Introduction – What is this Blog?

What’s this all about? Well, on the surface this is a blog about cheating in Zwift races.

I give an inside view of how cheating is done in races in such a way that the race results look perfectly legit even on ZwiftPower, i.e. cheating in order to secure that gold cup in the ZwiftPower race results. This inside view comes from my own races, where I cheat and at the same time observe other cheaters. Hence if you read the various posts, at the very least you get a deeper understanding of the less visible but all too common form of cheating I call cruising. If you haven’t reflected on the phenomenon yet it should be an eye opener for you. But you could also use the information in the posts to get you up to speed so you can start cheating yourself, if you would like to. It’s up to you what you do with your freetime. You should at least have equal opportunities. The series of posts tagged as Cheat School as well as the Race Reports provide the inside view.

Beneath the surface this blog is not about cheating at all. It is a critique against the race mechanics and rules in Zwift as they stand today. My firm view is that most of the cheating, which you will find in almost every race in categories B-D throughout the weekly Zwift race schedule, is an artifact that is created by ill thought out race rules, rules that Zwift could easily change to make racing a much more fair and thus more fun experience. There are also other flaws in Zwift racing creating unfair advantages where the beneficiaries are not actually cheating, but it is still there, it ruins racing and I explain those quirks too.

“Fun is Fast”, they say in the Zwift commercials. “Fun is Fair” is the statement between the lines in this blog. You will get a deeper understanding of the flaws of the Zwift racing system in posts tagged as Cheating Theory or General.

Except for this introductory post, all the posts are displayed in descending date order, the latest posts first. So you need to browse a little to go back to older posts. In e.g. the Race Reports I often refer to older posts that introduce some key concepts, so there is a reason for you to go back and read up on those. Like any other blog keeper I encourage you to read all of it of course, but if you want to deepen your understanding of how Zwift racing really works, then you should actually spend some time here. Chances are you will be as astonished as I once was myself when I began to understand bit by bit what is really going on in Zwift races and what the real reasons were why I struggled so much without ever getting rewarded. No need to reinvent the wheel. Just read some posts and take it from there.

I try to be mildly entertaining. Still, you might find some posts or comments harsh or even offensive. That’s because I’m pissed off. Not with you. Not with cheaters (really!). But with Zwift. Zwift racing is badly designed. And their CRM, Customer Relations Management, is just terrible. Many of us paying subscribers have tried for years to make Zwift listen and address the issues we see but nothing ever happens. Zwift regularly brushes off these customer complaints with the argument that Zwift racing is just a margin phenomenon or feature that attracts comparatively few subscribers, hence they need to focus on more pressing issues that would benefit the bulk of the subscribers (not that we see much of that either). But this is a flawed argument or at least a bad strategic choice on their part. Subscribers that are not new tend to drift into racing sooner or later. Those who then back away and stick to group rides or solo activities typically had bad first experiences in races.

Just look at the weekly events calendar – the by far most common event is races. And a big part of Zwift marketing is the high profile elite racing events, which for various reasons I discuss are not nearly as flawed as the subscriber races. For a sustainable Zwift we really need racing fixed. But Zwift seems to focus entirely on attracting as many new subscribers as possible without taking care of the loyal subscribers they already have. That’s not sustainable. That’s an exit strategy, inflating subscriber numbers before selling off the company to some other party. So do we have a future as long-time subscribers in Zwift, or should we simply jump ship? Read and decide for yourself.

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Are we effectively being censored in discussions on cheating in Zwift? Let’s have a look at a recent development.

I have been away for some time, too busy with real life. Usually, when coming back to Zwift from a break, short or long, there has been little to no change with regards to Zwift racing. But this time I think it may have been even worse than usual. Instead of progress I now hint regress. And of a disturbing kind. I will go through my thoughts, step by step, as they developed. And then you can draw your own conclusions, whether they are the same as mine or completely different. I don’t really care. I just wanted to make sure you got a few things pointed out to you in case you hadn’t noticed yourself.

First, we have seen Zwift take greater control over community created content as of late. First there was the absorption of ZwiftPower. This was some time ago. But since then it seems Zwift has made contact with several content managers of various sites and forums resulting in changes towards a higher degree of Zwift control over how their brand and service offering is used to create community content. Zwift Insider is one such example, with Eric Schlange no longer able to create Strava segments. And the common denominator in all those cases is that there is a lot of hush-hush regarding the true nature of the contact (or contract) between the content managers and Zwift.

In some cases it seems having had contact with Zwift can be a good thing, because Zwift might throw a little money your way to make sure you can keep the quality up by spending more time on it. But in some cases it rather seems like the content managers got handed the hard end of a hard bargain. They have been restricted in some ways without any actual compensation from Zwift. Still, these content managers, and I have listened to a few of them on ZwiftCast and elsewhere, were all very reluctant to give up much detail on the discussions with Zwift and all their answers to questions about these discussions have been, how shall I put it, very diplomatic. No open display of dissatisfaction. Merely a quiet whimper here and there.

And to me, this gives off more than a whiff of NDA’s and corporate pressure.

