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Zwift Hardware Tidbits: Breaking Steering, Apple TV 2021 Updates, New Non-Supported Trainers List

This post is a collection of randomly interesting Zwift hardware things. Sure, Zwift is often updating software-related stuff. But more quietly they’re also making changes behind the scenes on hardware – some of which are good, and some of which, well…aren’t. So, I figured I’d round them up together here.

In effect, this post could be titled: As the Zwift Hardware World Turns – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Steering Breakage:

I could have titled this section all sorts or of things, all of which would have been true:

A) Elite Sterzo Requires Firmware Update
B) Zwift Breaks Wahoo KICKR Bike Steering Again
C) Zwift Breaks TrueBike Steering
D) Zwift forces Elite Sterzo Update
E) Zwift Changes Steering Protocol to Break Kommander
F) Zwift’s Cat & Mouse Attempt Already Out-Moused

So, for those playing catch-up on the Zwift steering saga, essentially, Zwift had an exclusivity agreement with Elite for non-smart bike steering on the Sterzo Smart. That expired in April. Additionally, with smart bikes, they too had to pay Zwift a licensing fee so you could use your smart bike and steer with Zwift. However, even when companies begrudgingly agreed to this fee, Zwift dragged their heels on them (or didn’t respond at all). So, companies like Titan Labs made Kommander, a little accessory that figured out the Zwift steering protocol and replicated it. TrueKinetix did the same, leveraging Titan’s published work, and let the TrueBike steer with.

However, Zwift has decided to break the existing protocol they established with Elite and the Sterzo Smart, forcing all users to upgrade their Sterzo Smart firmware if they want to continue steering in Zwift. However, it’s somewhat funny that Zwift tries to throw this on Elite. After all, there’s exactly *ZERO* reason technical why Zwift needs to break backwards compatibility with the current firmware. Though, after pressed in a thread by other users, I’ll at least give Zwift props to admitting that the reason they’re doing is to break companies/people using the existing protocol without paying Zwift’s licensing fee:

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I mean, ignoring the fact that nobody was selling ‘Fake Sterzos’. They were selling products that were not called Sterzos, but used the published protocols to do so.

Nonetheless, here’s the thing that’s stupid about this entire thing: It’s only a self-inflicted wound against Zwift’s own technologies. Despite being a year old, there’s virtually zero meaningful adoption of steering in Zwift events. The reason? Well, actually, there’s two reasons:

A) Zwift decided to set to default off steering for events, thus, almost no events use/allow it.
B) Zwift dragged their heels on all the other smart bikes that wanted to implement it.

Typically speaking, people paying $3,000 for a Zwift-compatible smart bike are *YOUR BEST CUSTOMERS*, and also, typically speaking, the most willing to try new technologies. What Zwift failed to understand here, is that the more people that get this onboard, the more people that will use it, and oddly enough, the more people that will buy Elite Sterzo Smarts. It’s a hilariously simple revenue circle.

But setting that aside, the lack of open steering API sucks, and is counter to everything Zwift bases their success on. The *ONLY* reason Zwift can exist successfully as a company at scale is because of open standards for ANT+ FE-C and later, Bluetooth FTMS. So much so that Zwift eventually ceased supporting new companies wanting to do one-off protocols to their platform, because it wasn’t scalable. They embraced standards back then, because it was the only business option.

Said differently: Zwift is still holding hostage the very companies that make Zwift successful and viable, and in the process, holding their customers hostage. All for what is a silly meaningless amount of revenue for Zwift. They’ve literally spent more time breaking steering than making it work. In fact, yesterday’s update to implement this had a secondary side casualty: It broke Wahoo KICKR Bike steering (again), for all those users.

For real, I can’t make this stuff up.

Apple TV 2021 Update:

I’m gonna make this one quick. Remember when Apple released their Apple TV 2021 4K model about a month ago? In short, it ended up being a worse Zwift experience than the existing Apple TV 4K. That wasn’t (initially) entirely Zwift’s fault. I can’t blame them for that – that’s on Apple. Apple releases new hardware and virtually nobody gets access to it ahead of time. So everyone has to play whack-a-mole afterwards.

So in essence, since Zwift didn’t have that hardware, it defaulted to a lower graphics profile, removing things like building shadows and a few other minor things. But yeah, it wasn’t ideal. Atop that, the new dedicated navigation buttons didn’t work at all within Zwift. Again, we can’t really blame Zwift there either, since they lacked hardware to test it.

