Zwift's emphasis on responsiveness to the community, especially disabled and adaptive athletes, closes the gap to other platforms in the virtual cycling world. Read the full article in Cycling Weekly!
When you’re the industry-leading virtual cycling platform, and your reputation for seemingly tone-deaf subscriber engagement, response, and endless promises link you to a branded idiom with negative connotations, it’s bad business. When your head of PR and DEIB Inclusion Council member (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging), Chris Snook, matter-of-factly uses it in the course of conversation when responding to calls for disabled athlete representation on the platform by saying, “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” it borders on insensitivity lacking a social pulse. [Cycling News, March 17, 2022]
Bad business is what the cycling community believed in March 2022 when virtual cycling giant Zwift laid off upwards of 150 employees, an anticipated precursor of the platforms impending demise.
Massive Improvements by Zwift Are What the Community Has Been Asking For
The virtual cycling world let out a collective shout of “Zoon” from basement pain caves everywhere when Zwift doubled down on the difficult decision, saying, “We are committed to increasing the development of the core Zwift game experience, increasing the speed of new feature releases, and making the platform more accessible than ever before. We firmly believe these changes will allow us to achieve these goals and better support the continued growth of our subscription business. Further, these changes will preserve Zwift’s strong financial position as the world navigates these turbulent times.”
The time may be now to erase “Zoon” from the virtual cycling lexicon and usher in the new culture at Zwift. Since that fateful day in March, Zwift has been steadfast in fulfilling its promise of listening, hearing, and responding to the subscriber base, and the proof has arrived Zooner than later.
September, to be exact, when Zwift announced its most ambitious upgrade to the global online fitness platform to date. The depth and breadth of what’s new for riders of Zwift’s virtual roads for 2022 go a long way toward fulfilling the promises and satisfying even the most slighted subscribers.
New Courses, Training Plans, User-Friendliness, and Racing are only a few of the Upgrades
Training plans featuring route-based workouts, more course offerings, improvements to the home screen user interface, greater club functionality, expansion of the Pace Partners program, and the ability to compete against a holographic ghost of your previous personal best are only some of the features Zwift feels will make it more accessible, easier to use, and more fun.
Despite past hesitation to appease the vocal minority of racers on the platform, Zwift proved its commitment to racing by creating a dedicated racing website. They introduced a monthly community thematic race series called ZRacing, innovative changes to the elite racing format in the Zwift Grand Prix, and are rolling out auto-categorization to even the playing field.
Event Operations Specialist James Bailey even alluded to plans to develop a results-based categorization system when interviewed by Nathan Guerra and Anna Russel during a recent episode of The Wrap podcast. The change clamored for by racers for years will go a long way toward negating the perception of a prevailing cheating culture on the platform.
Introduction of the Zwift Handcycle Is a Long-Awaited Improvement With Profound Reverberations Throughout Virtual Cycling
Perhaps the most socially profound enhancement made by Zwift came shortly after the September 1 “This Season on Zwift” announcement, leaving the adaptive and disabled athletes without representation on the platform for years, wondering if it would ever come. Their wishes came true on September 14, when Zwift took its first step toward the inclusion and representation of adaptive and disabled athletes on its platform.
Zwift partnered with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) in a research study examining the representation of adaptive athletes, and the findings guided this step. The World Health Organization estimates that around 15% of the population lives with a disability globally. The Paralympic Games has ten categories, limb deficiency, vision impairment, and impaired muscle power (resulting from spinal cord injury and other impairments).
Zwift’s newly introduce handcycle is meant to be a true-to-life representation, with a recumbant avatar turning the pedals with their hands. The handcycle has unique aerodynamic and drafting properties to add more realism.
Mindset Change Points to Positive Future for Virtual Cycling
For more on the Zwift Handcycle and how it marks a profound culture shift in the company, and how:
- The virtual platform RGT was the first to introduce handcycles and the great lengths they’ve gone to ensure realism, like working with USA Paracycling Olympic athletes on wind tunnel and Notio data and in-game disability categorization guidelines.
- Project Echelon and Wahoo-RGT have exciting plans to develop upright and recumbent trikes to take representation and inclusion to the next level.
- For some adaptive athletes, Zwift has more ground to cover, with insightful comments from the reigning para-cycling land-speed world record holder.
- Zwift representatives listened when members of the visually-impaired community voiced their concerns with the recent font change and then changed it.
- Plus, many more comments from Zwift representatives and members of the disabled athlete community.
To follow the history of the behind-the-scenes grass-roots effort by the adaptive and disabled athlete community to raise awareness of this momentous day, also read:
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, TheDIRTDadFund. 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.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!