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The Rivet: First Look At This Potential Zwift Competitor

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To be fair, using the term ‘Zwift Competitor’ might be a bit…early. Like looking at a pile of ingredients on a table and calling it a cake. But damn, it looks pretty. And everyone likes eating cake batter anyway. Also, it was responsible for a fair bit of distraction from my planned morning. Sorry MARQ in-depth review.

Anyways, back to that pile of ingredients. Lama shot me a text earlier this morning asking if I’d seen the Rivet cycling dude or not. After an initial Googling fail landed me upon a bad-boy heartthrob cycling t-shirt store, I found the actual site, which in turn got me distracted watching his Twitch feed. The one-man-band of a developer was doing a 24hr ride to kick-off the launch of his platform, named The Rivet. All while his social media manager (aka…friends), supplied him with a Greek salad and noodles on the bike to keep him fueled.

At first I was impressed by the game’s graphics, based on the Unreal engine. But to be honest, I think I’m actually more impressed listening to him answer the sprinkle of occasional questions into the chat window from the assortment of 1,000 people that have stopped by to watch. Almost every question prompted a flood of ideas he has to implement, or things he doesn’t quite think are perfect in the game yet. All of them well thought through.

At present, the biggest ‘selling’ point, if you will, is steering and braking, plus of course the graphics you’ve already seen above. The biggest downsides is essentially missing everything else. But so was Zwift when it first started, at least compared to today. So after watching and listening in the background for an hour or so, I decided to jump in and give things a whirl.

And if text and photos are more your thing, then onwards into the rest of the post!

A Quick Ride:

As of current, the application is split into two pieces: The main app that runs on a desktop computer (Windows or Mac), and then the companion app that runs on your smartphone (iOS or Android). You’ll need both pieces in order to make it work. In my case I used the Mac version on my computer, and then installed the iOS app on my iPhone.

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Once that’s done you’ll have to do a bit of geekery to display the IP address of your computer and then insert that into the phone app, so it can find its desktop friend. At which point you can connect the two. Obviously, down the road that’ll happen automatically. And ideally, any absolute dependency would go away. Though the current phone requirement is for steering. But more on that in a second.

As far as creating a username goes, that’s not there yet either. Basically this is kinda like going into an arcade and just playing on the machine as-is. The platform supports pairing to smart trainers and power meters, with plans for other sensors shortly. They’ve also already lit up and tested smart trainer control Tacx trainers.

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So I dragged out a Tacx NEO that was sitting nearby and got it paired up to the companion app. You’ll scan for nearby BLE power meters.

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Then I needed to get my phone on my handlebars. That’s because the app uses the phone’s accelerometer for steering and control of your line. In my case I just used my Quadlock mount/case on my bike and I was good to go.

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With that, I started pedaling. There’s honestly not a ton of other configuration options at this point, aside from a slew of graphics related ones.

There’s a singular course right now, which is a hilly and forested mountain route, which is what I’d be riding. And at present the only camera view is as seen here, due to Patrick’s (that’s the founder/one-man-band) concerns around steering and having a camera in the wrong place could cause confusion.

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There’s really only two core functions you’ll need to master, the first being steering. It’s pretty easy, you just turn your handlebars. Of course, if you’ve got a front wheel block, that might be slightly more difficult, but that’s a problem for a different day.

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I didn’t have too many issues with steering, but I also didn’t do any descents, which might be more sensitive to it given the faster speed. Of course, the concept of steering isn’t new to indoor training. Tacx had it years ago in their Tacx Desktop suite and their steering utility. But beyond their apps there wasn’t any mainstream adoption. Still, I think it’s inevitable that steering will make it into mainstream platforms at some point.

The second is braking, which you can do by simply tapping the gigantic red ‘BRAKE’ button on the smartphone app:

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In the event you fail at the only two things you’ve got to do (brake and steer), then you’ll eventually fly off the road and subsequently crash. When you crash you simply reset back to the middle of the road perhaps 50-100m prior to the point you crashed.