Fast forward a few weeks and Zwift has dropped a new version of Zwift for Apple TV, which fixes the graphics issue – essentially making it the same as the previous Apple TV 4K version. You can see the building shadows are back in this ride from last week I did:

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However, the so-called D-pad buttons (dedicated buttons) are still not active. Given other developers (other companies) sound like they’re struggling with implementation there as well, this might be a longer-term type item.

That said, everything is a wash now. Thus, there’s no reason not to get the new version if you’re in the market. Eventually Zwift will make those dedicated buttons work and life will be grand, but for now you’re no worse than before (but get all the other non-Zwift benefits of the newer Apple TV model). As for upgrading from an existing Apple TV 4K to new Apple TV 2021 4K? Nah, not worth it. I won’t be upgrading the rest of my Zwift or non-Zwift units. If you have specific things or non-Zwift features you want, then sure, but none of those matter to me at this point.

Zwift’s New Non-Supported List:

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Two weeks ago Zwift quietly posted an article that noted they’ll stop supporting certain trainers from November 30th, 2021. Except, they…umm…didn’t bother to list which trainers are going off the list. Instead, they outlined a slew of questions, indicating that you’re SOL if a new bug is introduced that breaks your trainer:

image

Linked above is the list of supported trainers. Except, as I’ve outlined previously, that list is a proper dumpster fire. I mean, not like Shimano/Pioneer bike computer level dumpster fire (that’s more like the entire trash facility went ablaze). But nonetheless, the Zwift trainer compatibility list is hot garbage. Mainly, because it can’t be trusted. There’s numerous inconsistencies in certification levels (take a look at the Tacx NEO 2 vs 2T for fun), functional levels, and even what they call the darn things.

Now again, despite posting this long thing above, they don’t actually list which trainers they’re removing support for. Though, they do randomly throw Elite under the bus in a Q&A question:

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It’s like someone talking to a room and saying “Now, we don’t know who stole the cookie, right Jenny? Do we Jenny?!?”. Meanwhile, Jenny hates cookies.

But, let’s look at a real-world example of this. Right now I’m testing the JetBlack VOLT. It’s hardly new, and has been on the market for a number of months. Yet, here’s the JetBlack section for direct drive trainers (it lacks any reference to anything other than a single older model):

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Yet, in the most recent Game Updates, they clearly talk about fixing bugs of their own with the JetBlack units, and even use the plural of it – implying they know more than one trainer exists. So why isn’t it listed above?

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How are consumers supposed to use that list if it can’t even be kept halfway up to date? The last time I pointed this out, it resulted in changes within 24 or so hours. So, let’s see if it fixes things this time.

Speaking of which, fun little Easter egg tossed in here. While Zwift has acknowledged numerous times in numerous places they were building their own hardware – and even alluded specifically to a smart bike, they didn’t yet include specifically that they’re working on their own trainer. So funny for them to out themselves here, but also not answer their own question.

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Of course, a trainer makes sense. I’ve argued that they basically will probably roll out three levels of hardware:

A) High-end smart-bike
B) Mid-high end trainer (a KICKR competitor)
C) Low-end offering

I could see the smart-bike being splintered into high and mid-range offering, à la Peloton (Bike & Bike+), but probably not at launch.

In any case, my point here with pounding on about this, is lists like these matter. They drive people’s purchasing decisions. And at the moment, Zwift is 100% dependent on their 3rd party partners for their hardware and people using it in game. If someone finds the JetBlack Volt (which based on my early testing seems like a really compelling unit), then goes and finds this list but doesn’t find it there, they’ll question a purchase – even if it works perfectly fine with Zwift.

To be clear: I’m totally OK with a rational list of non-supported trainers – that’s a proper adult-like thing for a company to do. But, you know, actually have the list. And then for the list of supported trainers, actually update it properly.

With that, I’ll leave you to enjoy the rest of your day. Thanks for reading!

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46 Comments

  1. I always wonder what the individual developer thinks about some of these horrible upper management decisions. I’m sure they raised their concerns. But it would kill me to be writing the code knowing that it was going to break the steering feature and compatibility with pretty much all existing hardware for no other reason other than to protect ‘Zwift’s licensing fee’. Super short sighted and I’m sure the developer who had to actually add the hardware handshake key was slapping his face the entire time. 🤦‍♂️

    • Indeed. I know those lower-level folks are good folks, that have good ideas on advancing the game. And I’d be very surprised if any of them like seeing their ideas stalled by a silly-small licensing fee.

