JUMP TO:

Trying Out Zwift’s New Boost Mode Feature in Beta

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h45m43s606

No, your Zwift bike doesn’t now have a new hub standard option. But for a select number of people as part of the Club Jarvis test group, there are now events with a new Boost capability that allows you to get upwards of a 500w bump in power each time you use it. Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and getting the boost requires first taking a hit of upwards of 150w…while in the middle of the race.

Zwift first announced this new feature a few weeks back, and they’ve been testing it out with various events as a FutureWorks feature. That’s Zwift’s branding for beta features that may or may not cross-over into the rest of Zwift. For example, last summer Zwift rolled out the mountain bike steering under the FutureWorks banner. Also recently they’ve shown off the new Sights & Sounds Mode there too.

In any case, I had a test ride for the Stages Bike scheduled on my to-do list a few days ago, and figured I’d jump in on a test ride to see what it was all about.  Certainly, there’s been bigger rides, but I was choosing a day-time (European) ride over my lunch, so I had to make do with the smaller group. The dynamics of the feature would undoubtedly change depending on the size of the group (due to drafting), but I got the gist of it here.

Oh – and nobody at Zwift has said this will become a defacto way races will work. In fact, they’ve been clear that existing Zwift racing formats will continue. Wes Salmon, who is in charge of the feature, says:

“Boost Mode is just one type of racing. More “traditional” Zwift racing is not going away simply because of new modes we are working on.”

Instead, this would be an option that a race organizer could enable for a specific event. Just to be clear on that.

Note: This feature is only available in beta right now for ‘Club Jarvis’ people, which are basically a group of folks that joined Zwift very early in the company’s history. Like most Zwift beta features, there’s no timeline on when or if it’ll exit beta.

How it works:

So when you first join a race you’ll get an overview screen explaining that you need to choose from one of three boost modes, and that each boost mode has different charging costs, and differing boost powers. In other words, each of the three modes are different – but whichever mode you choose is the one you get for the entire race. Like an airplane, you can’t change your engine model mid-flight.

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h43m04s743

So, the above page gives you some initial ponderings, but it’s not till this next page that the rubber hits the road and you’ve gotta make some tough race-influencing choices.

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h43m10s885

The first thing to notice is that the three modes actually have different battery ‘capacities’. See the little blocks in each battery type (four blocks for efficient, two for balanced, and one for power burst?) – that’s how many uses you can store at any one point in time. So basically, you can store up to two of the ‘Balanced’ type, but only one ‘Power Burst’, while the Toyota Prius of Boosts – the ‘Efficient’ option lets you store up to four.

Next, the three boost types each have different weight impacts. Meaning, it’ll tack on X pounds of body weight to your avatar. Thus, no matter which one you choose (and you have to choose one), you’ll be slowed down the entire event.

The three boosts are as follows (again, this might change by the time beta is over):

Efficient Boost: 50w boost for up to 90 seconds, but a 50w charging penalty. Adds 11lbs during event, up to four charge capacity.

Balanced Boost: 200w boost for up to 17 seconds, but a 100w charging penalty. Adds 16.5lbs during event, up to two charge capacity.

Power Burst Boost: 500w for up to 5 seconds, but a 150w charging penalty. Adds 22lbs for entire event, up to single charge capacity.

Once you choose one, you’ll be off and cooking. Due to an unrelated bug, I couldn’t actually choose one until after the race had started, so I got dropped instantly since I couldn’t see what was going on (the boost info screen covered it). No biggie, such is beta life. And it actually gave me an opportunity to see another side of boosts: What happens if you’re off the back and with a smaller group.

It didn’t take me long to get my first one charged. I’d later realize my choice of charging locale was stupid, but more about that later. You can see at upper left that there’s a –100w penalty during charging, and at the bottom the icon shows the same red charging pattern. Charging took 17 seconds. At left you can see charging, and at right you can see when I’m just pedaling along with a single charge (of two), ready to be used.

