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Zwift’s CEO Discusses Smart Bike Hardware Plans, IPO, Rowing, Clubs, and More

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Over the past few days Zwift’s CEO has given an interview to Bloomberg, as well as led his annual Thanksgiving Day group ride, which had over 3,000 people join. During both of those sessions CEO Eric Min discussed a number of topics within the future of the Zwift sphere, including their hardware ambitions, whether or not more world expansion was in store, as well as even if rowing might ever make it into the game. Along with a pile of other topics from IPO to UI updates to his thoughts on Peloton.

While you can’t re-watch the Thanksgiving Day ride, you can watch the full Bloomberg video here:

The interview was well executed, probably because the host (Tim Stenovec) turns out to be a Zwifter himself, and could ask intelligent questions about the platform (and also, as I just discovered based on his Twitter profile, is a DC Rainmaker reader). Now, I’m going to dive into all the key quotes, but as usual provide some analysis around them.

Before we dive into that, for a random stat that was dropped in the interview, Zwift has seen “263% growth since April”. The company however has yet to say how many paying subscribers it has (they often mention how many people have created an account). Also, it’s a bit unclear if the term ‘growth’ in this context is total sub base growth (e.g. growing 2.6x since April), or growth rate (totally different). During the Thanksgiving Ride, Eric noted they had “more than doubled” this year, but that’s a different frame than from just April. [Update: Zwift reached out and clarified, saying: “The 263% stat is YoY growth in new subscribers. The overall subscriber count is roughly 2x vs last year.”, this matches what I figured based on various numbers I’ve heard/seen.]

The Zwift Bike:

In the drip…drip…drip story of Zwift’s hardware ambitions, this is probably one of the most clear-cut exchanges we’ve seen to date on specifically what they’re working on. You’ll remember that last November Zwift confirmed they were working on hardware when they posted job positions that clearly outlined smart bike components (namely, actuators,  used for something like the movement in a KICKR CLIMB/BIKE). They would then lay off employees in March of this year to focus on their hardware ambitions, only to further outline them this past summer in surveys asking about hardware inclusion in plans. One of the recent investors also fielded a survey around building of hardware too, prior to investing in Zwift.

In any case, here’s another nail in that story, here’s that exchange from the conversation about hardware (time 2:02 in the video above).

Bloomberg’s Tim Stenovec: “How do you get more recreation cyclists into the Zwift environment, and get that $15/month?”

 

Zwift’s Eric Min: “I think this is part of the big investment that we’re making. We know that once you get into Zwift it’s pretty sticky, and it’s really engaging. A big part of the theme of the investment is all about making Zwift easier to buy, easier to be onboarded, and easier to use. And you know, our investment into hardware is part of our bigger strategy.”

 

Bloomberg: “About a year ago we did learn that you were hiring for hardware positions, what is the hardware product pipeline, what are you working on, and when can we expect it?”

 

Eric Min: “I can tell you we’ve been working on it for some time now, and hardware is as they say – hard. But really, what we’re trying to do is simply widen the total addressable market by making it simply easier to get on Zwift. So our hardware strategy is really about, really focused on the bike.”

 

Bloomberg: “So does that mean there’s going to be a smart bike, a Zwift branded smart bike?”

 

Eric Min: “That’s right, we’ve been telling our partners for many years now that this is really the future of growing this entire category. And we’ll continue to work with our partners, and in the current environment our partners cannot make enough hardware.” [He goes goes on to note that the shortages have impacted many different fitness companies beyond Zwift.]

 

Bloomberg: “So when can we see that Zwift branded smart bike?”

 

Eric Min: “Well I wish…yesterday. We’re working as fast as we can, but these things do take time. We’re certainly not going to come out with a product that is just a, you know, just another piece of product. I think we have an opportunity to really innovate. And really further enhance the experience that we promised ourselves to deliver on.”

Based on my conversations with numerous people in and around the industry/Zwift, Zwift has two challenges right now. The main one is simply that they can’t find/get manufacturing capacity. Making a smart bike is Really Damn Hard™. What Peloton makes is frankly Really Damn Easy™ by comparison. Quantity-wise, Peloton produces their bikes at a rate of about 50:1 compared to most of the other smart bike makers for applications like Zwift. Peloton is even higher in some cases. Peloton pumps out about 243,000 bikes per quarter right now (at ~$2,000+ each), and they’re still sold out 1-2 months down the road.

So when Eric talks about hardware partners being the bottleneck, he’s mostly correct. But what that statement sidesteps is that the same challenges that the likes of Wahoo/Tacx/Stages/Wattbike/Elite/etc face, so does Zwift. Their hardware partners would love to make more trainers or bikes faster. They don’t want backorders anymore than anyone else right now. Trainers are hot, sell them while ya can. But Zwift’s problem is even bigger since they don’t have any manufacturing base to go from, and atop that, building a legit smart bike with moving parts as Zwift’s postings and Eric’s quote above implies they intend to is immensely complicated (I say ‘simply’ because the top-product in this segment would be the Wahoo KICKR Bike, which goes up and down, so to go beyond that, would require that at a minimum).

Remember, it took experienced hardware companies, like Stages, nearly a year, and for Tacx even longer from first announcement to first units hitting people’s living rooms. Nobody has more experience in building connected bikes than Stages, which has been doing it forever for gyms. In Wahoo’s case, they held back their public announcement, but it was still a multi-year journey behind the scenes. While Zwift has recently quietly hired over one of Specialized’s top hardware engineers (as well as gotten a boatload of money via their $450m investment round), their two core bottlenecks are going to be iteration of a super-complex piece of hardware, and manufacturing.

My swag of a bet here is that Zwift announces a Zwift bike at Eurobike 2021 (or roughly that timeframe, so late August 2021), but doesn’t actually deliver it till Winter 2021-2022. I could see them announcing it sooner just to be spicy, but my bet is that delivery timelines still ultimately slide as the technical and manufacturing realities/complexities set in.

