Created by the former Chairman of the Zwift Cycling Esports Commission, the Beta platform focuses on technology and innovation of cycling esports and fulfilling racer's wants and needs.
Imagine if online cycling were an Olympic Sport. For esports visionaries, fans, and competitors, especially elite-level racers, the conceptualized notion is more rhetorical than an attainable aim. The hazy virtual atmosphere and the lack of innovation and investment by the platforms to develop the engine to power high-level racing and anti-cheating protocols obscure the dream for many.
What would you want it to be like? That is the question the creator of the newest virtual cycling platform to hit the scene, indieVelo, asked himself and hundreds of online racers during the nine months of development before their Beta launch on June 3, 2023.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to define the future of a sport, starting from a blank sheet of paper,” declares indieVelo founder Dr. George Gilbert, and “all the existing platforms were originally designed for casual riding, not competitive events, so don’t fully cater to what elite athletes want and need.“
History and Background
The Cambridge-educated Gilbert wrote the code for the global telephone network infrastructure handling all worldwide 911 emergency calls—server software that can never fail at an unlimited scale. Gilbert is a UCI-trained commissaire, high-profile cycling event organizer, and former Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors at British Cycling.
As the Chief Commissaire at multiple UCI Cycling Esports World Championships and the former Chairman of the Zwift Cycling Esports Commission (his contract recently expired), Gilbert is in the ideal position to know what athletes want and how to do it. Gilbert brought the former Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis team (ZADA) leader, Bjoern Ossenbrink, and the rest of the former ZADA team to run indieVelo’s performance verification service.
Gilbert assures transparency and has been working in consultation with the UCI to develop a brand new independent platform built from the ground up to help define the technology needed to host an Olympic-level event.
Several overlying themes emerged in their talks with early adopters of cycling esports and elite-level racers like Anna Russell, Saris-NoPinz racer and co-host of The Wrap Podcast, and fellow teammate Matt Gardiner.
“Racing should be about tactics, smart racing, and a dollop of game theory, not just about best power. Wind, amazing draft dynamics, auto-braking, and innovative event formats have ticked all the boxes for me,” shares Anna.
Matt adds: “IndieVelo’s commitment to performance verification and authentic achievement, its draft dynamics, and community-driven spirit won me over instantly. The game offers many tools not available in other games for race organizers already in Beta and has so much potential for the future of esports.”
Two Key Pillars
The feedback formed the foundation of indieVelo to become their two key pillars—tactics and credibility. Gilbert explains it like this:
Tactics—Win or lose, your results should be based on your skills as a rider (and not just your power). Therefore, every decision you make as a racer, such as draft, positioning, cornering speed, or judging whether to sit in or attack with the wind, affects your race’s outcome.
Credibility—What you see and experience is legitimate, proven athletic ability. To ensure that every rider’s performance is verified, indieVelo has a fully integrated and comprehensive suite of anti-cheat mechanisms – from built-in dual-recording and encrypted protocols to a fully server-authoritative architecture that delivers unparalleled accuracy, precision, and consistency of everyone’s position in the virtual world.
With a sturdy conceptual framework in place, Gilbert chose the Unity Gaming Platform as his blank slate. Unlike other platforms that use proprietary software engines, Unity allows Gilbert to write relatively simple code that’s easy to understand and quickly update with new functions and features. indieVelo’s Server-Authoritative architecture means everyone sees the same thing on their screen, and all race results are accurate.
They are two significant aspects that differentiate indieVelo from the other major virtual cycling platforms and evidence that Gilbert went to school on what racers want during his time in the space. He used the same problem-solving approach in all of indieVelo’s features.
Group Riding and Pacebots
Innovating the technology of cycling esports is indieVelo’s primary focus and the driving force behind their proprietary RPTR Engine ™—Ride, Pace, Train, Race. The engine is grounded in the principles of physics, ensuring that riders must abide by the fundamental laws of nature. Riders cannot exist simultaneously in the same space, making strategic positioning within a group of riders an essential element for success.
Unlike other platforms where riders can move freely, indieVelo requires careful consideration of when and how much effort to apply to maneuver within the group. The platform doesn’t depend on manual steering, and there are no plans to until a feasible hardware option exists.
Instead, it employs sophisticated AI algorithms for rider positioning. These algorithms automatically identify gaps in the peloton, seek out the draft from other riders, and form echelons to shield from the wind. indieVelo condenses draft information into a simple indicator bar on the top of the user display.
There are 17 routes covering over 170 miles on indieVelo’s island, including a Velodrome. Spread across the island you will find indieVelo’s eight abilities of Pacebot rides. These are constant group-ride-like groups that are rolling around the world of indieVelo.
The Pacebots give more draft to all riders within 50m behind and pull back on riders ahead to encourage group formation and allow riders to vary their effort while staying with the group.
Wind and Weather
Wind plays a significant role in indieVelo’s racing dynamics. It’s an element that racers must consider when approaching each race and making tactical decisions in real-time.
The wind’s speed and direction are in the map window on the user screen, alongside the draft and current road gradient. The wind speed will change and can gust, adding an extra layer of challenge and strategy. Riding along the oceanside can present great opportunities to attack in the crosswinds and the formation of echelons.
indieVelo currently has three types of weather in-game: Clear, Raining, and Snowing. At present, rain and snow do not impact rolling resistance or tire grip, but the door is open.