Well, what about it? Wouldn’t you want a certain degree of control over your own brand if you ran a company with a strong community surrounding it? Yes, it is understandable from a business point of view. But it is also a quite unusual move and you should be aware of that. Even in the gaming industry, which always had to deal with pesky community members creating content that at best borders on copyright infringement or who are furious over nerfs that made them win less against noobs. Game companies still rarely interfere. They moderate their own forums, of course, or these forums would quickly explode under Godwin’s Law. But otherwise they rarely try to control the community by suppressing discussions, creation of tutorials, fan sites etc etc. Hell, some of these companies even go as far as to welcome and encourage user mods, probably figuring it will somehow boost sales or prolong the product lifespan by letting the community tamper with their software a little. If you can’t fight them, join them, sort of.

Second, I noticed something new a while ago, in the most active discussion forum in the Zwift community. I am not referring to the ZHQ forum. I hang out there myself while I am still allowed in there, but I suspect few Zwifters ever find their way into it. No, rather, it’s the Zwift Riders FaceBook group.

As a funny sidenote, I should perhaps add that there is also Zwift Racers FaceBook group, where racing is discussed, whereas Zwift Riders is more of a general nature. And I got kicked out of Zwift Racers without motivation already a long time ago. No, I never used abusive language in there or anything. But now that I think of it, it may have had something to do with me criticizing ZP. Actually, I might even have encouraged people to cruise… (as an implicit critique of ZP of course). That didn’t sit well with the admins apparently. You just don’t criticize ZP in there because, as you know, ZP is “DA TROOOOF” when it comes to race results. (This was before the Zwift takeover, by the way, when ZP was still run relatively freely by the community, so I likely stepped on some vulnerable toes in there.) Now, since I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club who wouldn’t have me as a member, I haven’t tried to rejoin of course, although it was definitely my kind of arena.

Back to the Zwift Riders group. I noticed recently a sudden and quite drastic increase in admin activity in the Zwift Riders group. Suddenly, threads that got derailed or where people didn’t keep their tone in check were quickly getting locked. Yes, they acted on forum rules already in place, but we have never seen this level of admin activity before.

Seeing this, my immediate conclusion was that not only had they increased the total time spent moderating the group but they may also have staffed up. There must have been an increase in either the time each admin spent moderating daily or the number of moderators had gone up. Or both. After all, it is a quite active group and it must be rather time consuming to go through all the posts daily.

So why would they staff up? Or perhaps even spend more time moderating per admin? It could be a mere coincidence, but isn’t there also another possibility? What if Zwift has been in contact with Zwift Riders too recently? And what if the increased moderation was a direct result?

Third  and here is where it gets really interesting – I saw a thread where the discussion swayed towards the topic of cheating in Zwift. And then it got locked  by an admin with the motivation that discussions about cheating were not allowed in Zwift Riders but should be redirected to Zwift Racers instead. Wow… I have seen millions of threads on cheating in Zwift Riders, none of them previously locked. This was definitely something new.

You might want to argue that discussion on cheating don’t belong in Zwift Riders quite naturally, especially not when there is already another FaceBook group better suited to such discussions, because cheating relates to racing. But there are also a lot of other “off-topic” threads posted daily in Zwift Riders – people posting pics of their outdoor rides, questions about what kind of aero wheels one should by at the local bike shop, etc. And they are typically not getting locked with a sour comment from an admin. No, I think the reason why you would lock an “off-topic” thread on cheating while keeping other off-topic threads open is that threads on cheating tend to stir up negative feelings among the thread participants. So then the question is, who is it that wants to make sure that there is no negativity in Zwift Riders. Is it the admins? Or could it be Zwift?

In either case, now there is only really one place left where I (and you too, if you also got kicked out of Zwift Racers) can openly discuss the racing rule set and the cheating it creates. And that is the ZHQ forums. To be honest, I have been expecting to get banned there too even before these recent events mentioned above. It is probably just a matter of time before it happens, and the only reason I can see why it hasn’t happened already is that ZHQ is a margin forum that most Zwifters, especially the all-important newcomers, don’t find their way into. So the damage you can do in there by criticizing Zwift racing is more limited.

Fourth, curious about the sudden change of climate in the Zwift Riders FB group, I decided to seek out answers as to why. Or rather, I decided to test the waters a little, because I was sure the admins would not give me a straight answer to the implicit question. But how would they react if I asked rather? Judge it for yourself. I was satisfied myself, no further questions.

I started out with this post:

“I saw the other day a thread getting locked because someone brought up the topic of cheating. An admin explained that discussions on cheating were (now) against the rules and referred any such discussions to the Zwift Racers FB group instead.
I’m just curious. Could an admin explain when and how this decision was made and also what the reasons were?”

The thread triggered a cascade of not very constructive (read: stupid) comments from the yea-sayer possee of course. Slightly more civilized than the “cry more n00b!!!1” and “L2P” you would find teenagers write in the average (moderated) game forum, but I won’t quote them here. And then – BLAM! – there it was. The lock. No motivation though.

Just to make sure, was the reason for the lock that I brought up the forbidden topic of cheating, i.e. I “broke the forum rules” albeit on a meta level? Or was it just because of the somewhat unpleasant tone and all the memes the question generated in the comments? Or was the question simply too uncomfortable to deal with?