In any event, I’m super curious to see what they come up with – and also, hope that they follow and maintain the same industry standards that enabled them as a company to be successful. As I’ve said before, while I think Zwift making vertically integrated hardware is long term bad for competition (and thus, probably ultimately bad for consumers too), I think it’s also the right business move for Zwift – critical even. The vertical integration of Peloton is what makes it so successful, and today, the lack of that cohesion for Zwift as a platform is a major blocker to penetration into a  broader market of consumers that don’t want to finagle with trying to cobble together a workable Zwift solution.

Rowing, Roads, and Clubs:

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Ask enough Zwifters what they want, and a large chunk of them will say new roads or maps. And sure enough, when the interviewer is also a Zwifter, that question too was on the radar:

Bloomberg: “When are we going to see more maps?”

 

Eric Min: “We’re working on it. I don’t think it’s really about the number of maps, although we’ll continue to increase the number of maps. I think there’s so much we can do with Watopia, which is our largest map. It’s a huge landmass, and so we can continue to expand just within that map. We have a cadence of every couple months of releasing new roads or new maps, or expansions. So they will continue.” Eric went onto discuss though that the core of Zwift is social density, “whether they realize it or not” (he’s right), and that they ultimately need to find a balance between having it too busy or too empty.

I’ve long agreed with Zwift in this area. We want people on maps, otherwise you end up like many of Zwift’s competitors with desolate maps (though, busier these days). I think Zwift’s shift to allowing two guest maps each day plus Watopia is mostly the right balance. I could see a third so-called guest map being allowed at some point. But I agree that there’s far more opportunity for expansion in the existing maps, especially Watopia and France – but even maps like Innsbruck could see logical expansion given the terrain there to be more of a climber’s paradise.

But what’s one area you won’t see expansion into soon? Apparently rowing.

This is an area that Eric has often and regularly talked about being just around the corner, even as recently as this past summer saying it was mere weeks away. However, asked during the Thanksgiving Day ride where the status of the always-teased rowing was, this time the answer was far less enthusiastic.

Eric Min: “We are prioritizing the core cycling product at this minute. Rowing will come in the future but not at the expense of what the community values most – the core cycling experience.”

Here’s the full screenshot from that aquatic-killing moment:

2020-11-26 16.15.01

Also, you’ll note that the ‘core running experience’ is not listed above, though, as Eric noted elsewhere during the ride – typing on a keyboard while leading a group ride is a much harder thing to do than people realize.

Still, for rowing aficionados, there’s intense desire to see native Zwift support. But the simple reality is that market is far smaller than running, which still has never really exploded the way Zwift hoped it would. Treadmills (which are required for Zwift running) are far more common or in greater quantities than rowing machines in people’s homes and gyms, and the hardware integration in rowing outside of something like the Concept2 rowers is slim pickins.

Perhaps though, the results of that crazy survey from back this past summer showed Zwift that – with more data than walking into a gym ever could, given how many times it tried to offer rowing as a subscription option.

Speaking of things from way back when – remember when Zwift launched clubs in April? Well, club. Just one club.

Turns out there are 80 of these clubs nowadays, albeit still in a beta process of some sort. Now the timing is launching this feature next year:

2020-11-26 16.24.48

While next year is only 30 days away, it’s unclear if this is a January or a December kinda next year. I’m a strong believer that a good clubs/teams infrastructure is one of the strongest and easiest ways Zwift can grow new subs. This is because (especially now) as clubs shift many group activities to indoor trainers, it basically pigeonholes the rest of the club/team onto Zwift, if that’s where their weekly/etc group rides/structured workouts are. It’s an easy button to getting people onto the platform via their existing social connections.

As for being able to do multiple rides without exiting Zwift? That’s coming too. While I couldn’t quite capture it on the main screen fast enough, I grabbed it from the chat window instead, here’s the question and answer on that:

2020-11-26 16.26.27

Numerous people (like, a crapton) asked about where the planned UI update was. No answer was given there, though, Zwift has stated in various places over the past few months that the UI update was essentially delayed further upon the realization that the foundation of Zwift needed more urgent care than the window dressings. Eric touched on the foundational aspect a few times in the ride as well.

IPO, and Peloton:

Ever since Eric began teasing the idea of an IPO some time ago, it keeps popping up – and given this is a business-focused news network, it certainly makes sense to ask the question.

Oh, and IPO means ‘Initial Public Offering’, and is essentially when a company goes public on a stock exchange, to become a publicly traded company akin to Google, Microsoft, Apple, or others. This has massive ramifications on a company, both good and bad – depending on one’s viewpoint.

In any case, asked…and answered:

Bloomberg: “Do you have plans to IPO?”

 

Eric Min: “I think we have those ambitions, we have not set any clear timelines. We’re at the very beginning of a journey, it’s creating a brand new category, we’re super excited and we’re thinking really long term. And part of that raise is making sure we have the resources to see this longer strategy play out. We’re pretty optimistic. There’s no timeline [for the IPO], we’re focused on growth. We’re focused on just making it easier to get onboarded and use our product.”

None of that really surprises me. There’s obviously going to be interest from investors on eventually having an exit strategy. That’s ultimately the point of most investments (though certainly one can do that without exiting/IPO’ing in some way).

However, I thought his answer to the same question during the Zwift ride was also interesting:

2020-11-26 16.36.05

Though, it’s unclear if the response above is in reference to doing something special for Zwifters to be able to purchase shares of Zwift ahead of opening (pre-market purchases), or just after the fact like any other company.

Back in the Bloomberg interview, the conversation turned to competition:

Bloomberg: “Do you see Peloton as a competitor?”

 

Eric Min: “I don’t think so, I see Peloton doing incredible things for the entire category. I think we’re very much swimming in different lanes. We’re very complementary. We’re very global. I can tell you that only 25% of our customers come from the US, just to show you how much growth is left. We’re very international, Europe represents about half our customer base. And I think we could be very complementary. But we are very very different experience, but it is all about consumption of fitness from the home. And I think together we can just broaden the category.”

This is a tricky question that has two correct diabolical answers. Yes, Peloton is absolutely a competitor for Zwift. And no, Peloton is not a competitor of Zwift. Both are correct in different ways.