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Otherwise, you simply ride. The graphics look great, even when not put at their highest levels. You can see them below, as well as in the video up above.

Of course, the downside is there is no other gamification or additional features at this point. The focus has primarily been on the physics of the game and the underlying engine. Plus of course the scenery of the 11.8KM route.

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It’ll be interesting to see where the platform goes. For example, during his 24hr livestream, the game was actually running remotely in a datacenter on a remote computer there (‘in the cloud’). You can see it looks fantastic in the Twitch stream, of course, at present that’s not required. But the idea of it is something that is quickly gaining momentum in the gaming industry, with projects like xCloud and Google Stadia. He noted he’s excited about this trend and “totally convinced that’s the way everything is going”, so here’s to hoping that the company invests earlier in that space (they’ve already applied to be part of Google’s Stadia program) as a way to potentially have a leg up on their competitors which haven’t really dug into it yet. But at the same time, he pointed out that the business/monetization side of some of these platforms isn’t super clear yet either.

And he also accurately notes that there are elements of ‘friction’ that make these setups a bit more complex, such as indoor trainers that need to connect via Bluetooth or ANT+ from your living room to a cloud platform. Obviously, he’s making it work today for the demo/livestream. But whether or not that scales at the speed required in full-on high stakes racing remains to be seen.

Back to the example of when Zwift creator Jon Mayfield first posted Zwift screenshots to the Slowtwitch forums, versus what Patrick posted today, I’d say Zwift was a bit more refined at that point (including things like summary screens, computer generated racers, and more). On the flipside, Rivet has the advantage of a far more cohesive trainer industry compared to 6-7 years ago, and a far better educated consumer base to work from compared to then. Not to mention easier access now to investment funding that ultimately drives employing developers.

Going Forward:

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As the title of this section implies, it’s all about what’s ahead of the company. As it stands today, no, they don’t really have a completed product. But they do have an idea. And frankly even more importantly – they have a dude that’s fanatical about the development of the platform. Seriously, the guy’s mid-way through a 24hr ride on it as part of his one-man-band promotion of it. Yes, you can watch it live here for another few hours.

Realistically what The Rivet needs is investment funding and a gaggle of developers. Once they have that, they can go forth on adding all the features they need to be a legit Zwift competitor. Stuff like adding in multiplayer support (planned by winter), as well as creating the gamification draw that Zwift has nailed. Certainly, one doesn’t have to gamify everything, but if the company is looking for investor money, then realistically that’s where investors want to ensure the platform has something that’s going to keep significant quantities of people addicted to it (and paying for it).

Like I said in the video, nobody is going to go and cancel their Zwift membership today to jump to Rivet. Though, I think for geek-inclined folks it might be fun to take the course for a lap. And for investors to judge whether there’s enough of a business case to help fund it. I know from talking to numerous people in the industry, there’s huge appetite to help fund Zwift competitors – especially ones that are positioned like this without significant overhead.

With that, thanks for reading!

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49 Comments

  1. Matthew

    I don’t know that I see that steering feature to be a plus. On a real bike, you wouldn’t turn the handlebars like that, you’ll use body English and lean into the turn. With a winter of Zwift, I already find some bad habits working their way into my riding (not looking far enough ahead, not paying attention to traffic, etc). Can’t wait to launch myself over the bars trying to execute a gentle turn at speed.

    Can you turn the steering off?

    • Right now you can’t, though the founder talked a bit during the livestream on everything being a bit of a ‘let’s see how it goes’ sort of thing. For example, sensitivity being one of those things.

    • Hey Matthew!

      Patrick from The Rivet here :).

      That’s interesting about developing bad habits. I spent 24 hours on the virtual bike and successfully rode to work the next day though, so it luckily didn’t effect me too much!

      But to address your point – right now you can’t turn the steering off. In time that will definitely be added though as many have asked for it! I can see a scenario in which some ‘game modes’ require this ^^ ‘real’ steering where you have total freedom over the road, some use ‘lanes’ you can move between by steering, and some keep you fixed on a pre-defined path.