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h43m15s669 vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h43m29s018

The way you trigger charging (or usage) is via the companion app. Here there’s two new options down in the dashboard. If you’ve topped out your battery capacity, it’ll grey out the charge-up icon. And the opposite is true if you’ve used all your boosts.

2020-05-20 10.29.03 2020-05-20 10.26.41

My singular bit of feedback here, would simply be to actually change the Boost icon to be oriented forward, rather than up. Why? Because about half the time I pressed the wrong icon on the app when trying to charge. I’d press the ‘use’ button, and then stupidly use the boost when I meant to charge the other one.

Also, mentally, when you’re short on brain-power during a hard effort, and short on dexterity skills to press two tiny buttons on your phone – it would also be slightly helpful to perhaps reposition those two buttons. Being small and side by side with sweaty fingers it can be tricky to hit the right one. I’d almost rather remove some of the data metrics above it and make those two buttons giant. Realistically, I never look at my data on the companion app – that’s what the screen is for anyway.

Now, when you use a boost (intentionally or otherwise), you’ll see it shows +200w in the upper left with the green dashed line, as well as down below for which boost you’ve used. And, on the leaderboard at the side, it’ll show which people are using boosts at the time (but not show who is charging).

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-12h11m33s561

It’s important to note that the actual power recorded to your file and uploaded to sites like TrainingPeaks, Strava, etc… is all the underlying power you’ve put out. The boosted power isn’t written to the files, it’s only used to speed up your avatar.

Also – it should be noted that the power displayed in the upper left corner is your actual output power, not your boosted power (that’s not shown anywhere to my knowledge). How did I learn this you ask? Because I totally mis-shifted on the Stages Bike I was testing, putting me in way too easy a gear while also unrelatedly triggering a boost charge, which in turn put me below the 100w threshold for charging.

You know what happens then? You stop.

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h48m06s531

Though, you do keep charging! Free power for the win! This only lasted a few seconds before I got back in the right gears, but in case anyone was ever curious, if your actual power output is below the charging output, your avatar takes an unscheduled aide station break.

Now, as I said earlier, I never got to see the (small) group leave the corral. So I was mostly alone and with a person named P.Jackson 3728 for a fair chunk of it. And it seemed clear we had both selected the same boost type (there’s no way to know). When you use a boost, it’ll show that person is using a boost. But it won’t show charging. However, you can kinda figure out what other people are doing charge-wise, and charge at the same time, if in a small 1-2 person group. Or, if in a larger group, most folks that have tried the feature say they can basically hang in the back and re-charge with little effort, due to the draft.

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h44m32s681

But when you’re racing solo (or with one other person), my strategy became simple:

– Charge on the downhills
– Use the boosts on the uphills

On this volcano loop, there wasn’t a huge amount of either, but I’d use the free speed of the downhills to charge, like this 4% decline below. Mind you, I’m not super clear the math works out 100% perfect here, but I didn’t take much of a hit on speed, and the wattage didn’t matter going downhill.

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h45m27s666

Once I dropped Mr. Jackson permanently, I didn’t tend to use the Boosts as often after I got them filled up. I kinda kept them in reserve. Since the course wasn’t super hilly, it wasn’t a huge impact either way. Whereas a more hilly course I could have likely really leveraged the boosts to try and catch back up to the group (had the group not been many minutes ahead).

Going Forward:

vlcsnap-2020-05-22-11h46m18s474

Obviously as noted, Zwift has no intention of making this standard on all events. Instead, it’d be something that a given event could enable. So again, keep that in mind – nobody’s taking away your anything.

On one hand, it adds more gamification to it. It adds another element to mentally track while racing indoors. In a sense, it replaces something like being mindful of crashing outdoors, with now being mindful of charging and utilizing your boosts (sorta). Despite being dropped at the start because of a bug, it actually showed how even in a smaller event it can be just as engaging. I went back and forth with that dude for the entire event, carefully calculating how to use and re-charge my boost battery based on what he was doing. Ultimately, I either calculated better, or he gave up on caring.