In the first way, yes, there are countless instances where a family unit is looking to buy into a hardware indoor cycling platform recreationally, and that choice is picking one platform to invest in a trainer/bike. They absolutely compete there, and I’ve seen it many times in my immediate circle of friends. And that’s a core chunk of the market Zwift wants to grab going forward.

But inversely, if you’re looking at a competitive cyclist trying to decide whether to get into Zwift, Peloton likely isn’t in that bracket.

It’s sorta like photography gear. Phone cameras are single-handedly responsible for camera companies having a rough go of life the last decade or so. They’re definitely competitors that overlap in many ways, but, depending on what the specific needs are, they aren’t. My smartphone is responsible for me not having purchased a small pocket camera in 8-10 years. Yet inversely, I wouldn’t use my smartphone for more professional needs that a DSLR/mirrorless or like camera can provide. Yes, both take great photos and videos – just like Peloton and Zwift will both make you fit, but both also cater to different needs/groups. And those end-goals don’t always overlap.

Wrap Up:

With the UCI esports World Championships on Zwift a touch bit over a week away, you’re undoubtedly going to hear more about Zwift in the news before the year is over. But I think 2021 will likely be the most interesting year to date for the company. Sure, 2020 will have seen their biggest growth to date, but 2021 is probably when we’ll see their first major hardware, the impacts of that massive investment round start to take hold, as well as maybe some of their competitors (existing or otherwise) deciding to take a run at things.

Keep in mind that while Zwift had their massive investment round recently, the waters of the at home fitness tech world are attracting some pretty substantial sharks these days – interested in riding the wave of fitness popularity into the future. And there’s zero indication that’s a wave that’s likely to falter anytime soon. With a number of companies left in the water both for investment, as well as to invest, it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of it.

With that – thanks for reading!

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78 Comments

  1. Matthias

    Maybe a stupid question, but what does “IPO” mean?

    • Definitely not stupid, and I meant to define it. IPO = Initial Public Offering

      Essentially, it’s when a company goes public on a stock exchange and you can buy/trade shares of it like you would Microsoft, Apple, etc…

      There’s boatloads of ramifications of this (good and bad, depending on your viewpoint).

    • Colorado Nate

      Initial public offering. (The first time shares of a company are available to purchase by the public)

  2. Sussex Geezer

    It’s hard not to think that regular Zwift subscribers are underwriting events like the virtual TdF and virtual UCI World Championships at the cost of game expansion, bug fixes and general maintenance. My personal preference is that Zwift racing, particularly are the pro-am level, should be independently funded by sponsorship and participant subscription. This would leave the core game to those of use, the majority of subscribers, that have no interest in racing.

  3. Mike

    Been using Zwift for years, many years, and I have to say I’m getting bored with it now, what I’m about to say is stupid I know, but there is too much on it, it’s like turning on the TV and seeing a million channels and not being able to find a program you like, I think it was better with only a few races and events, however, I would like to see more routes, don’t care if its a new Map or Expansion, but with that, can I have a route planner please so I can make my own, I’m constantly missing turns and often U-Turns take you back but you can’t then turn the way you wanted.

    Oh and come on… Clubs Clubs Clubs

    • mpulsiv

      I can see where you are coming from. I think people get bored due to simple free rides. To overcome this, one should focus on structured training plans and racing. I myself, only stare at a screen when I race. With structured plans and free rides, there’s no incentive to stare at the screen 100%.

      To keep the boredom away, I run Zwift on 16” USB monitor, placed on top of my 24” all-in-one desktop running Netflix. I only look at my small USB monitor during interval changes. The rest of the time, I’m engaged with Netflix. When I race, my eyes are 100% on 24” all-in-one desktop. At the end of the day, creativity with 2 screens will reduce boredom.

    • Derek John Henscheid

      100% this. I only give Zwift full attention during a race if I have some intense intervals in the workout I am doing, otherwise I have a 55″ TV behind zwift where I have a Roku setup for Netflix/Hulu/YouTube/etc

  4. Fack

    Part of me thinks Zwift abandoned rowing because EXR is way ahead of them and focused entirely on rowing.

    link to exrgame.com

    EXR seems poised to be “Zwift for rowing” with near feature parity. (pssst, Ray: get a Concept2 Model D next…;)

    More seriously: there are a WEALTH of apps for rowing from Peloton-like fitness classes (ClubRow, CityRowGo etc), to TrainerRoad type apps (KREW, ErgZone) and others like ASensei and EXR. You could add an entirely new section of subscribers if you integrated rowing into your site.

    • pedalmonkey

      I agree with you, Zwift seems like a company that created a good product and has marked dominance, but doesn’t know what to do next, all these half baked ideas and just seem to wonder off to the next shinney thing, It workouts that annoy me, so nearly the best workout player on the marker, but not, potential for good training plans, but not … so lets create a bike

      But it does seem like a industry thing, SF can’t create a Android App despite having having Wahoo backing, TR can’t finish analytics (guess you outdoor TSS)

      Seems to me like these companies aren’t big enough to keep up with the industry they have created

  5. Pat

    Zwift still haven’t fixed the UI issues from early beta (promised last year), the inability to switch courses or maps in game without restarting the entire program and multiple other problems that pop up whenever more than 1000 people hop on at once. Then add on the countless half baked projects like the steering, mtn bikes gravel bikes (neither of which have any significant dedicated terrain to wander on), running, rowing, clubs and Zwift looks like a drunk flailing around blindly for a bathroom and instead keeps finding potted plants instead with the end users left holding the bag.

    But hey- they’re making a bike!!!! (IE more flailing around drunk)

    This is why I only subscribe for the winter…

  6. Sam

    I can’t wait soon enough (which unfortunately will be far off) to have a zwift competitor with a bugfiix and feature velocity that is faster than a snail to jump off…..

    This platform is outdated and seems like the core of the product has too much churn to be able to innovate quickly.

