The Rivet: First Look At This Potential Zwift Competitor

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.

 

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.

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:

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!

DC Rainmaker:

View Comments (49)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

    • 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...)

    • 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 ;)

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

    • 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.

  • 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

    • 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.

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