So I tried again, with a slightly different approach this time, now only implying the forbidden topic, the Satanic Verses of Zwift Riders, yet still quite a bit more direct as to what I really wanted to know:

“Ok, rephrasing my question to the admins then, since the previous question/thread that I posted today was 1) instantly derailed by not very constructive replies from a bunch of non-admins, 2) then locked by admins, and 3) left unanswered before the lock. I will refrain from using certain censored Zwift-related words doing so.
Regardless of whether certain forum rules are new additions or were in place already during the Roman republic, they have not been enforced until very recently. And it makes me wonder why. Why the sudden change?
I am told that we are not allowed to discuss certain topics in here and are referred to the Zwift Racers forum instead for such discussions. Now, this would make sense to me, sort of, if it wasn’t for two things:
1) Although threads discussing these ”certain topics” are not the only threads getting locked, they do seem to be particularly touchy topics. And this makes me wonder about the locks and rule enforcement even more.
2) I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but moving ”certain topics” to Zwift Racers is a no-go for me. The reason is I am personally not welcome in that forum. I got kicked out of there a long time ago. It is not 100% clear to me why since there was never a motivation, but I know for a fact that it couldn’t have been using bad language, personal attacks, advertising or any such very reasonable standard forum no-no’s. Because all I ever did was to implicitly criticize ZP for certain shortcomings relating to certain Zwift-related topics. Apparently, that didn’t sit well with their admins at the time, and so I must have been censored. Only possible conclusion.
But anyway, what I actually wonder is whether the recent thread locks in here are just a consequence of sudden zeal among admins or if the real reason is similar to recent development over at other Zwift-related web sites, where Zwift has decided to take bigger control over external content relating to their brand? (And thus indirectly also over free discussion.)
Could you enlighten me please?”


Insta-locked. Not even a tiny little comment slipped past. HAHAHAHA!

Ok, I get it. We don’t talk about Fight Club in here. Not anymore. And, above all, we don’t mention the war.

Draw your own conclusions and meditate on the implications for the future ahead. Happy zwifting!

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I’m back!

No, this wasn’t planned at all. This is what happens when you give honest (sort of) people a covid infection and then give them the idea that doing the Build Me Up program in Zwift is a good way to restore the wreckage the infection left behind. Months pass and suddenly you are uncategorized on ZwiftPower. And can start cheating again! Only I’m not really cheating since I basically now belong in the category I used to cheat in. Thank you, covid!

But in my absence there has been very interesting development in the racing scene in Zwift. Zwift HQ have been busy bees. Let’s go through the key points of the latest development in Zwift racing mechanics, racing standards and the racing community.

It started already in December, where we saw a major update of the software introducing the following changes to the Zwift racing mechanics:

As we moved into the new year Eric Min made an important announcement in the Minterview concerning the future of Zwift racing, where he revealed some important upcoming changes:

The racing community was thrilled, naturally, and the announcement sparked a lot of creativity among community key players, which I would say have led to a structural change since in how races are run. There are a lot of things to say but perhaps it can all be summed up as:

Overjoyed, I set out to write a hommage to Zwift in the form of a musical. I was already half-finished with the score, however, when I suddenly remembered that this musical had in fact already been written. No matter, here it is! Enjoy Zwift Racing the Musical!

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The Chicken and WTRL/ZRL

I’m not privy to the genesis of WTRL, so I can only guess what happened. My imagined take on it is that the people behind WTRL, i.e. community members like us, quickly realized that the early TTT leagues were neither fair nor manageable, whether they accurately identified the source of the rot or not. We have discussed time and again previously why standard TTT racing in Zwift stinks, for example here. So WTRL set out to design a new form of racing league that wouldn’t be completely ruined by the idiocy of the W/kg cat system. And they seem to have managed quite well. So well, in fact, that Eric Min decided to… I don’t know what to call it… partner(?) with WTRL in starting up the Zwift Racing League (ZRL) this autumn.

I believe in WTRL. And I believe in ZRL, although there is still time for Zwift to screw it up. ZRL bypasses the stupid W/kg cat system by a neat little trick. You can read up on the rules yourself, if you are not already participating in the ZRL races (you should if you get the chance). But put simply, you start a racing team consisting of at least three zwifters, and then you enter ZRL. You will race in the category of the highest ranked team member. So if your top dog is cat B, you will race in B. So what’s so different from the normal Zwift racing faeces? Wait for it!

You then participate in ZRL races and if you place well you will score points. Categories are enforced and you will not get disqualified for going over any cat limits in the races. And at the end of the season, the teams with the most points will get upgraded to the next higher category. And those with the lowest points will get moved down a notch. So during the first season the categories will be the same dumb categories as usual. But over time… you get a results-based categorization!

In essence, ZRL implies three simple changes to Zwift racing:

1. Enforced categories

2. No performance ceiling, no after-the-fact DQ’ing

3. Results-based categories (over time)

These are the very three simple steps I have proposed over and over to save Zwift racing. A remedy to make Zwift racing insta-fair. And they do this, the WTRL guys who manage the ZRL. It should be very interesting to follow the league over several seasons.

But then comes the poopy part. There is always a poopy part when Zwift is involved. There are things I don’t like about ZRL.

First, it’s great that people get to race in teams and all. Almost like the pros, huh? But what about the people who don’t have a team? The people who don’t use Zwift that way or who don’t connect that much with the community for whatever reason? They are shut out. And this is a race only once per week on a set time. All the other bazillion races still suffer under the same old yoke of stupidity.