  7. Kevin LaCour

    Me, three years ago on my Cycleops turbo trainer “I’ll never buy a smart trainer just to play a cycling game.”

    Me, today, looking at an Elite Direto X “I’ll never buy a Zwift bike just to Zwift!”

    Me, three years from now … ???

    As for the Zwift run, every single Zwift ad I see either on YouTube or real TV focuses almost exclusively on cycling. I can’t remember seeing one focused on running. So, where is their focus? Will it be on a smart treadmill (Zmart treadmill)? I would love to load a training peaks training session for a run into Zwift like I do for my cycling workouts. That is a machine I would invest in …

    Thanks, as always, for the summation!

    • Christopher Strickland

      I use Zwift for running, in fact that is why i signed up for Zwift in the first place. I use the NPE Runn sensor attached to my “dumb” treadmill and have done a few workouts with Zwift and a 5k Thanksgiving Day race. It is definitely better than just running while trying to watch TV or staring at a wall. I am not sure about custom workouts, since I am new to Zwift period, but I may have to check that out.

    • marty

      Why don’t you run outside? Very little barriers unless it is a dangerous area.

  8. Leon Evans

    My comments are PC version specific as that’s the only version I use.
    Utterly disappointed in his vague, wishy washy responses regarding UI, basic game functionality that ANY PC game should have out of the box, let alone 5 years later.
    I guess this is what you get for developing a game ‘technology up’ rather than technology down, ie. develop for the most powerful hardware first and then dumb it down as the technology gets lower spec’d until you end up with a smart phone version.
    Zwift appear to have developed for smart phone/tablet first and PC is a nasty tasting after thought that is given little consideration (so I’ll guess I’ll never be truly satisfied with Zwift as a product)

    Worlds: for the love of god just put all the current worlds into Watopia so you have a single cycling ‘continent’.
    You can then have weekly ‘routes’ instead of worlds to maintain the ‘social busyness’ while also letting people deviate from a given route and ride wherever they like and all the while still be in the same world.

    Maybe they need to hire some game devs from traditional PC game dev land as they are clearly struggling on some of the fundamentals.

    Its been my impression for a long time now using the platform that they are chasing money and not focusing on the good fundamental game design 🙁

    • Bob

      Appearance aside, development for the PC is the original. It was 6+ years old when the first iOS version was released. The commercial version of Zwift on PC was more than a year out of beta.

    • Leon Evans

      I’m genuinely shocked by that as Zwift, in no way feels, looks or functions like a PC game AT ALL. It feels like a horrendous console port that was rushed and have zero f**ks given about by management and just wanted to push out a different version for extra cash 🙁

    • Leon Evans

      I should caveat my statement and possibly contend your answer, but I meant the ‘target’ systems for Zwift not the system the game is actually developed on, as all games/applications are ‘developed’ on a PC or a MAC (basically a workstation).
      What I meant was that the game is developed for mobile/tablet and therefore the PC version is merely a dirty afterthought to bring in a tiny bit of additional income as there will be a tiny percentage who will use Zwift on PC.

    • inSyt

      Zwift is taking advantage of the fact that most cyclists don’t know how gaming works. People are of the opinion that the terribly poor graphics are intentional to cater for weaker systems. Using settings to reducing tessellation, aliasing, shadows and resolution to maintain 30FPS on weaker systems is a foreign concept to most cyclists.

    • mpulsiv

      Zwift is taking advantage of clueless cyclists? During races, I don’t even know that my avatar is in the game, let alone fine details and frame rate. My eyes are on power and heart rate. Everything else is irrelevant. It never crossed my mind that Zwift is a video game.

      I don’t even pay attention to the surrounding

    • marty

      Exactly. I wish there were true video game features. Would be cool to have fun with it besides just racing and training. You could have a typical shooting gun and killing creatures feature, but use the bike to power your movement. The faster you pedal, the faster you move around the game course.

  9. JamesH

    So, how does one go about joining the super sekrit beta DRC Club in Zwift?

  10. James

    A cadence of new roads or expansions every couple of months? Is he working on a different game?

  11. marklemcd

    There is definitely competition between Peloton and Zwift. See it on reddit all the time where people are choosing between one or the other.

    I was on Zwift for quite some time. After my wife wanted a Peloton and we got it and I tried it, I cancelled zwift and now only use Peloton because it’s more engaging for a lot of people (realize this is all personal).

    • mpulsiv

      People that ask questions on Reddit belong to general fitness audience. They are not cyclists.
      Peloton and Zwift shouldn’t be compared. One is made for general population to stay fit and other is made for avid athletes, cyclists that train vigorously and race. One can be used on your very personal race bike with lateral movement. Peloton is stationary bike, where you get to stare at an instructor, who swings the towel around. Not sure how this is engaging.

    • And yet at the end of the day, real consumers with real money are making real choices on which product to purchase. One company loses out on that money – as such, they are in that context a competitor to each other, and as Zwift grows, that head to head decision is only going to increase. There are only so many people left in the world that want to train or race “vigorously” that aren’t either on Zwift, or one of the other platforms.

      I can count numerous real-life family friends that made this choice. All of them with avid cyclists in the family, competitors, Ironman athletes, CAT2 cyclists, people who run some of the biggest cycling sports-tech companies in the industry, you name it.

      As for this:
      “Peloton is stationary bike, where you get to stare at an instructor, who swings the towel around. Not sure how this is engaging.”

      Or, as a person on Peloton might say:

      “Zwift is a stationary bike, where you get to stare at a tiny computer generated bike, where you never see another human’s real face. Not sure how this is engaging.”

      Look – I could do this all day. But I’ve never really understand why there’s this bizarre ‘hate’ for Peloton from the Zwift community from people that have never stepped foot on a Peloton bike. It’s so weird. That doesn’t exist the other direction. And ultimately, everyone’s getting fit. And my bet based on the data that we have, is that the average Peloton rider rides far more than the average Zwifter (I mean, the data’s there for Peloton, look at the reports – it’s nuts).

    • I disagree you can’t compare Peloton and Zwift… at least partially.

