Zwift) in ways we didn’t anticipate,” Riedy said.
The Island comes up on Starva as Jarvis Island–a real place in the Pacific Ocean. The actual Jarvis Island is home to a giant guano pile, (bat poop) once mined there for fertilizer in the 19th century. It can still be seen via Google Earth on the uninhabited island about halfway between Hawaii and the Cook Islands. Not really Fantasy Island. If your fantasy involves bat poop, I don’t want to know about it. Ever.
The graphics on the fake island are vivid and real and add to the competitive drive that makes this game so addictive. Passing people makes me happy and chasing down people and leaving them in your dust is so satisfying. I even wore the Orange leader’s jersey for 5 laps on my last ride. Eat my guano dust y’all.
Zwift Island does let you ride off into the sunset through the palm trees even if it is snowing outside. Fantasy: granted.