      All of these hardware partners would be more than happy to agree upon a true standard and rolling it out quickly. It literally benefits everyone. If everyone has this tech, it drives interest. Arguably in fact, the biggest benefactor for others getting it is actually Elite themselves. Since that’s really the only ready to go product at this point (JetBlack also has a unit, but it’s awaiting certification), they’d benefit from that.

      And Zwift would benefit by increasing stickiness, since no other platform has steering. And sure, some people don’t find value in steering – but a lot of people don’t find value in steering cause they can’t get steering in any events. It’s hard to find value when no events use it.

  2. The interesting question is does this violate ANT+ agreement on FE-C, because if the trainer is on the FE-C approved list then according to the ANT+ agreement and framework it must be supported. So blocking on FE-C is an interesting problem and technically forbidden, Should they get the boot and therefore loss ALL FE-C? By letter of the ANT+ agreement which Zwift is beholden too 100%, seems like.

    I quote the first line of the ANT+ agreement:

    1) You agree that any products or applications that You create using the ANT+ Documents and
    ANT+ Design Tools will comply with the minimum requirements for interoperability as
    defined in the ANT+ Documents and will not deviate from the standards described therein.

    • Hmmm, Re-reading zwift forum post it doesn’t seem they’ll block, just pass the buck on the trainer side of things? Was zwift ever on the hook for “bugs”?

    • Correct. They’re basically saying it’s not on them if something breaks for a non-popular trainer, however, even if they do the breaking.

      A good example is actually the JetBlack one. In theory, the release not say they fixed spindown that wasn’t working previously. For whatever reason, spindown a calibration on Zwift tends to be rather hit or miss across the board on many trainers and certain protocols. I don’t know if that’s a Zwift issue or not, but I don’t see it as often on TR.

  3. Gilbert

    Hi Ray, thanks for an interesting read.
    Is there any news/rumor on the Bluetooth device count on the Apple TV?

    Thanks

    • Mike from FulGaz has reported that they encounter the same BLE device limit with the new ATV4K 2021. No word from Zwift on this.

    • CJ

      Hey Shane! The NPE-CABLE solves the ATV connection limit issue in perpetuity, right? I bought one a couple of years ago based on your video – wanted to confirm it still “just works” before upgrading to the new ATV4k.

  4. Jamie

    When I upgraded my KICKR CORE to the latest firmware 1.1.1 which has FTMS support, Zwift turned into a total shitshow. Power and resistance was all over the shop and there seemed to be huge delay in my avatar responding to pedaling. I downgraded the kickr to 1.0.13 and everything was fine again.

    When I posted about this on a Facebook Wahoo group People suggested that FTMS was broken on Kickrs and you just had to run an old firmware, and that this was a Zwift issue, not a Wahoo one.

    This was running Zwift on an iPad FYI.

  5. Greg

    Zwift will “no longer be able to guarantee a bug free experience”. Well that’s a change….

  6. giorgitd

    heels, not heals, in a couple of places…

    So, there is a link from the Zwift-enabled supported trainer list to the Tacx Vortex (really the Vortex Smart, but ok). And that link…is broken. Pretty sloppy for a refreshed list. Maybe they need an intern to test the links. Or, you know, software?

  7. Richard

    What a bunch of amateurs, I have already unsubscribed so can’t complain and only laugh

    • Fred Stig

      I un-subbed about a year ago thinking that once I got past some health issues I’d re-sub for the fall 2021 (in North America). But Strava-like antics like this ensure that I won’t. I’m wouldn’t be shocked to see that in five-seven years’ time only Zwift-specific hardware will be supported on Zwift. I think they see the Peloton model and are salivating.

  8. David W

    Too bad the Elite doesn’t mention how to upgrade the Sterzo Smart firmware anywhere in the documentation that came with it nor on the online FAQs. Or that it even can be upgraded. I randomly tried their Upgrado App which worked. It would be nice if Elite had mentioned that somewhere.

    • Hi David,
      Thank you for pointing that out as it’s useful feedback for future communication.
      Since Zwift had placed the pop-up reporting users to download Upgrado and update the Sterzo Smart in a very clear and easy way, we thought it might be enough sharing this article on our FB page.
      We also created shortcuts so that users will land on the Upgrado FAQs when searching for “Sterzo upgrade” or “firmware upgrade” on our Support knowledge base: link to support.elite-it.com.
      Should you have any issues, please feel free to contact us at info@elite-it.com, we’ll be glad to reach out to sort it out.

      Thanks,
      Salvatore
      – Elite

  9. RJMang

    I’m a regular follower, so I gotta ask: Where in hell do you find the time to review all this stuff? Do you sleep?