      I have a site and app with 12,000+ serious cyclists, and many of them are tired of Zwift. Many have also told me in addition to their smart trainer they also have a spin bike and use Peloton or simlar apps (at least periodically, including myself). But that is in addition to Rouvy, TrainerDay.com (my site) and others. I have also seen many “real cyclists” on facebook groups talking about using both. Sure most art not hard core racers but they might be performance travelers putting lots of miles per year.

    • mpulsiv

      @Ray

      I don’t think that there’s a bizarre ‘hate’ for Peloton, but subjective opinions, based on direct experience. I have ridden on Peloton at my gym and frankly I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone in cycling community. The stationary bike feels numb, there’s no engagement during out of saddle effort. User must adjust resistance red knob on-the-fly. Position feel unnatural, even coming from endurance geometry. I felt like I was on a beach cruiser bike. Vocal instructor had no effect on my training sessions to put out more watts. In contrast, when another rider or a train of riders in a break, you are motivated to close the gap. Now, that’s far more engaging!

      I’m not here to down/up vote for a specific product, but express direct experience.
      Agreed, data doesn’t lie and there are slew of users who are happy with Peloton and would feel miserable on Zwift.

    • marklemcd

      “Peloton is stationary bike, where you get to stare at an instructor, who swings the towel around. Not sure how this is engaging.”

      This is why I said it’s personal. For me, a guy who spent 11 hours in the saddle last week (5 outdoors and 6 indoors) I find Peloton way more engaging than Zwift. I spent my 6 hours on the Peloton bike doing 5 hours of structured training.

      Their powerzone classes are excellent for training in a structured manner, and while not as good as trainer road, I find them better than Zwift’s structured workouts. There’s no towel waving or dancing, just an instructor/coach who has designed workouts that are meant to raise FTP. And to me those are way more engaging than doing one on my own on Zwift because I’m doing a workout with a “coach” right there and hundreds of others.

      I spent 1 hour doing a traditional spin class that you could make as an analogy to racing on Zwift. Though I know most people race more often than that, and most people on Peloton do more than 1 traditional spin class. Either way, people probably should do less racing/spin and more structured training anyway. But after a while I found racing on Zwift to get monotonous and the rampant cheating with no real answer to it made it less interesting. And I don’t want video game racing which they’ve been doing more of.

      I have a bike that is well calibrated, it’s within 2% of my Assiomas. So it’s a good rig for structured training. And as I said, for me personally, far more engaging.

    • chris benten

      “…6 hours on the Peloton bike doing 5 hours…”

      This. People go to Peloton because someone is telling them what to do…Front and Center…

      I have been on Zwift for years and have never done a structured workout or raced. You have to dig into Zwift to get that…or even use a second device…or use other programs to get actual results…What a clustermuckup…Racing is covered up with sandbaggers and probably weight cheaters…well according to the forums anyway…Personally I just ride…around a volcano or up the Alpe or chase dinosaurs or…

      And if I get bored I ride Fulgaz or Rouvy…although I may switch to BigRingVR…I like the interface.

      Peloton is succeeding because someone else is making all the decisions. And if you are feeling out of sorts?? Just don’t turn the knob…but you can still claim credit:-)

    • Anonymouse

      I don’t think this is an accurate description of workouts on Zwift. You literally just have to click the big blue button that says “Training” on the screen that begins every ride and then pick a workout or a plan from within that menu. That’s not “dig[ging] in” very much. As for results, you get two graphs of the workout data when you are done, although you do need to use Training Peaks or Strava or one of a million other programs to get more granular. Most folks who care about their workout data are using those already. Racing has its problems, but it’s possible to choose ones that have fewer problems (Zwift Racing League, WTRL TTTs, etc.).

    • inSyt

      Peloton offers a way better audio experience.

    • marty

      As a competitive and recreational cyclist for over 25 years, I can say that the people who get into bike racing and hard core cycling do tend to get very defensive about anything that threatens their hobby or sport. People who do peloton are not of the competitive mindset, but more of the gym workout mind set. So I agree with what Zwift says about this, and do not get all the negativity. One thing is clear is that competitive cycling is and always will be a niche sport. Will never be taken up by everyone who exercises. The greatest benefit of indoor virtual races is the ease of logistics to set up a race. No need to close roads, no need for a billion dollar stadium, no city permit issues, etc. Many people want to put on IRL races, so except for races in the boonies (like gravel) it’s very hard to do. And lets face it, most criteriums are boring. Attendance at IRL races has been dropping in many countries. It is possible people getting into virtual racing will get into IRL racing like how Zwift approaches academy racing, but once you crash a few times in a real race, people might step away from IRL racing. Virtual racing is less stressful on the mind.

  12. Ride Smarter, Not Harder

    Indoor cycling is moving into two camps: Game-ify vs Simulation. Zwift is looking to dominate the “Gaming” market and will likely end up with a closed-loop system that will offer the most value to consumers with their own hardware platform (that also moves?). This means that 3rd party systems will likely get squeezed out or will only be able to integrate with Zwift with a reduced subset of features. It may push users to other platforms like RGT, Rouvy, or Fulgas, who all saw a noted increase in their user base over the last year and who are likely to maintain an “open-hardware” platform. That being said, we could see more integrated software/hardware partnerships to further enhance and develop the user experience. VR would be interesting but there are so many issues with designing a headset that would be able to handle corrosive sweat, and also minimize the effects of vertigo.

  13. Pierre

    Great article and great discussion. Agree with Ray whatever people’s opinion may be (including mine) Peloton is winning real dollars and doing things well.

    I’m a U Chicago grad and this reminds of ‘platform competition’.

    Zwift is a platform that connects riders and advertisers, collects a fee on both ends. Think like the apple store connecting developers and buyers. The move is interesting because Zwift needs to promote compatibility with physical bikes to gain users. Zwift thinks it has tapped out trainers and needs to gain share of stationary bikes, Peloton is the clear market leader with technology suitable for it i.e. power meters.