      I am actually going to be experimenting with the lane steering idea pretty soon (once some of the bugs and UX issues are fixed). I’m going to livestream myself testing it, get feedback and then release it for the community to try ASAP. My approach to this is going to be super open and community driven. I’ve set up a subreddit for people to keep up to date if you ever hang out over there : reddit.com/r/therivet .

      Cheers!

  2. Zach

    Will be interesting to see if they get to the point of a Garmin Connect IQ app in place of the phone.

  3. Wolf

    “Sorry nor sorry”, but I’m still waiting for the MARQ review…

  4. Rob Campbell

    I love my Quad Lock, just wished it liked my square stems.

  5. larry brown

    whats up with the swaying butt?

    • Matthew

      Saddle’s obviously too high if he’s getting that kind of pelvic rotation. 😉

    • Boris

      Looks horrible. 😂

    • I actually bought the animations from someone but somehow didn’t notice the hip rocking at the time ( think I must’ve only looked from the font). I then tried to fix it before realising the documentation for 3dsmax (3d modelling + animation software) is thousands of pages long. So it is what it is for the moment I’m afraid!

  6. Mike

    I find it funny that we have steering, in the real world when riding above a few kph you actually counter steer to go around corners (steer right to turn left), this is so natural most folk are not even aware of this, bet they don’t implement that as part of the steering, my turbo bike still sits on the original Tacx steering rig (Tacx iMagic) as I’ve no room to get a front wheel on my bike, used it once in Tacx, switches steering off and never used it again #WasteOfTime

    • Justin

      I agree with you. Steering will be a tough one to simulate. You countersteer to initiate a lean, then slightly steer back into the corner as you lean. As you say, the countersteer is practically imperceptible when you do it, but fundamental to negotiate turns. In my mind, the leaning and lateral acceleration are the sensations that you’d want to replicate from the real world, but I don’t see how you’d accomplish that any current stationery trainer. The idea of steering your bars in the direction of your turn to track a roadway seems a bit gimmicky if your goal is hyperrealism. I’d be fine with it as a tool to choose your path at a junction, but I don’t see it playing out to negotiate curves in a roadway.

    • Justin

      …at least until we’re riding on hexapod simulators 🙂

    • Hey Mike!

      It’s Patrick here. Thanks for your comment :).

      If you read above I made some comments about steering in The Rivet that might interest you. You points are well taken though – steering is not for everyone (which I have definitely learned in all the feedback I’ve received in the launch). At risk of promising everything to everyone I think in time we can have our cake and eat it – an option to steer and an option to not. We’re not building a rocket to the moon here it’s just a video game!

      I also agree with you that if we are to make steering a ‘thing’ it has to be executed absolutely perfectly. What we have now is just a v1. If we win you round I’ll know we’ll have nailed it!

  7. Kevin

    Who wants to steer and brake on a trainer? What a nuisance.

  8. AndyJ

    Jon Mayfield in the latest Zwiftcast discussed an almost identical steering method that is already hidden in the code for the Zwift companion app. It never got turned on as they had issues with sensor drift

    • Simon

      Jon did discuss it, but he distinguished between two types of steering. One would be more like the ability to adjust position on the road but never leave the road. So you’d use it tuck in, pull out to pass or dice for the gutter. But you couldn’t leave the road. I could see that being useful. The other sort – steering to actually stay on the road st all feels like too much.

  9. Ed Whitebone

    Strong NO from me on steering. Has no place if you are using these apps for real training.

    • Nathan

      It’s a little known fact that before stationary trainers no one could actually train outside. Having to control their bike prohibited it. Glad we live in a time where real training is possible.

  10. Mitch W

    I like the idea of steering, but I want to see it taken in a more fun direction (see what I did there?). Steering, to me, lends itself to gamifying indoor cycling more. Doing a race against faster opponents? Block them! This could allow real race tactics to come into play. Drafting off your opponents or rotating through a pace-line actually becomes a skill.