Also, while WTRL are inarguably the most merited race organizers in my book, over time this will turn into favoritism. Once again we have a select part of the community that has more of a say than the rest, just like with ZwiftPower. But it’s never stronger than that Zwift could once more decide to appropriate WTRL’s concept, just like with ZwiftPower. And they probably will after two or three seasons. And then add it to the Zwift cabinet of curiosities along with the dreadful Beta Crits, the steering races, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. WTRL can host any damn league they want. It’s fine. It’s great even! I like them! Actually, they established a niche within Zwift racing that wasn’t occupied by anyone but was still sought after. There wasn’t much of well-organized TTT racing pre-WTRL, and now they took it from there, branching into mass-start races. It makes sense and in itself it is a good thing indeed.

What I dislike is that this is the way Eric Min chose to cover up his negligence when it comes to making Zwift racing work, coming into the autumn of 2020. Grow a damn spine and either fix the things that are borked or, if not, own up to them at least!

Is this his way of buying time for the streak of failures year after year? No, not buying time, that’s not it. He is not ever going to fix racing. He is going to let the community try to do that for him. Again. This time it does look more promising since WTRL doesn’t seem to fall in the same trap as ZwiftPower did, repeating Zwift’s mistakes. But it really is Zwift that should take this responsibility, not the community. The community or other external parties (charities, sponsors, whatever) should be allowed to run races and leagues, but Zwift should take responsibility for a decent racing platform. They don’t do this with ZRL. ZRL changes nothing in the mechanics of the underlying race rules and cat system in Zwift. It’s just WTRL bypassing the clogged up plumbing, but nothing has really changed. We pay Zwift monthly to maintain a product and they fail to deliver when it comes to racing. And this failure is going to get awfully expensive in the long run.

What really happened is this: When Min dangled ZRL in front of us he was simply trying to throw oil on the waves of criticism. “We fail you again, with full intent, but lookie here, here’s a bone, now be a good dog!” I don’t bite and neither should you.

I’m growing tired of getting treated like a street dog as a paying and loyal customer. And it’s so sad to see a perfectly fine product ruined like this. Through repeated incantations and rituals over the years, behold the miracle! High Alchemist Min managed to turn gold into shit.

I’m looking at FulGaz or similar now for a more realistic experience when freeriding and doing WO’s. The Zwift WO’s were never their forte anyway and so you may want to import them from TrainerRoad, XertOnline or similar and you can get those into competing platforms as well.

And the day a hungry competitor rises and presents a sane and healthy alternative to Zwift’s poop racing I’ll be the first one in the lifeboats if I’m not long gone already. I don’t like where the company is heading now with the latest funding round and it’s not just a matter of picky taste. And it’s not because I identify as a “racer”. It’s because I have seen startups rise and fall before. This ship is sinking. It’s just sinking too slow for most to notice, especially the newer subscribers.

Oh, and by the way, I’m pack fodder now back in cat C, having a hard time to increase fitness to where it was a year ago. I’m too punchy now after months of cheating and I paid with FTP. I don’t mind at all that I’m completely out of contention though. I was before too, even back when I could do a 3.1+ W/kg in a cat C race. And if you have read any of the previous posts, you will have an idea of exactly why.

I’m still racing for the simple reason that I find it a bit easier to do rides like the one below (tonight’s race) in a race format rather than solo. There’s a term in the field of social psychology for that. It’s called social facilitation. I’m paying $15 a month to get it. Not from Zwift but from other paying subscribers who are also way out of contention and who will always be as long as they keep working hard instead of exploiting the moronic cat system.

But the cruising is still going strong even without my humble contribution, now that I am no longer cheating. The winner on ZP was a heavyweight cruiser who has participated in 120 races in cat C over the last year. He podiumed in 82 of them (68%). He won 41 of them (34%). It never ends. It will never end.

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The Minterview of Oct 6

The latest (mini) Minterview with Eric Min on the Zwiftcast podcast is the first comment from the Zwift management on the status of Zwift racing since early February, if we disregard the disappointing community management comment in the September ZwiftPower update. You should listen to it.

Trying to second guess Zwift’s foggy intentions is, as we know, never easy. My interpretation of what was said by Eric Min and Jacob Fraser from Zwift is two things really. Two contradictory things as usual.

First, the latest (and huge) financing round aims to make Zwift more accessible to the not-so-tech-savvy masses, both in terms of hardware and in-game experience. No surprise there.

The aim is clearly to attract new customers, get them to sign up on a subscription and then reel them in during the first fragile period of a customer journey so they don’t slip off the hook. We have all been there. In those first crucial winter months. If you’re having fun as a noob, you will stay. Or at least come back next winter. And people do tend to have fun those first few months. We all did. So essentially, it boils down to getting people to subscribe and get on the bike a few times and it will sort itself out after that, more or less. Improvements can always be made to the Zwift platform, but what is there in Zwift already, especially in the lack of real competition, is more than enough to get most of the newcomers hooked. Or hooked enough.

So to get new subscribers at this stage, post-corona outbreak, when every MAMIL worth his salt already knows about Zwift, whether they have chosen to subscribe or not, you have to widen the audience. You have to start attracting not just the hardcore cyclists and the wannabe hardcore cyclists but also anyone looking for a home-based fitness platform. Anything that helps your fitness that doesn’t revolve around paying exorbitant yearly gym passes to be allowed to soak in sweat of the previous patron on top of some gym torture machine. Anything a little more rewarding.