    But if the primary stationary bike manufacturer will not make compatibility easy then you are left with designing your own bike, which in turn can be compatible (or not) with Peloton app. Or you create content that is so compelling that it will attract users, very unlikely given that they are extremely different products and Peloton is pretty well polished.

    I think the better way to get there would have been M&A (acquisition) but with Covid everything must be trading at such a premium given home fitness is so hot.

    There is an argument that Zwift should improve its UI and not lose out to other ‘platforms’ e.g. TrainerRoad. Zwift has very low switching costs, which makes it susceptible to competition.

  14. Kevin Greimel

    They really don’t get it. A hyper realistic bike racing simulator is cool and all, but it’s so easy to cheat that it’s a mess for recreational users. Workouts & instructor based sessions could be their own world. Call it Spin City. Realistic worlds could rotate between Paris, New York, London, etc. Let Watopia become weird. Aero helmet power up? Not anymore, those are green shells now. Use your extra Di2 buttons to fire them.

  15. SK

    Thanks for the summary.

    I might have missed it, but I would appreciate your thoughts on the comments that Vaughters made about Zwift not being quite the same as cycling. In particular, he suggested that fast Zwifters were more like runners. In addition, he thought there was a premium for exerting high power at the top of the pedal stroke because of how the flywheel works. (I might not have summed this up perfectly).

    Who is to say that the most efficient way to create power with your legs, is to sit in a traditional bike frame. Perhaps there is a different form factor that better transfers power and creates a better work out.

    Our family has Zwift/Wahoo and a Peloton. For my body type, I seem to be able to produce better power climbing in real life. On the Peloton, I can produce more power than on Wahoo/Zwift. This is a different way of saying that some high-power Zwift Bros sometimes seem to be missing their cheerios when they do group rides.

    The Peloton work-outs are not the same as traditional bike training stuff – but I am sure that others have said that many times.

    I don’t think Zwift can go public at a high valuation unless they charge more, and create a financial disincentive to only use it during bad weather months. (The same applies to Strava but there few pay but still get all the good stuff).

    Peloton is $480/yr!

    • chris benten

      I missed the comments by Vaughters…will have to look them up. From the Zwift race descriptions it seems to me that Zwift races are like Cross and TT…balls to the wall for an hour or so…I have yet to see any long distance racing in Zwift. But I do not race so I might have missed. Even the pro races are pretty short.

      Definitely produce more power outside but I do that infrequently…too many people driving with phones in their hands and too many lights…And too much time to load the bike and drive to a good place to ride. Might as well go golfing then.

      Peloton is like Spin classes…I used to do that but after 6-9 months I was bored out of my skull…the instructors are mercenaries and always changing and only one in 6-8 would be any good. I would rather Zwift in the safety of my house and listen to my tunes…

    • RE: Vaughters comments

      Assuming we’re talking these from back in June*, I largely agree with him. And in fact, I think Ovett actually only managed to solidify Vaughters comments even further on the whole running thing. Which obviously, isn’t to say that running is like cycling.

      But since Vaughters is a pretty nuanced guy when it comes to what he writes, I wonder if some of that nuance was lost on Ovett (or maybe, perhaps me). But Vaughters point is largely correct that Zwift racing today lacks so much of what a normal professional road race has. It does indeed mostly come down to being an VO2Max contest, though certainly tactics are important, but not as critical as they are out on the real road. Just like not falling off your bike is more important out on the real road, and thus, you can focus more indoors on just putting out a crapton of power than being balanced/finding a line.

      And I know some in the Zwift community got all bent out of shape on those comments, but at the end of the day, they’re largely true. In the same way that they’re somewhat different sports. Just like triathlon is a different sport than swimming, cycling, running individually. It’s rare to see any single-sport athlete end up doing well in triathlon – and not because they have to learn the other sports necessarily, but because the race and its demands play out differently. Just as they do in Zwift vs real road.

      * link to cyclingnews.com

  16. Fiatlux

    So no question about a family subscription option ? That’s a frequently asked feature (also illustrated in one of the above snapshots) and would probably convince me – we are five at home and while I’m by far the most motivated, the rest of the family is quite interested in practicing more or less regularly on the trainer during the bad season.

    • Kids’ accounts are free – I have 2. You have to do a request on their website to get it, usually takes a couple weeks based on discussions with others who’ve done it and my experience.

  17. Caiman

    I quit Zwift when they raised the price a while back. It was an okay training tool but was never a real fan. I have been using RGT for free since then and happy with it (free :)). I can afford to subscribe but don’t want to if there is a free option. On top of that, RGT is mighty impressive for being free. I think Zwift should consider offering a very basic free ride, as otherwise soon or later they will lose out.

  18. Fabio

    my 2 cents:
    As Eric said many times (and i think we all agree) watopia is the most important world. The last expansion was the desert one in april 2019 (titan groove was included in that expansion but it could only be tested with an hack…but the ‘streets were already rideable in april).
    France was published in June/july i think..

    I don’t agree with eric about the 2 months cadence..

    Japan was also be rumored but we all know that olympic games have been postponed and so that ‘world’ .

  19. I’m in one (two?) of the clubs that are in the beta – it’s interesting, but there isn’t a lot of functionality there for the average user, just offloading some things that ride organizers used to have to request someone at Zwift to do for them (update race/ride each week) can now be done manually. All I see in there is the ability to see your clubs events (which ZwiftHacks search lets me do).
    I completely agree though, that focusing on the communities are the thing. After 3 years of having a smart trainer and 2 of getting a couple months Zwift subscription through the winter, the racing and social aspect of the club I joined is what kept me on Zwift over the summer.

    • Yeah, I’m in the original Jarvis one, but it’s hard to tell what a club can do from an organizing standpoint. For example, if I were a club leader today, without Zwift HQ needing to assist, could I:

      A) Create a club/group ride with a specific route/time/duration/laps of my choosing?
      B) Can I create a group workout based on a structured workout I create (as a team coach)?
      C) What is the procedure/threshold for getting a club/team jersey?
      D) Can those club rides/workouts be gated to only club members?

      And again – I think the bit caveat above is “without Zwift HQ”, since up till clubs, almost everything above has to flow through a manual approval process at Zwift HQ.