    I could see this having really cool applications for mountain bike courses too, where the line you take can have a drastic affect on your speed (including hitting an obstacle and coming to a dead stop), plus hair-pin switchbacks.

    Could also be used for some Mario Kart style action. Only have a green turtle shell (not the red heat-seeking one), you need to put a little english on it in order to hit your opponent by swirving a bit. Draft behind someone, and use a feather to jump and over-take them at the last second before the finish line.Get a star and go crazy swirving around and knocking opponents off their bikes. The possibilities are endless.

    • This is the kind of thinking which inspired me to build the steering in the way I have. I’m not quite aiming for Mario Kart, but to really increase the immersiveness and tactics required in indoor riding.

      I think one can get a lot of the tactical dimensions of steering from a ‘lane’ approach where you can mover your character laterally across the road to overtake, draft etc. But you do miss out on the technique of steering and the feeling that there is actually a game there to get good at. I know that doesn’t appeal to everyone but it certainly does to me (and I guess you!).

      Thanks for your feedback, love the mountain bike idea! There are actually some sections on the track where if you go off road you are allowed into the wilderness, you’ll have to play to find them 😉

    • Drew

      I used to comment at Zwift about once a year about making something more Mario-Kart like, but gave up because they wanted to be more serious. A “training platform”, not a “video game”. We’ve got a couple of old stair-steppers that let you compete with tanks and planes and snowmobiles against the person next to you, and it’s the greatest thing in the world for exercise. If you brought in some MK tactics, or even a separate mode with goofy weapons and physics, I’d pay whatever monthly fee you want in a heart-beat. I cycle and run because I enjoy being outdoors. I play video games and VR because they can go beyond reality. To get me to cycle a video game, I’d rather you focus on the “beyond” instead of the recreating reality, because I think you’ll end up doing a better job and I’ll enjoy it more!

      That said, this looks awesome! Great job so far, and I’m eagerly looking forward to more! I think the steering is a cool idea, even if it’s wonky for a while. I’ve also got enough old game controllers sitting around, I’d be interested if you went down the path of hacking something together where an old PS3 controller and some rubber bands got me braking and shifting (or, honestly, full control down in aero position…)

  11. andre

    What bothers me enormously is the pelvis of the cyclist in the game rotating all the time. Looks horrible and can’t unsee it. Lower that saddle dude!

  12. EV

    As someone noted, Zwift has had steering somewhere in the code for a while, but hasn’t bothered to really pursue it. I think a few competitors will try to differentiate with steering and braking and then everyone will realize it’s more of a pain than anything and turn it all off. Who want so crash during a race or training ride just because you didn’t steer quite right. No interest in this whatsoever.

  13. Frankenzen

    For a one person that’s really impressive. One thing that stood our for me was the perspective and how the app gave me a really good sense of the current and upcoming gradient of the road. Zwift just doesn’t have that same feeling.

  14. FrostByteVA

    I’m looking forward to trying this. I have a rocker plate and when combined with my Kurt rotate-able riser ring, I can even counter-steer. I wonder if this is enough to simulate a turn?

  15. ArtY

    What bothers me is that butt swaying. Looks like dude has his saddle 6 inches too high! LOL

  16. Happy Runner

    I like the graphics for the immersion element where I can zen into feeling like I’m actually outdoors riding.

    Pressing a button on the phone to slow down, not so much. I can’t imagine how the steering would feel realistic either.

    Like other replies, the needs to be a steering/braking off setting.

    • Hey Happy Runner!

      Points taken. If you read above I’ve commented above some ideas for the steering (including the ability to turn it off) which you might be interested in.

      I’d be interested in you giving it a go though and hearing what you think. It’s quite difficult to describe how it feels, but I certainly think it adds immersion.