It unquestionably adds *something* to the game. But so would any bit of gamification. I’m undecided on whether or not I actually like it, or would specifically sign-up for races with it. At times it felt a bit like I spent more time thinking about that than other race tactics. In a race with a larger group/peloton, you’d be able to more easily charge in the pack, and inversely the impact of using those boosts might be more impactful – especially the +500w one.

The aspect of choosing, charging, and utilizing the boosts would ultimately become a bit of a decision tree based on the race, course/elevation profile, and your race strategy.

So – if you’re a Club Jarvis member and you’ve tried the Boosts, I would be curious to hear your feedback below. Enjoy and have a good weekend ahead!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

You can click here to Subscribe without commenting

Add a picture

*

41 Comments

  1. Sorry that the first comment is a correction: “so I had to make due”, should be “had to make do”

  2. I don’t like it. I love video games but Zwift, while it’s a game in a sense, is theoretically an indoor training tool. I guess if it makes it more fun for people to use then that’s fine but it just feels really weird to me since Zwift is more of a cycling simulator with its controller being your bicycle.

  3. For every person that wants to see Zwift have more gamification, there’s another that wants them to focus on realism. They’ll never completely please both camps but I feel like they do a pretty good job of balancing two very different types of user experience. In the end, you’ll simply gravitate to whatever rides and/or races suit you.

  4. Jose

    Its like zwifting with an electric bike

    • A bit. Though, unlike an electric bike if you want to use the power, you have to pay the price with a wattage hit first…and for the entire ride as well.

    • Leslie Harris

      Maybe that’s how Electric Assist Bikes in the real world should work! You have to generate the power yourself. Some sort of F1 style KERS system. I do see electric mountain bikes at trail centers, used by many people who for me miss the point of a mountain bike circuit, where you earn the downhill thrills.

      In terms of Zwift, its not for me, but then I’m not into racing on it, and use it as a nice motivation to put myself through the pain of indoor sessions. But if as stated it will be an addition and doesn’t detract from simply riding, I can’t see the harm, and others may get enjoyment and it will add some complexity that riders might want.

      What I would like to see in Zwift is the following:

      Ability to have video calling – such as with a coach. A bit like what TR have introduced
      Similarly, ability to share the training sessions live – so the coach can see the plan and metrics
      A Fatbike! – I have one in the real world, would love the gimmick of having one, and some sandy trails, or snow covered single track to use it on.

  5. ATate

    Can’t wait till I get the banana peel and koopa shell!

    • Vertex

      Yeah, that would be awesome! They would have to implement the collision aspect first, though

    • Dan

      Same thing I came here to say – blue shells for the win!

      Seems like a somewhat different target audience than usual though…

  6. Dan

    So the REAL question… short first thoughts on stages bike?

    • It’s built super-well. I like the non-shifting front-end in terms of places to put tablet/phone/waterbottles/etc… I’d argue slightly better than the Tacx bike (and easily better than the Wahoo, which lacks any practical non-shifting front end usefulness).

      Of course, inversely, the Wahoo shifting experience reigns supreme here (at a huge price premium). The Stages one is similiar to Tacx, different in different ways. Right now, Stages lacks the gear shifting configuration (which is kinda a big deal), but that’s apparently coming in the following days. I’ve seen it in beta, so I know it exists, but I don’t know precisely when it’ll drop in terms of if they’ll hit their timeline or not.

      Ride feel I’m a bit mixed on. I’m waiting on the correct gearing to see if that changes my opinion there. The flywheel is massive, but the road-feel momentum doesn’t quite feel dialed in correctly. Again, I want to see if that’s a consequence of not having ideal gearing. It could be.