    • Fabio

      At the moment i can’t see a great value if i join a club.

      Club events are still public so i can join even if i’m not in the club
      Club workouts missing…
      Route Editor for club events …mmm this i don’t know if its avaiable.

      Joinin a club only to wear a jersy or a Tag near the username is useless imo.

    • A) I’m not one of the ones who’s organizing events, but as I understand it, can do updates to the weekly events (name, course, distance/time, description, I think) – new ‘events’/timeslots have to be allocated by Zwift.
      B) Not sure, our club doesn’t go in for group workouts. I can ask if it looks like those options are there, but I think it would be the same – would have to be editing an existing ‘event’.
      C) It’s somewhere above the 9000 members (6000 active) in the Herd, I guess, and definitely a manual process. (Zwift have had our jersey artwork for quite some time)
      D) No, not yet. Only way to do that is with meetups, so far as I know. Zwift Racing League’s ‘secret links’ are the only thing I know of, not sure if that can be done in clubs (I don’t think our club would do it, restricting entry isn’t really in our makeup) and that isn’t perfect (link can be leaked)

    • Fabio – I thought the same about clubs for a long time, but having people to meet up with and chat for training rides, a consistent group to compete with and against, and just talk Zwift, Zwift racing, and training in general has been great for me.
      Most clubs don’t have jerseys, seems like Zwift is only interested in the top competitive teams now, but that really isn’t the point. The Herd may be different than many of the teams/clubs on Zwift, I’m not sure, but it’s a great spot. If you’ve already got that or don’t want it, you’re right on value, but I’ve seen lots. (Note: most of the club activity isn’t actually on Zwift, just centered around it, takes place on Facebook, Discord, YouTube, Twitch, Strava, Instagram, etc.)

  20. I was a zwift user since the beta and had the gen 1 kickr. I was at a point where I seriously needed to upgrade my indoor training setup, and after evaluating all the options I went with a peloton bike plus. After 2 months and 60 rides I’ve been blown away with the quality of the product and their software offering. I find i do a lot more structured and high intensity rides, where on zwift i would just randomly meander.

    Even if they get the hardware on par with say a peloton, the entire software experience needs a refresh, and they have a boatload of tech debt and supported platforms.

    This space is super hot so they will have a good outcome/exit but they have a lot of challenges to widen their TAM. The thanksgiving peloton ride had 50,000 concurrent live users.

  21. Robert MacDowell

    It’s a cycling platform, virtually no one cares about rowing! We also have smart trainers and smart trainer bikes — no one cares about a Zwift Bike, except current and potential Zwift investors who see how much money Zwift could make in the same manner as Peloton. But Zwift is NOT a hardware company — it’s a software platform. I wish Eric Min would focus on that!! Enhance the user ability of the platform!! Have a proper introduction process. Most everyone has to depend on third parties to learn about how to set up and use Zwift.

    How about fixing Zwift Racing category enforcement!! How about expanding existing worlds! Make more mountain bike and gravel paths. Enhance and expand upon the existing experience. Develop the community tools. Focus on what you should *software improvements* not *hardware*. Eric Min is taking his eye off the ball and other platforms are going to take advantage.

  22. RD Velocipede

    I’ve only had a bike, Saris H3 and a Zwift subscription since late Sept, 2020 but as a retired software engineer they need to use some of that cash on professional UI experts. The number of bone head UI “features” make me scream more than any Zwift incline. So many of the UI issues seem as if the devs have never used computers before.

    Why is there no hot key for the menu? Why are buttons for the Sensors and Ride panels in the same place? A accidental double click and you need to exist the Zwift to pick the route you intended to ride. I have the Elite Sterzo and repeatedly see the instructions just after the ride starts. There should be a check box so it only shows up once. At the end of a ride I am repeatedly asked to rate and comment on my Sterzo experience. I did rate it more than once but will eventually down grade my rating just because I’m being unnecessarily hassled.

    Hopefully the promised upgrades to the UI and non-restart changes will happen soon. A category of rider that is being overlooked is the non-competitive workout/free rider. I’m too old to race others but I’d kill to race a recording of my last best ride of a particular route. Then I can be in my OWN category and still get the thrill of racing that is so appealing.

    Reading Zwift’s own forums you can see the desire for a configurable OSD (on-screen-display) or at the very least an ON/OFF hotkey. I ended up writing a script that applies one of the public Zwift hacks to toggle the OSD. A very good example of who has done the configurable OSD right is RGT. Their UI is simply better thought out and modern looking to boot.

    In Zwift even with a 43″ 4K TV that tiny upper right hand map is poorly implemented as the elevation profile is hard to see. Sure you can use the companion app and I do on a tablet but for god knows why that map does not have the incline/decline percentage (bone head omission). There should be the option to have incline/decline profile and your position displayed along the bottom like when sensor info is displayed during a workout. Again RGT has implemented that better.

    I’ll still subscribe to Zwift as it “just worked” but there seems to be low hanging fruit changes that would keep the fans quite while the big changes take time to ripen.

    • Anonymouse

      I agree with all of this. I do encourage you to race, however. Sandbaggers are annoying, but there’s plenty of good fun to be had. Wkg is king, so age is irrelevant. Check out The Herd Beginner Race series (start with The Herd Racing League on Facebook) and/or join a WTRL Time Trial team (which you also can do through the HRL Facebook page). Nothing more fun on Zwift that riding a TTT!

    • RD Velocipede

      Thanks, I’ll check those suggestions out, appreciated.

    • marty

      Can’t you use a screen recording program to save your rides. I do that with video from YouTube.. As long as computer can handle the processing. You can then later play back the ride if you want. It won’t be interactive, but since so much of what’s is going on in Zwift is irrelevant, it should be okay based on what you are saying.