There is already one such broad platform. It’s Peloton, which uses proprietary hardware, a spinning bike. I don’t have the latest financial reporting from Zwift, but I think it’s safe to assume that Zwift’s yearly turnover is still just a fraction of Peloton’s. Zwift obviously wants a slice of that broader market segment, preferably a rather large slice. So Zwift wants to develop their own hardware, just like Peloton, to make it easy for a new (and somewhat affluent) subscriber to hook up to Zwift and start riding, without having to hack their way into the smart trainer hardware jungle and fend off Neo fanboys and Garmin haters and whatnot to just get an idea of what you actually have to buy to be able to Zwift at all. And how to hook up all the equipment together.

However, as Simon Schofield of Zwiftcast hints at in the interview, catering to a broader market segment does not necessarily benefit us, the hardcore cyclists and the overpaid MAMILs (I belong in the second crowd obviously). And setting the company focus on this widened customer segment does not speak for changes to the racing system “anytime soon”.

Second, there is something else in the latest Zwiftcast interviews. May I dare call it recognition? Recognition as far as Zwift will allow themselves. With just a little imagination you can hear this slightly pained undertone saying “Yeah, we know racing in Zwift sucks, we are aware of the issues, it’s all put on hold (again) but we’re throwing you a bone to gnaw at in the seemingly endless meantime.”

So maybe the ruckus in the forums the last few months left a small imprint after all. And the response from Zwift comes in two forms.

I disagree with Jacob Fraser when he pulls out the old argument that the racers, Zwifters who identify themselves as “racers” somehow, are just a very small minority, which would be a good reason for focusing elsewhere instead of putting more effort into fixing racing now rather than in some distant future. Maybe he has the numbers to back it up on the surface, but I am quite convinced that the argument is a dead end. It’s thinking the wrong way, for them, for their purposes. And they did that for far too long.

Us cyclists and MAMILs don’t quite like it when you talk about Zwift as a game. Just as we didn’t like it when outdoor cyclists wouldn’t recognize our indoor miles on Strava (that was pre-corona, before stories like Ashley Moolman-Pasio crushing her own QOM by 3 min coming out of lockdown). But Zwift is a game too. Zwift is a lot of things, but it is also a game, a gameification of cycling. And what Zwift needs now is more gamification of the gamification.

I will ask you to take it from me. I have something of a history in the early gaming industry as a previous editor and game journalist. I also have something of a history in the field of professional psychology and know a thing or two about how people’s minds work. I’ll give you a very simple example of gamification and psychology in conjunction at work.

Perhaps you have heard about reinforcement learning. It’s one of two main ways humans and animals learn things, how we adapt to help our survival. If you want a dog (or a person) to start doing something, the best way is not to punish it for not doing this something, like sitting when you want it to or peeing outdoors rather than indoors. Punishment is pretty useless actually. The best way to help it learn is to reward it when it does that thing that you want it to do. It makes it expect something good to come out of this behavior, consciously or not – it doesn’t matter, so it will keep doing that soon enough. And after a while you can often remove the reward and it will still keep doing that thing when appropriate.

You get rewarded for doing something. And that makes you want to do more of it. Kind of addictive, right, if you look at it from an addiction angle? But getting rewarded every time you do something is actually not the most addictive form of reinforcement learning. There is also a high-grade weapon called intermittent reinforcement, i.e. you don’t reward the desired behavior every time but rather every now and then, at random. Particularly effective, studies on animals and humans show, is a reinforcement rate of 1 in 5. If you’re getting rewarded for something every fifth attempt on average, chances are good you’ll get hooked. Now, what is the chance, you think, of getting the lowest payout from a slot machine? Yeah, that’s right, 1 in 5. Enough to keep you seated, waiting for the jackpot. The wicked people in Vegas know exactly what they are doing. This was a very fundamental and crude (although true and effective) example, but the casino industry knows exactly how to keep patrons stuck to their seats in front of the slots for hours. It’s complex. It’s a dark science, how to make things “fun”, i.e. rewarding.

The computer game industry has also come a long way to understand what makes a game fun. It isn’t necessarily a dark science (only sometimes…). And Zwift could learn a lot from that industry if they (and we) just accept the fact that Zwift is a game too. I have said this before elsewhere. And one thing that came out of the Minterview was the news that Zwift is getting financing (and advice?) from Ilkkaa Paanen, CEO of Finnish mobile game giant Supercell (Hay Day, Clash Royale, Clash of Clans and more). Personally, I would look for knowledge within the PC or maybe console gaming industry primarily, but I like the move.

The thing the Fraser argument doesn’t grasp is that it is to a large extent the gamification elements in Zwift that is going to keep us entertained once we have clicked the subscription button. There is the social interaction part, yes. Social connectedness is a very strong glue, a so-called natural reinforcer. We all want it and it’s just there, naturally, nothing artificial about it. And you can make use of it as a service provider. Even a dull job can be OK as long as your colleagues are great. In Zwift you can get social interaction in a group ride, but you can also get that from stupid shit like FaceBook. You’d want to add something more to Zwift to keep the subscribers entertained. And there are lots of gamification elements already.

One of those elements is racing. And in the vein of something Fraser says in the intervuew, if you ever felt a streak of competitiveness as you got passed by somebody on a freeride climb, then there is competitiveness in you. And then racing is for you. You will sooner or later try racing. Now, if that first experience is positive, i.e. reinforcing, then you will come back for more. If not, then you might be deterred and stick to the group rides and free rides.