      Power accuracy at first glance seems spot-on, but I haven’t pulled all the files into the Analyzer yet to start digging into them. I’m seeing a bit more variability in ERG mode than I’d like. Stages says that’s because it’s a bit more outdoor-like in terms of being more wobbly. I guess? I mean, the point of ERG mode is hardcore nail the wattage bits. It doesn’t seem to impact things much though in the grand scheme of things aside from the line being more wiggly.

      Again, more soon.

    • Dan

      Thanks. Can’t wait until the full review!

  7. Chris

    I think this sort of enhancement will appeal to the live streamers & entice viewers for the excitement.

    Bring on all sorts of new race formats – drop races could have the last few riders every lap excluded in funny ways, for example.

    This will boost the viewing audience & ultimately participants.

  8. Eric Tiffany

    This is like F1 in the hybrid era. Drive around charging your battery so you can deploy it to pass someone.

    But F1 is (or will be, sometime soon, I hope) using real cars with a real battery and real engineering.

    Zwift is just a bad cartoon that just keeps getting worse. RGT is way better if you want a cartoon, or Rouvy/Fulgaz/BigringVR if you want real video of real rides (and none of these have bozos yelling “Ride On!” at you).

    • chris benten

      RGT? Isn’t that the one with 4 routes?

      You may think “Ride Ons” are dumb but when I am hauling my fat a$$ up a hill, I will take any motivation I can get.

  9. Steve Mz

    Right idea around increasing choice within a race but wrong execution in my opinion. It’s encouraging that they are starting to think through the race experience more.

    I’d be more interested in different types of racing that don’t necessarily require extra effort to be fun, but are more equitable, rather than them adding specific boosts like this.

    A “jerseys” concept for races that awards points for sprints, climbs, “primes” and overall would be far more engaging and would allow mixed categories to ride together more easily without encouraging sandbagging.

  10. Ben Lee

    When are they adding blue shell to Zwift races?

    But seriously, I think it adds a different element to racing. Some people will love it and some will hate it. The worst thing they can do is to make it standard across ALL races. The more sensible thing of course is to extend it to a wider beta, giving users a choice of voting with their participation on whether they want this feature around for good or not.

  11. Geoff

    Shouldn’t they add a % of body weight penalty rather than the same weight penalty for everyone?
    I could be wrong, but the way they’ve set it up would disadvantage light riders more than they are already disadvantaged on zwift wouldn’t it?

    • At first glance, yes. But then since the wattage bumps are flat-rate based, it’s an even bigger bump for those lighter riders, since that 500w is a massive increase for a smaller rider than a bigger rider.

  12. JAMES

    Boost is hub spacing not a bottom bracket standard

  13. Richard G

    Why??? We’re not here to play Mario Kart. Just give us an option to exit a ride and go to the main menu without quitting the entire program. If that’s too easy, a feature to let us teleport to meet up with friends whether they are on the track would also be nice.

  14. Lukman Nurhakim

    Stop playing games and get the Stages Bike review done! 😁

    • A means to an end!

      I’m mostly collecting power accuracy data now, but also getting used to ride feel and the shifting elements. All while burning a bit of time for the gear changing firmware/app update that’s supposed to arrive any day now.

  15. D.ave Mitchell

    This is not unlike the “attack mode” in the newish Formula E auto racing. Being a gearhead when this (attack mode) first came out I was dead set against it but it has grown on me. I suspect it will be the same with Zwift, not impressed at first but can see the value.

  16. giorgitd

    Checked the date of this piece, thinking that it would be 01 April. Sadly, no. What’s next? Jet packs for runners? Jewels falling from the sky that you can catch to buy jerseys? Creating an arcade game is the wrong direction.

  17. Frank

    I wasn’t a big fan of it. To be honest, I didn’t notice a difference when I used it, and not seeing a change in my power numbers let me wondering if it really worked. I found it a bit gimmicky

  18. usr

    I doubt that this option changes much about who likes and who doesn’t like Zwift racing. If you liked doing races before, you will either hate Boost or find races with that option only slightly more engaging. I don’t expect anyone to have a really strong preference for boost-enabled. But now importantly, Boost surely while win over people who didn’t do Swift races before.