    • RD Velocipede

      Marty,
      Actually there is a form of this feature available and it works well. If your slightly technically capable search on-line for “Zoffline” on Github. It has a feature called “Ghosts” which has almost all of what I’d like to see added to Zwift proper. In the Zwift forums additional related feature requests are listed including being able to record your ride then apply a percentage w/kg increase to the recording plus other related features around a recording.
      If you search for using these terms “youtube zoffline ghosts” you’ll see examples of what I’m talking about.

  23. Ha – funny to see my name in the upper right corner of one of your images. Was on that ride but had a problem at the beginning and had to restart my computer and re-join the ride.
    Howie Rev Snyder

  24. Chris

    The concept 2 rowers are a great piece of kit… assuming you want a fan-driven, loud machine with a display that’s almost impossible to do anything cool with.
    There’s a lot of potential for quiet electro-magnetic resistance based rowing machines, especially since they’re generally used early morning by rowers… Although my old coach wouldn’t be able to monitor the group training sessions by the pitch of the fan noise anymore!
    Rowing is also a massive tech community if you get to the higher end and currently they can’t even configure the data the screen displays beyond a few pre-set options.
    I feel like the benefit in rowing would be more for a TacX type company to come out with a solid piece of electromagnetic based hardware that can additionally do a bunch of back end cool analysis into Garmin Connect with neat nfc phone pairing for a user both home and at a gym and auto syncing.

  25. rob

    Agree with lots of the comments about Zwift losing its way. Been riding since early beta on laptop, and a wheel on trainer, now KICKR and apple tv. But the UI and customer enagement terrible. No multi person membership to allow for partners and family. Still have to use an add on to choose which world (only PC), but you can hack it by doing a meet up on your own. If you want to do a group ride and chat, again use discord as a work around. Want to do a good training plan, have to use a third party. Hack, work around, hack, work around is the story of Zwift. Apple tv seems to be a very common way of running Zwift but the interaction between the remote control and the programme is just shocking. You would think the developers have never tried that set up!
    These are not new issues and you’ll see them all over the forums for years yet they never get resolved.
    They’ve show theres a market, and all it will take is one of the big game companies with ready to go environments to step into their territory with a good UI and a step up in graphics, theres about to be a glut of x-boxes and playstations on ebay as the next gen game machines come out. Could blow Zwift out of the water, all the mistakes and issues are out there for anyone to see.

  26. Yona

    Clubs with direct control would be great. I could see run or cycling clubs pitch in and pay a reasonable fee to have control.

    Running itself Howewer is stale. It was fun for a couple years and still use it if I run indoors but after hitting level 21 at least a year ago? and having a lack of new areas removes the creative freedom.

  27. Joao Manso

    I only use zwift to do workouts and they’re not so good! Please buy xert technology and start analising athletes performance, fitness, tired, focus, outside races and workouts, etc

  28. MartinR

    Another “stupid question”: Is it customary for PE investors to exit a company after an IPO?

    • Claus Jacobsen

      @MartinR

      No not necessarily. If they go IPO and succeed, with a large value after the IPO (of which there are quite a few, but normally we only hear about the bad ones) the goal is the IPO itself for many investment groups (enhance, beautify etc the company’s numbers in any way possible). That’s what they specialize in and profit from, and leave it to others to run the company going forward after the IPO (left with a trainwreck after the Beautification process). But it all depends on the type of investment group that buys the company. Some of them are actually in it for the long run, but especially in certain markets we see a lot of “hoarders and scalpers” in the investment industry.

    • Robert

      Private equity tends to have a relatively fixed and relatively short time horizon – say 2-4 years. In general, they will exit on the IPO. They wouldn’t join a year before an IPO.

    • Robert

      “left with a trainwreck after the Beautification process”

      That’s a pretty good summary.

    • MartinR

      Makes sense, thanks for clarification, Claus!🤑

    • MartinR

      Trevor Milton has left the chat.🤑

  29. Ray, very sad to see that you didn’t interview Eric. I was so excited…. You should try to make “real” interviews with tech company owners.

    • Generally speaking I don’t tend to do interviews. Just not my thing. Some people are really good at them, me…less so.

      I have done livestreamed chats with people before, generally at Eurobike, including the CEO of Quarq, CEO of Wahoo, and I think a few others. Here was that: link to dcrainmaker.com

      Actually, here’s the two:

      Quarq: link to facebook.com
      Wahoo: link to facebook.com
      Though, I need to update that original post with the actual interviews.

      Anyway, proper interviews are something that takes years of practice to get right. Whereas I tend to be far better at having a chat with these people, and then sussing out the details that I want from that. Just my two cents.

      Still, if Eric wants to have a chat of sorts, I’m certainly game – I think it’d probably be fascinating to talk about the entire arc of Zwift – from way back when he first showed it to me in a closet at Eurobike 6 years ago: link to dcrainmaker.com

  30. Henrik

    Two years ago Zwift invested in Virtupro, is this maybe the fruit of that investment?
    Or have they just taken some of the good pieces of that cake (bike) and made their own version?
    By Ray´s post I will say that they have taken the resistant unit and developed something like the Wahoo bike. Interesting to see how different the bike will be or just a mash up of the Virtupro bike and the Wahoo bike. Only time will tell.

    link to dcrainmaker.com

  31. Ari

    Teeeible app and terrible service. Had to sell my trainer and sensor because of their lack of aupport and lack of aervice. They just flanked me away by a really stupid comment

  32. John Noonan

    The main thing I would like Zwift to add is a private ride mode.

    • RD Velocipede

      John Noonan,
      Like more than one of the Zwift popular feature request a private ride mode can be achieved if you willing to use a kludgy method. Basically you start your ride per normal, pause, turn off your internet connection (wifi and ethernet), continue your ride and you’ll quickly be on your own. At the end of your ride before your save and exit, enable your internet connection and save/exit per normal.

      Swift Zwift Tip: Riding Solo in Zwift
      link to youtube.com

    • Chris

      Why not just create a meetup and select ‘meetup view only’?

  33. Jeff

    The overall fitness market is highly fickle and customers are constantly churning for the latest fixes, trends, and just to keep things interesting.

    My cynical take is to put all in on novel gadgetry and concepts and pump out “Soloflex-style” commercials.