Unfortunately, racing in categories B-D isn’t overly reinforcing right now since they are completely flawed. There is a lot of punishment going on in those races. But that still hasn’t stopped the calendar to take its current shape. Granted, group rides can swallow hordes of riders, but even so group rides are in minority in the event list these days. Racing stands for most of the calendar entries. It would be stupid to not use that community drive, that force, to keep building the product and the brand. There is no doubt racing will be one of the most important features when it comes to maintaining a happy (and growing) subscriber base in Zwift. And it would be in Zwift’s best interest to pay more attention to it. Like… now.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to what Supercell superknowledge might bring to the table for the future. So that was one bone thrown to us. But there was also something else, a “We can’t give you what you want and need right now (for whatever reason), but we can give you this at least.” I’m talking about the newly started Zwift Racing League (ZRL).

I will post an assessment on ZRL next. It isn’t all good news, but there is definitely something good in it. And it’s an interesting topic that touches on many things discussed here on the blog already.

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Zwift the German Board Game

There is one thing you need to understand about cruising in Zwift. It isn’t just cheating. It isn’t just cheating-while-getting-away-with-it-on-ZP either. In fact, it isn’t even cheating-very-efficiently-while-dodging-the-DQ. No, our race rules and race category system allow cruising. And cruising is the optimal way to race in Zwift.

In turn, the hours I put in are about finding the optimal way to cruise. I am definitely no expert at it. Not yet. But if Zwift and ZP will allow me, I think I will get there in due time. And the way things are looking right now over at ZHQ, I’d say the prospects are bright. I will most likely be able to continue optimizing the optimal way of racing in Zwift. The last known statement from Zwift is that racing will remain as is for the foreseeable future.

It is what it is. But if you have followed any of the race reports here, then you might agree with me that there are still interesting challenges to cruising. It asks so many things of you. It takes curiosity, competitiveness of course, a constant hunger for improvement, there’s all the excitement, and the need for an analytical mindset, the min-maxing of parameters, finding the optimal strategies for different scenarios, and yes, having that constant eye out for opportunities.

The closest analogy that I can come up with for what cruising can offer you is German board games, or Eurogames as they are also called. You know, board games like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Agricola, Puerto Rico etc, designed by Germans with poetically exotic names like Klaus Teuber, Uwe Rosenberg or Reiner Knizia.

I am no expert at German board games and not much of a board gaming buff. I am more the cyclist type. But I have played some of them and I know a little about the genre and its history. American board games got split up into a commercial mainstream branch (think Monopoly) and then a niche branch for the more or less adult audience. I refer to these hardcore strategy games with manuals thick as books and hundreds of playing pieces on huge game boards. The German board games took another direction, partly as a response. Not really meant for kids but simple enough to introduce to your friends in one sitting, games that take only a bearable amount of minutes to learn but a lifetime to master, to paraphrase the commercial for a completely different and very old board game.

The first few times you play a German board games it’s just fun and laughter. They can be very entertaining and they do bring people together in a way computer games often fail at. The novelty wanes, like with anything, after you have played one of them a few times. But they often keep growing on you even so. The novelty is replaced by something else. You start to discern the game and its rules as a system of limitations and opportunities and slowly you being to understand how to win, and win again. What does a good starting location in Catan look like? At what point do you shift over from maximizing income to buying assets in Puerto Rico? And the fun becomes less of just laughing together with friends for failing and more of spotting the system, outsmarting your friends and beating them. And they want to beat you too.

Yeah, German board games like Catan or Zwift can really be a lot of fun for you and your friends. There is only really one thing lacking in them, one thing I can miss.

They are not like bike racing at all.

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Why call it ‘cruising’ and not ‘sandbagging’?

Some people have questioned my use of the invented term cruiser, which I didn’t invent myself by the way. I would have to credit some guy on the Zwift forum whose name eludes me, but the thread has been archived into thread heaven and is no longer available, so I can’t credit him by name. I liked the term though and stole it. I will explain why.

But first let’s answer the question, isn’t cruising the same as sandbagging? And why even bother with a new term when there is already an old established term that predates Zwift by centuries?

If we are getting into etymology, then hmmmnnaah… I don’t think the terms are quite identical. Sandbagging describes the act of misrepresenting your true strength by deliberately downplaying it, only to strike later once you have lulled opponents into believing you are weaker than you are.

There is still some confusion around the origination of the term. The phenomenon exists in car racing where a racer might provide a false dial-in time for his car before the race so that he can enter a lower bracket and win it easily since his car is actually faster than what the dial-in time said (essentially more similar to a “hacker” or weight/height doper in the Zwift context than a “sandbagger”).

But sometimes sandbagging is taken as putting bags of sand in your ride to weigh it down to make it look like it runs slower. I’m not so sure that has ever been a common practice among race car cheaters though. There are other more convenient ways to fake your car’s speed. Perhaps it is a confusion with horse racing, where you do put weights under the saddle, but then the purpose is not to cheat at all, rather quite the opposite. The horses’ weights are to be equalized in a race so that no horse is advantaged by carrying a lighter jockey and tack than the others.