    What I think Zwift should focus on instead is how to engage those not captured by the current modes off virtual racing. Continuous crits perhaps, where you can join and leave at any time, and of course the casual private group ride that is decidedly not a race. An integrated voice chat could do wonders for example, with some clever mute controls in the companion app that automatically silence your yapping at high watts. Or maybe something completely out of the box, e.g. offer some really silly game modes to casual group rides that are games first and races or training second and third (or third and second), like a virtual card game where some cards bring up wattage interactions. Just something to keep you low-level busy while pedaling and chatting, without requiring too much UI bandwidth (display and input), and also not to much mental bandwidth.

  19. ArT

    The option to buy a handful of pins will be available soon. In addition, the pump in spokes. Turbo boost why not but only in FUN races.

  20. John Tomac

    Zwift grows as de pandemic spread aroud the world. They have millions of users now, but they have to make the right decisions to maintain the paid users.

    I don’t like the gamification, but I understand that it could be a new type of game. Maybe they have to differenciate “classic racing/training” between “arcade game”.

    One thing I miss in the app is being able to listen to music while riding. They could consider integrating the Spotify account to listen to your favorite music.

    • ArT

      On apple tv works well spotify with ZWIFT. Background music works well.

    • John Tomac

      Thanks. I don’t have Apple TV. I have to check if I can listen to music and play Zwift on my Android tablet at the same time.

    • Robert

      I never use the Zwift audio – I listen to my own music. This can be done in many different ways, from using another device to running a streaming app on the same device as Zwift. I don’t need Zwift to spend time doing that integration. I’d rather see them work on the UI…

    • mpulsiv

      You can run Spotify minimized, next to Zwift and use your phone. Did you know that you have full control? Just select source in the bottom left corner and blast away music on the same source as Zwift. This is far better option then having something integrated into 3rd party apps.

  21. Travis Melville

    I too, did a Volcano one (1b) and being a 72kg rider, I found that the weight penalty for the race was quiet a lot (+5kg for the whole race) especially, when I only chose the Efficient energy boost.
    I can see people weight doping (more) in this.
    I also suffered as there was only 4 people in my race, I’m sure I would have had a better experience if there were more people, and possibly on another course. I think this would be great on a Crit course.

  22. Travis Melville

    on my android phone, I can spotify and zwift.

  23. codyish

    I’m just skeptical that the “interesting variety of potential tactics” won’t eventually just be reduced to everybody figuring out the single optimal way to exploit this. Like with normal powerups there would seem to be a lot of different approaches, but the reality is “blow an aero boost for the sprint finish and nothing else matters that much”. I don’t think it would take long before 1 of the 3 boost options becomes the obvious best choice and nobody ever chooses the other 2, and how it gets used becomes predictable. At best I think different courses may yield a small number of different tactics. I just don’t see this anything more than “racing exactly as it was before – but now everybody is hitting their boost at the same time”.

  24. James Baker

    very cool idea… sounds fun and adds a little different strategy element to racing.. why not? … you don’t need to throw in all the races just like power ups are not in all races…

  25. Fabio P

    Once you hit the charge button it goes all the way to complete the carge or you can turn it on for a couple of seconds, charge a bit, turn off e repeat later?
    Cheers Ray

  26. On the volcano course it did seem to whittle down the field a bit in the A race down to 5 of us. The boosts were never quite enough for us to not be able to peg back after a couple minutes of chasing. I did not realize you could use the boost 4, 2 or 1 times as well. I wound up saving a power up plus 200 watts for the final. Only used it once and ended up 2nd to a 500 watt. So UI definitely needs some improvement on companion app. I will be more curious to see the impact on a hillier course.