Braking and Cornering
indieVelo’s physics engine accounts for cornering speed and tire grip. If you dive into a corner too quickly, an Effort Indicator light will turn red, and you’ll be auto-braked until you reduce power, making mastering the art of cornering essential.
If the racer chooses not to ease off when the Effort Indicator turns red, the light will flash, and a braking penalty is applied. The rider moves off their line, taking a longer path around the corner, making them more likely to be overtaken by a rider traveling at a more appropriate speed for the corner.
Trainer resistance increases, causing it to slow down, and the rider has to reaccelerate harder as they come out of the corner to get back up to speed.
Rider Weight and Displaying Effort
indieVelo doesn’t display the power-to-weight ratio (wkg) of other riders. Gilbert acknowledges that a rider’s weight is a crucial speed-determining factor. However, he sees no benefit to sharing the data publicly and believes it is detrimental to an individual’s health and well-being and the sport’s growth.
Instead, indieVelo shares data that mirrors real-world racing—the speed of other riders and their relative physical effort compared to you. indieVelo displays the speed of every racer on the rider list.
Judging the relative effort of riders can be challenging in online racing. indieVelo indicates the percentage of effort a rider makes compared to their Critical Power (CP) to give a visualization. The relative effort is shown in the list of nearest riders and on a small light attached to each rider’s seat post.
The light changes color based on the rider’s effort, moving from dark red for easy effort, through shades of amber, to bright green for maximum effort.
Categorization, Ratings, and Rankings
indieVelo utilizes an Elo-like rating system, similar to ZwiftRankings developed by a Zwift community member, and is a significant step forward from power-based categorization. It ensures placement with riders of similar abilities for a high-quality race experience.
The rating system is straightforward and effective. If you outperform riders with a higher rating than yours, your rating goes up. Conversely, if you lose to riders with a lower rating, your rating goes down.
IndieVelo maintains separate ratings for Sprints, Endurance, Time Trials, and Climbing races. These ratings influence event matchmaking to reflect your expected ability in that specific event. In addition, your ranking is affected if you enter a race but don’t finish, and other racers will benefit by beating you.
Performance Verification and Anti-Cheating
Credibility is a key tenet of indieVelo’s philosophy, and the platform prioritizes genuine athletic performance consistent with elite-level sports. The performance verification team led by Bjoern Ossenbrink uses proprietary data modeling of a racer’s Critical Power (CP) curve and real-time performance monitoring.
Gilbert points to their years of partnership in ZADA pioneering the detection of cheating in physical esports to drive innovations and the belief that algorithms can only go so far.
“Just as with online security,” he explains, “it’s not a question of building something once and then calling it done, the landscape is constantly changing and evolving, and you need great people to be able to keep ahead.”
While also designing indieVelo to make cheating pointless by using results-based matchmaking. If a racer intentionally cheats to make themselves faster, the racer doesn’t gain an advantage because they will have to line up against racers of greater ability.
In addition, indieVelo natively records your smart trainer and power meter into a single dual-recorded FIT file in-game to allow for easy one-step dual recording.
Racing and Racebots
Racing is at indieVelo’s heart, and a repeating roster of events begins every five minutes. The platform currently supports Time Trials, Scratch Races, Points Races, and Elimination Race formats. They are developing additional formats and variations regularly, and increased segment functionality is coming.
In addition, indieVelo has a built-in user interface for customized event creation and the ability to stream individually configured broadcasts.
indieVelo populates races with Racebots to ensure a full field, or users can add them to custom events. The Racebots mimic classic cycling phenotypes: climbers, time trialists, sprinters, etc. Each phenotype rides differently based on a unique CP/W model and even experience fatigue and require recovery between efforts.
Racebots use the same rating and ranking system as human riders. The Racebot’s performance ensures that ratings accurately reflect their abilities in events and matchmaking. If an organizer uses Racebots in their event, human racers benefit from performing better than a higher-ranked bot and vice versa. That’s not all.
What indieVelo Doesn't Have
In addition to the feature rethinking noted, indieVelo has training plans, challenges, a Take a Break feature, and Join a Rider teleporting found on other platforms.
The one thing common to other virtual cycling platforms you won’t find on indieVelo is gamification. There are no Power Ups or other randomly generated gaming enhancements, and Gilbert doesn’t see a time when there will be, quipping, “This isn’t Mario Kart with turtle shells and banana skins.” Most hardcore esports cyclists agree.
Although, since the Beta launch, the platform is gaining a user a minute, there also isn’t a critical mass. A vast user-base and vibrant community is the special sauce of leading platforms like Zwift, but that doesn’t deter Gilbert.
Rider feedback drives 100 percent of indieVelo’s roadmap, prompting Gilbert to declare, “indieVelo is, above all else, a community of people who share a vision of what online cycling and esports could be. We don’t have a community—it is a community!”
That might be true, but it may take more than one man, despite how experienced, talented, and motivated, to scale monumental change. The low overhead costs, efficiency, and rapid response are significant positives to short-term growth, but a tipping point may come. The hopes of many members of the esports world lie in the assurance that he thought of that too.
indieVelo is available in Beta at indievelo.com. The platform is currently free to use, with the option to support their development by purchasing a low-cost membership ($12.99 per month or $129.99 for the year) to the indieVelo Founders Club for access to some cool perks.
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!