However, the origination of the word sandbag is actually more sinister than just dead weights. A sandbag is like a sap, like a blackjack, a homemade weapon you clobber someone on the head with when he least suspects it, perhaps after conning him into a dark alley, and it might not even leave a mark on the unconscious victim you just robbed. It’s in that sense the term has been used in poker for many decades. You play your hand weakly and place a small bet, representing weak cards, to trick others into raising you. Which is exactly want you want, since a more forceful bet from you from the start might have scared them off. And then you clobber them by raising them back and now there is suddenly a whole lot of chips in the pot and your opponents are already committed and it’s too late for them to get out.

In any case, whereas both terms, sandbagging and cruising, refer to downplaying your true strength, sandbagging might have made cruising a redundant term, only it doesn’t. And cruising better describes the actual activity behind the term anway. It also captures another very important feature not to be missed. We’ll come to that.

Today when people complain over “sandbaggers” in Zwift on some forum, they rarely if ever refer to cruisers. It’s not always crystal clear what exactly they are referring to since the term itself rests on a somewhat far-fetched analogy. In 90% of the cases, however, people using the term refer to racers joining a lower category than what ZP pins them at. And in 90% of the cases they also refer to racers who have no intention to respect the performance ceiling of the cat they are racing in. So the actual deception when sandbagging, according to these people, is just the act of joining a lower category while your intention is to pace the race as if it was your “true” category. That interpretation of sandbagging is now so widespread, and sandbagging is also so blatantly obvious to even the dimmest racer, that many people seem completely oblivious to existence of cruisers. But as I hope I have been able to show here on the blog, i) I do actually exist, and ii) I am not alone in my trade, far from.

So while what a sandbagger does isn’t necessarily crystal clear, what a cruiser does should be more obvious. He cruises races. He races at a more casual pace than his actual limits, his full steam ahead.

Note here that while sandbagging hints at a malicious intent, cruising does not. There might not be any particular intent at all. Although I often speak of cruisers as having the motive to cheat, it might as well come down to just a matter of preferences for some of them. Some people don’t like to get too winded. They prefer to cruise in all activities in Zwift. Which is fine. You just shouldn’t be given an advantage in races when cruising, and that is Zwift’s fault, not the cruiser’s.

Yet sometimes you can actually spot malicious intent in the activities history of a racer. Some cruisers do way harder solo workouts than their races, which ZP doesn’t pick up on. Some cruisers show a history with a previous upgrade to the bottom of a higher category, where they became pack fodder and then apparently decided to go back to their original category again, supposedly where it was more fun since they won races there. There are all kinds of cruisers with all kinds of motives, I’m sure. But the thing is intent doesn’t matter. The effect on the race is the same regardless. It screws up the race for people who go hard, whatever their intent is.

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Why You Should Cheat Too

Sick again. Can’t train, can’t cheat. And it makes no difference whatsoever. In my absence thousands of others are keeping up the struggle, cheating indiscriminately in race categories B through D, whatever their underlying intent is (it absolutely doesn’t matter anyway). And you should be one of them. 

This is a call to arms. I just have to sell you the story first…

Why on earth would you want to be a superhero like me, gloriously crushing cat D or whatever helpless category you feel confident that you can hammer to smithereens? Wouldn’t you rather be the villain if you did? I insist, you wouldn’t. 

Would you agree that being right and being legal isn’t necessarily the same thing? You don’t have to make up your mind. Because here you have the one-time opportunity to be both right and technically legal at the same time, while still fighting a villainous system by its own means. Remember for example that time when Batman…

No, seriously, if you have come to agree with me at this point that some form of results-based categorization in Zwift is mandatory to make racing more fair and fun and more akin to any other sport in the history of mankind, then you will probably also feel that such a change couldn’t come too soon. Why wait?

Zwift are well aware of the issues. They aren’t stupid, although I do think they might weigh in counter-arguments regarding overall subscriber happiness that may border on stupidity, arguments that create hesitation. But awareness is not the problem. The problem is that nothing happens. 

So we could use a little urgency. And that’s where you come into the picture.

Making the cheating in Zwift an even more pressing matter should speed up the process, one would think. And if that doesn’t help, then nothing else will and we might as well give up on racing altogether. So what have you got to lose? Most races you sign up for will be ripe with cheaters anyway. You cannot get fair racing in Zwift as of today, so you are not giving something up for yourself by passing up on the opportunity to race fair (in vain). And you are also not really ruining anything for other subscribers either, because it was already ruined before you lined up at the start. The races are already messed up by sandbaggers and cruisers daily as is and the races don’t flow the way they should.

The last resort now – since nothing happens – is to reach some sort of critical mass. You and I know what is going on beneath the surface not just in Zwift but also on ZwiftPower. The racing isn’t fair and just. But there is still quite a few subscribers who haven’t fully realized it yet. They’re sniffing the stench but they can’t yet tell where it is coming from. Well, the sandbaggers they get. But not the cruising. And they still believe the W/kg system can be saved, e.g. by introducing even more oppressing mechanisms to racing, driving Zwift even further away from any other sport or from any ambition to establish Zwift as a credible e-sports platform to sell to the rest of the world. 

These people will come to their senses sooner or later, one way or the other. I’m not worried. And no one will ever regret a move to a results-based system. No one is ever going to say “it was better before”, especially not these people who typically prefer to have the opinions every one else seems to be having. The day Zwift says “here’s another system for you, it’s better” they will agree and never look back. Trust me.

