The time is now for Zwift to make the promised changes and good feeling acknowledgments.
The bombshell acquisition of RGT by Wahoo following a round of layoffs in their hardware and SYSTM divisions rocked the virtual cycling community. Zwift’s news of restructuring, eliminating around 200 members of the workforce, blindsided the platform’s users and its employees.
Both companies explained the decisions by diverting attention toward the focus on improving the user experience, thereby ensuring corporate success. In Zwift’s case, away from hardware to their core emphasis on software.
The personal toll layoffs take on the employee’s well-being, and the collateral damage to their families is the devastating consequence of corporate re-shuffling. Suppose there is indeed a commitment by Zwift to enhance the core experience, inclusion, and accessibility. In that case, the only justification for those unfortunate individuals is to make a good out of a bad.
Photo courtesy of Wahoo-RGT
#1—Adaptive Athlete Representation
When asked if they were going to represent adaptive and disabled athletes with true-to-life equipment and avatar integration, Zwift’s Chris Snook replied, “Yes, part of the research was focused on equipment to ensure that it is as true to life as possible—in a Zwifty way, of course.”
The answer was to a question asked in March 2022 when researching the topic for this CyclingNews article alluding to Zwift’s work to prioritize the disabled community. The firm admission by Snook came after more than a year of persistent follow-up regarding the issue but fell short.
Despite Snook’s statement that the work is a priority, there was a lack of commitment to a hard deadline. “I’d love to give you more than a ‘coming Zoon,’ but I’m not in a position to be able to promise when this will come.”
Several months have passed, and the words ring hollow.
#2—Zwift Junior Racing League
According to a CDC report, there is a 19.3% rate of childhood obesity that affects 14.4 million children and adolescents in the United States alone. The ongoing stress, fear, grief, and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic has weighed heavily, with many children and teens having difficulty coping emotionally.
A May 2022 study reveals that children’s activity levels have not returned to pre-COVID standards despite easing pandemic restrictions. The trend is not a recent one. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, youth sport participation has declined from 45% in 2008 to 38% of children ages 6 to 12 in 2018. Covid-19 has sped up the downswing, and it isn’t returning quickly.
“Make more people, more active, more often” is Zwift’s mission. Providing an online healthy gaming experience for youth under 16 free of charge underlines the positive impact on the health and mental well-being of the younger generation. The introduction of cycling and bike racing to a more significant number of young individuals ensures the future and potential for growth and enhancement of the athlete, the individual, and the sport.
On September 7, 2021, WTRL announced changes to the 2021/22 ruleset prohibiting racers under 16 from participating in Zwift Racing League events. Following much debate between Zwift and the disgruntled community, Zwift revealed the exclusion complied with international legislation to protect minors that applies to WTRL as a third-party organizer, as detailed in this report documenting the issue at the time.
For an international company like Zwift, remaining up to date with policy changes and ensuring COPPA and GDPR compliance is daunting. However, countless companies commit to youth online involvement and thrive in the legal landscape. This review of authorities in youth cycling development outlines a proposal of the potential steps to take and guidelines to follow when successfully implementing a legitimate race league for minors.
The creation of a Zwift Junior Racing League would be a tremendous sign of Zwift’s commitment to the lifeblood of its community and proof that our kids are worth it.
#3—Coffee Shop Afterparty
During a conversation between Zwift Community Live broadcasters Nathan Guerra and Anna Russell, I heard the idea for the second time. It came as the duo was unraveling the post-race carnage caused by the frenetic finish of the 2022 ZRL Cup semi-finals and parsed the results.
There were avatars strewn across the virtual course as the event ended and the racers populated with the unknowing free-riders on the road. A hundred exhausted racers unable to propel their avatars stopped dead at a random finish location.
Anna commented how great it would be if, rather than cluttering the course, Zwift directed racers to a post-race cafe shop post-mortem. The riders would share some virtual fist bumps and compare excuses as their breathing normalized and the pain subsided. Then it occurred to me that it wasn’t the first time I’d heard the idea.
A revamped post-race experience was the vision of avid Zwifter and design strategist Tim Smith in this contribution. He called attention to how Zwift could make the finish line a more magical place. Imagine that you roll to a stop in a virtual coffee shop as you cross the line.
An appealing and interactive user interface pops up where racers exchange free and easy banter, organizers present virtual results and awards, and memories are made. No longer will race finishers be unceremoniously banished to the non-event virtual world and cut off from their teammates or competing racers.
Not only for races, but group rides too! Not only for the winners but riders that need extra encouragement to make the final push to the line, like me and you.
Perhaps not as substantive as the previous suggestions, but it would make us feel good.
Conclusion—Being Heard Feels Good
An acknowledgment by Zwift that they listen to the community and hear what they’re saying would feel good too. While nothing will change the impact the recent events have had on the unfortunate individuals affected, the competition in the marketplace leaves the soil fertile for evolution and development.
The Zoon idiom would be funnier if it wasn’t a true indictment of the glacial pace of progress. Znow is the time to change that. I hear ya!
What changes would you like to see to prove you've been heard?
Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site. In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, http://www.TheDIRTDadFund.com. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.