  17. Fabio

    Graphics is great..and better than zwift but we have also to keep in mind that with zwift there are often hundreds of zwifter on screen..and for a gpu this is a huge increase of work.

  18. Jim Williams

    Still in beta at the moment, but Veloton will have similar features and does look great – link to facebook.com

    • Indeed, if, and it’s a big IF, it can ever get out of beta. We’ve been about a year at this point.

      I think they’ve got massive potential, but right now they need to decide whether they want to be a hardware company or a software company.

  19. Harvey

    For those using this program that have their handlebars locked perhaps steering with their smartphone instead of The Handlebar might be useful.

  20. Paul

    Not good if you have a Kickr Climb, but then again, most of those seem to be back in the factory these days.

  21. Totally unrelated to the topic of the post, I wonder why you use only one rubber band to fix your Quadlock mount. In case it fails, the whole mount goes on the fly. With a second rubber band, you have a backup.

    • Haha…I was wondering who might notice.

      I use the Quadlock day to day on my commuting/cargo bikes, but not my main road bike. So I only use it there when I’m doing something like testing drone stuff or this functionality or what-not.

      So I just stole it off one of our commuter bikes and was lazy with the bands.

  22. giorgitd

    Steering and braking is stupid and not a positive differentiator wrt Zwift. If that is the primary motivation (and I don’t think that is is), then this idea is a fail. Now, a legit alternative to Zwift. Yes, that would be something to support – if Zwift does not provide what you need. I know that lots of folks love the races and social aspect, but, really, I don’t care about that. I want a state-of-the-art training approach that *also* has interesting graphics/worlds to take my mind off the suffering. Yes, I am a Sufferfest subscriber (and former Zwift and former Trainerroad). The workouts of Sufferfest are great – but I wish they had the integrated approach of Trainerroad. And the adaptable visuals of Zwift. Ain’t nothing perfect, for me, yet. BUT, Sufferfest has useful training tools (you need to be involved in making choices) and a distracting storyline (but a bit repetitive, if you ride frequently enough). It’s unclear to me how this new competitor has a differentiating set of features that will compel folks to quit their existing subscriptions to shift – or add a new subscription to what they are already paying for.

  23. Steve

    Ray, thanks for posting this. As one who has played a bit on Swift, I must say that this seems more appealing on a different level. I find swift to lack any sense of subtlety on the pedals.

    As somone already noted steering opens up the opportunity for group riding skills with a wind direction indicator. Teaching folks to move to the leeward side of a pack before a direction change to stay out of the wind would be really fun to play with. I’ll shoot Patrick a note with some other ideas for ways to incorporate riding games in ways that just don’t exist – yet.

    Nice work Patrick! I appreciate what you have done here. I’m currently recovering from a bad accident (#brokenfemurclub) and won’t be on the bike for a while (3 months), but as soon as I am able I’ll jump on and have a go.

  24. Chris Stewart

    This looks to be a fair way behind the Veleton game which has steering, braking etc already in it. Is that the case or am I missing something unique about this one?

  25. Carlos Gonzalez

    DC
    Will you be doing a review for the new Cablevision dual F&R camera helmet? They just began selling them.
    Thank you

  26. Miguel Arcaya Huacasi

    there’s a possibility to use this app with a speed&cadence sensor instead a power meter?

  27. Pratt

    Looks promising! The steering idea seems good to me because using Zwift for casual rides, you end up going into a robot mode of pedal pedal and often I find myself staring at the ceiling or floor because the interaction beyond making sure your cadence is good is nil. You actually look forward to the next turn event so you can do SOMETHING. Steering might be a good cure for that, you wont just sit stationary for hours on end, you’ll need to interact.

    Though, those doing training intervals, I could see wanting to turn off the steering and have it in autopilot mode. Training you’re already focused on many things to keep the mind occupied. Cadence, breathing patterns, drinking, begging for the next recovery, etc.

    Anyways, what I’d really like to see is being able to navigate a small town or city instead of just long winding country roads. In time I guess.