So how to reach critical mass? The answer is massive cheating. Make the system implode. Make racing obviously pointless. It already is pointless, it is just not that ridiculously overly obvious yet as to make even the slow react, not when it comes to cruising.

So imagine for a second that you would, how exactly should you help yourself and others by contributing to critical mass? To speed up change?

No Weight Cheats

Don’t cheat with weight. There is massive weight cheating. I have stated before that some other types of cheating are the most common, but it’s likely not true. Weight cheating should be the most common form by far.

There is the blatant overnight super diet of course, people suddenly dropping double digit kg’s. They are easy to spot. But there is also the semi-conscious cheating, the constant slight underestimation of weight that even the “fair” racers contribute to. You know, the happy weights. The dating site weights. The “I better not get on the scales after this barbecue party, I might not like what I find” weights. The “Oops, I gained 4 kg over Christmas but umm… I’ll lose it soon anyway, what difference does it make?” weights. 

You may want to round down rather than up, because everyone else will. But you should be fair. Please don’t cheat with weight, because there is no realistic way to enforce accurate weight reporting around the corner. We need your weight for the simulation and we are not there yet that Zwift can demand of every racer that they buy Bluetooth scales that upload the weight online (there are such scales). The day may come – it would be a good thing – but it is too early for the bulk of the subscribers. So we are forced to rely on ourselves rather than a system to keep racing fair. It’s a weak solution but it’s all we have.

No Height Cheats 

The argument is the same as for weight cheating. There is no way to enforce accurate height reporting for the bulk of the subscribers. And to solve it with periferal hardware is even harder than with weights and scales. There isn’t even any such hardware to my knowledge. And Zwift couldn’t really demand that all subscribers submit healthcare certificates testifying height, nor handle the administration. Long-term I’m sure there could be a solution, but again, we are not there yet. So just don’t.

No Hacking

Don’t tamper with hardware or software. It’s hard to enforce. It can also be hard to spot and you will want to be visible cheating. Keep your smart-trainer calibrated too. You need to stay fit through all of this and would only do yourself a disservice by having it “out of tune”.

No Doping

This goes without saying.


Sandbagging does help bringing racing closer to the inevitable collapse (that we might as well speed up), and you do stay within the confines of Zwift race rules when sandbagging. But you break ZwiftPower rules. And you also tend to draw attention away from the real problem with Zwift when sandbagging.

You don’t stop sandbagging by convincing subscribers to stop doing it, because it won’t succeed. You stop sandbagging by making it impossible, i.e. by enforced categories, something we still don’t have. You are highly visible when sandbagging, which is a good thing in this context, but there is the risk that people will think that the only problem with Zwift racing is you or the lack of enforced categories. Once they have that (and you disappear as a consequence) you might lose their attention. A results-based system needs enforced categories too, but enforced W/kg categories, while better than what we have, is not enough. So in a nutshell, you could sandbag. But there is a better option…


You should cruise. With ever more abundant cruising in our Zwift races, and with increased awareness over time among the subscribers, nothing drags out the flaws of the W/kg cat system into the light better than cruising. You just need critical mass. And critical mass needs you.

By cruising you also adhere to ZwiftPower rules. Technically speaking, you are doing nothing wrong. It is definitely cheating but it can’t really be held against you. And you will slip through. With sandbagging it is so easy to blame the offender rather than the system, which would be infinitely more constructive. With cruising it is so obvious that the problem isn’t you and that the proper remedy is not to change you, the subscriber, but to change the system. 

The W/kg system will have to fall. Will fall. And the sooner that happens, the better. And you can help speed up that process by cruising, ideally with full disclosure. People will hate you for it now. But they will thank you later. 

Well, they won’t actually thank you. They will pretend that they always thought Zwift should have moved to a results-based categorization and ignore you afterwards since you will be a painful reminder of their previous blindness. But they will be grateful for a better system. So you are helping them, and you are actively helping yourself. 

Trying to race fair today, while sandbaggers and cruisers are pounding you into the pixel tarmac over and over, is not helping yourself. It’s not really helping anyone as things stand, even though it may seem that way on the surface since you want to be one of the good guys. 

Unfortunately, the truly good guys are going to have to break a few eggs now. And unfortunately, by racing fair today you are not really defending moral standards at all. You are effectively just defending the cheaters by marginalizing them. As long as you can still sandbag and cruise within the system at all, and as long as the cheating can still with some effort be perceived as just a margin phenomenon, fighting the cheaters will only slow down change. 

Once the wider implications of the W/kg become apparent even to the ignorant (they are being cheated on too, you know), it will also become apparent that people are not the problem here. The villain is the W/kg system. And it seems it’s going to take quite a few superheroes to throw it into Arkham Asylum where it always belonged. So strap on the spandex and get cracking!

If nothing else, you should at least try it out, cruising once or twice. You don’t have to make a bigger commitment than that right now. But you really should try that at least. Because things will drop into place for you if you do, take it from me. Only then will you truly see the W/kg system for what it really is. On an intellectual level, you might already agree with one or a few points in my previous posts. But the big and shocking revelation only comes when you actually see the things I see with your own eyes. Brace yourself, you’ll need it.

Oh, and should you feel lost, then you might be helped by a Cruising School coming up shortly on the blog. That should sort you out and get you started.

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