  10. Ihsan

    Zwift’s habit of passing the buck on their self inflicted problems drove me away last winter, and I was secretly hoping at the very least they bring back the gift cards, but it looks like they’re digging themselves more and more.

    Oh well, it’s either RGT or Rouvy next winter then.

    • Bill O'Hara

      Zwift will start losing the racers. I don’t see them keeping pace with expectations for improvements. Many were tired of the need to exit the program to change worlds. Momentum needs to be refined. Yet to happen. Taller riders are punished by”aerodynamics” while there isn’t an actual wind simulation within the game.
      Steering was something that might have enthralled those racers. The racing categories are based on a nonsensical system that doesn’t follow real world rules. How about upgrading if you can a race instead of a peak 20 minutes when you are anaerobic. They created power up races which alienate. Why not create some exciting maps? Do a flat circuit race? Instead they have every race act like a TT.

  11. Tommy

    Wow, incredibly written article. There is so much low hanging fruit that would improve zwift like improved menu for Apple TV and using companion app to review workouts and badges and look at simple things like elevation or calories that can be chosen by the user. Great work on this article!

  12. Casey Cook

    I returned my Elite Sterzo back to REI. The Sterzo was fine. Just didn’t seem ready for primetime on Zwift. I could see how it would be cool but IMHO, Zwift could have done a much much better job with the steering experience. Even if they fix the issues I doubt I would jump back in with steering. So many little annoying gripes with Zwift but definitely my go to for indoor training/riding.

  13. Hi Ray, another great post highlighting the importance for us, the developers and manufacturers to strive for an open honest relationship with our customers.
    You will be glad to hear something has changed with in Zwift. We now have very good communication around some technical issues we were facing. Both our TurnBlock and Volt trainer will be sent to Zwift later in July for the certification process.

    Cheers Murray

  14. Rstone

    Here we go again. Unfortunately most of the paying Zwift users are probably not paying any attention to this but for the core community this sucks big time. It’s Strava -approach all over again. Having worked at large corporations I kind of understand the management side of things since they are just looking for a short-term buck.
    If I were RGT / Rouvy I’d take this as an opportunity: target disappointed Zwift community, stay true to open protocols and start stealing Zwift users. If they made some kind of “conversion path” to compensate for all those painful up Alpe de Zwift and lucrative “conversion pricing” I’d be ready to switch waggon ASAP.

  15. I don’t see any positive outcome of this situation, whether for the trainers manufacturers or us, the consumers.

    If Zwift is playing this greedy game today, there is no doubt it will be a hundred times worse the day they will start selling their own hardware. Now they just have the platform, but once they have the whole ecosystem, it’s game over for manufacturers (pay or you devices won’t work on Zwift) and consumers (buy our hardware and our subscription).

    Maybe it’s past time for manufacturers to work together on bringing a platform that will benefit everyone ?

    Zwift dreams to be the new *word to describe the main pack of racers*, by controlling everything and taking their share everywhere. They said it was for them to be able to innovate quicker, sure. But in a way that makes sense : if they have their own hardware, they can improve it at the same rate as their software.
    But here with have the reverse issue : if manufacturers are dependent on another company’s software to innovate, well, they just can’t, or at least not at their own pace. So they basically can’t.

    It’s been more than two years that “smart bikes” are on the market, and as of today, they are still not so smart because there is no software that supports what they can/should do. Why buying a Kickr Bike if the handlebar is mostly useless or is downgraded at each Zwift update ?

    If Wahoo wants to sell Kickr Bikes, they need to come with the software that will allow people to take full advantage of them. Sure they bought Sufferfest but it’s just a training platform where only ERG mod is required. So no need for a fancy “Climb” or handlebar keyboard.

  16. Jason

    Defaulting steering off in events is so dumb. I get it for races, but regular group rides or fondos? Come on man! I bought a Steerzo over the winter and the only time I get to use it is in free rides which is basically pretty useless. Disappointed that they haven’t made an effort to make steering more integral to the platform vs it just being something cool to have that has no real practical purpose yet. And apparently have to update it now, because reasons. So Zwift took our cool toy, that no one can use in any mean it manner, and broke it so other kids couldn’t play with it too. Good move Zwift. :twothumbsdown

  17. Pat

    Just more of Zwift being Zwift with their habit of shooting themselves in the foot and blaming others.

    I already failed to return this month as I rehab from a knee surgery(unlike what I normally do) as I have a hard time justifying the price for all the problems that still exist, for 10 rides before I’m back outside the roads get icy. Rouvy is my list to check out when we get to November as I doubt anything substantial will have changed with Zwift by then (it only took 6 years to checkmark on the routes we’ve already done and info on the lead ins, during route selection…)…

  18. Karim

    Hi Ray,
    You may have addressed this but am I correct inasmuch as the bluetooth only supports 3 devices and one stream? Do you think this will eventially change and help distinguish the new apple tv from the older 4k sibling…

    Thanks!!

  19. Peter Parfitt

    It appears my Elite Zuno is not supported despite me crawling up the Alpe this morning on it.

  20. Guy C

    I guess someone at Zwift is working on the basis that steering will eventually become an essential part of the gameplay. And once it does maybe this closed steering protocol is the key to make the whole platform pay-to-play for hardware partners.

    • In a nutshell, it’s really as simple as that.

      And, I agree with them on the first part – long term, it will be an essential part of the game. But, that only happens if Zwift invests effort into making it more widespread.

    • Robert

      I do believe the last 10 years of sports tech demonstrated the vast superiority of business models based on industry standards. But if some companies still believe the proprietary protocol lock-in route is the best one, have at it. Amusingly in this case, many people have reverse-engineered the steering protocol, forcing Zwift and Elite to modify the protocol to keep it “private”. Ever heard of anyone wasting his time to reverse-engineer ANT+ FE-C?

  21. Robert

    “Zwift has dropped a new version of Zwift for Apple TV, which fixes the graphics issue – essentially making it the same as the previous Apple TV 4K version.”

    The main issue here is that Zwift does not provide users with access to graphics settings, relying instead on a look-up table of graphics hardware to set parameters, and defaulting to low settings if the hardware is not found in the list. That works fine, as long as your team keeps up with hardware releases and maintains the lookup list. Zwift, maintaining lists – rings a bell?

  22. Sober Pre

    Honestly have had way more fun with the Grand Theft Auto sensor mod then I ever did with Zwift. Has great steering just with your phone on the bars. Total investment $19.

  23. Jorge

    Hi, I’m still waiting for steering working on zwift with my stages sb20 smart bike. It seems that it’s ready for this since long ago, but they don’t want to let us use it.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    “That wasn’t (initially) entirely Zwift’s fault. I can’t blame them for that – that’s on Apple. Apple releases new hardware and virtually nobody gets access to it ahead of time.”

    It would behoove Zwift to read up on Using Metal Feature Set Tables (PDF and supportsFamily, as AFAIK, MTLGPUFamilyApple5 (A12 / Apple TV 4K (2nd generation)) >> MTLGPUFamilyApple3 (A10 / Apple TV 4K (1st generation)).

    It would be kinda insane if all iPad games suddenly defaulted back to 2014-era graphics whenever a new iPad Pro was announced, right?

  25. Adam

    Great article thanks! But you realize the iPhone “remote” function has, for a long time, had D-pad arrows that can be enabled and Zwift has never enabled comparability for. I wouldn’t say I feel it’s inevitable then, even though I dearly hate using the current remote in Zwift.

  26. Steven Benter

    Ever since I started to use the Elite Sterzo Smart I have had a strange visual issue with Zwift. Every now and then the shadow on the ground looks like I am steering all over the place. I have contacted Zwift and sent them all my log files as requested. I would like to know if others are seeing this issue too?

  27. Kevin Updegrove

    Another great article! DCR is my go-to for reviews on sports gear. You note that steering is broken in Zwift. I’m fairly new to Zwift (my current setup is the 2017 4K ATV w/a Kickr Core) but my question is whether you’d advocate steering or the Kickr climb for a more realistic ride. I plan on one or the other not swapping them out so curious as to which enhances the experience more.

    Bonus question: what monitor do you recommend for the ATV that will fit on the RAD training desk? (my old TV is currently mounted down from the ceiling so too high to be comfortable. I need to make a change)

  28. Stefani

    I have a Wahoo Kickr Snap and run Zwift on my Apple TV (4K 2nd Ed). I keep running into the issue where erg mode doesn’t work for workouts/events. I’ve tried searching elsewhere and can’t seem to find an answer anywhere.
    Not sure if this is tied to the problem, but occasionally when I do a Zwift spin down, it will not reach the 23mph speed regardless of my effort, and the spin down will timeout. The only way I’ve found to fix this is to unplug the Kickr, do a spin down in the Wahoo app, then redo it in the Zwift app. Is there any easier solution?!