The Zommunique logo June '23


Stuck in the indieVelo VLOdrome

A seasoned virtual cycling enthusiast waxes poetic on his evolution from a savvy, albeit naive, indieVelo Beta-tester to forging an identity and purpose in helping to redefine the future of cycling esports.

By Luciano “VLOdrome” Pollastri

indieVelo VLOdrome Featured image

Everything started with the most baiting online survey you could send to someone like me, by a certain Dr. George Gilbert, the former Chairman of the Zwift Cycling Esports Commission, asking for feedback around fair racing in virtual cycling platforms. 

Next thing I know, I’m stuck in a virtual velodrome going in circles at least five hours per week.

The path to this decadence? Wait a minute, I don’t know how to make a long story short, so it will be a long story long.

Getting Trapped In The indieVelo Rabbithole

After some e-mail exchanges in which George and I spent most of our time in courtesies of all sorts and fakely pretending to like each other, I received an email with a link to download my first-ever version of the closed-Beta cycling esports platform indieVelo. It was January 2nd, 2023, and I was on holiday in the country house where I was running Zwift on an iPad connected to a Thinkrider X5 Neo smart trainer. 

Since indieVelo was only PC compatible and patience is by far not my main virtue, I got a gaming laptop delivered to me in two hours.

My first experience with indieVelo was… disappointing. Despite the fact all seemed in order, connections, Bluetooth, and recognition of my smart trainer, my avatar was not moving a single millimeter no matter how hard I pushed the pedals. 

I immediately reported the issue to George.

indieVelo VLOdrome 2
indieVelo VLOdrome 3

1.79km and 81 tons? That would be accurate if I was reporting the size of my ego. 

Once George decreased my height 178,998.21 meters and my weight 80.919 kilograms, I could enjoy indieVelo for the first time. And the overall impression was that there was something special about it.

First Workout On indieVelo: Love Is In The Air

From minute one, it felt very close to IRL cycling: the speed, the wind, the draft, the auto braking. Many things I didn’t know I was missing that much until I had them. Plus indieVelo was very satisfying to the data obsessive living in me: the native dual reporting, right/left balance, the torque, the pedaling effectiveness. Everything made sense and was there, live, available. I had a general impression of transparency and accessibility that was new to me and very pleasant.

For sure, there were tons of things to improve and define, and that was precisely what George claimed they needed a group of people to help him with. 

Ten days after my first ride, I was invited to the Discord server, where I could identify the mob I would be spending most of my time with over the next months. I would say around a dozen I already knew from different forums. 

That feeling of being part of something new, something constructive, was immediately confirmed by the heated and never-ending debates on the pack dynamics, the “shape” of the draft (funnel vs. water drop) and its intensity, how realistic the auto braking was, etc. 

As George and Bjoern Ossenbrink, the former ZADA lead, were inviting riders to test indieVelo, the conversations were enriched by new perspectives, but the common objective was clear: how to make indieVelo the best virtual cycling alternative for competitive events.

indieVelo’s Philosophy

indieVelo is not just another platform but another way to understand indoor cycling. The way Dr. George Gilbert understands it, and many of us share. It’s not only about features, it is about the intention. 

Every choice in the game is made with the aim of encouraging authentic athletic performance. To make it as enjoyable, believable, and fair as possible.

So, the first thing to do when you enter indieVelo is leave your preconceived notions behind and get ready to live indoor cycling in a different way. 

It shows in all aspects of the game.

Credibility and Authenticity

Where w/kg was the mother of currencies within most other platforms, at IndieVelo, speed rules, of course, in the background, the algorithm translates watts into speed. But what drives your in-game decisions is how fast you go vs. others, like you would do IRL. And it changes everything. 

Because speed isn’t only dependent on power but also on your skills navigating the pack, leveraging the wind speed and direction to maximize draft, etc.

Filippo Ganna maximizing draft

Race Tactics and Skill

My category at indieVelo is… well, there are no categories… which means no sandbagging. You register for an event. One minute before the start of the race the pens are closed and you are distributed in different categories depending on who signed up. 

The races are populated by very smart bots, always ensuring you have someone to ride with and to challenge you no matter the race, no matter your level. That obliges you always to give your best. You get kind of an ELO ranking based on all the results and your power curve. Easy, efficient. Hallelujah.

Originally I was not convinced by the bots idea. But they are nothing like the bots from other platforms. They are AI-powered, behave very humanly, and make my indieVelo experience reach another level. Bots are genius, and they get even better and better. 

By the way no power-ups, less gamification. It’s not better or worse, it is a different path.

A path focusing on eracing and structured training for those prioritizing athletic performance and competition over the game. I am one of them.

Integrating Community Feedback Into the indieVelo Product Roadmap, Almost Too Quick

Since January, I have had this continual feeling that the features suggested by the community are integrated into the product roadmap and implemented at light speed. It’s a permanent dialogue where reiteration enables continuous improvement. 

I remember doing a workout in the evening, giving feedback as I went to bed, and waking up with a new release announced, including the feature I suggested the night before. On more than one occasion, I laughed hysterically at how ridiculously fast George was. It happened so many times that I cannot even count them.

One clear illustration is when a friend of mine, testing the platform for the first time at the beginning of July, regretted the countdown sound alert when going from one interval to another during a workout. Exactly 29 hours later, it was included in the following release. 

The worst is that I had those little miracles so integrated into my way of experiencing indieVelo, that I got reminded how exceptional it was only when exposed to my friend’s reaction, who was literally not believing that his feedback was already materialized in a feature. He thought it was a joke, exactly like me the first time.

My VLOdrome Golden Jail Genesis

One day, while watching one of the classics on TV, James Eastwood suggested it would be great to have a flat velodrome, the arrival of Paris-Roubaix style. I voiced how much I loved the idea together with some others. The following Sunday, the weekly indieVelo release contained the creation of a Forest Velodrome on the top of a hill. 

That was the beginning of the end of freedom for me. From then, literally, all my workouts, 5 or 6 per week, would be occurring in the velodrome—VLOdrome for friends and relatives.

I have been VLOdromed to the extent of changing my username to Luciano VLOdrome. It’s MY VLOdrome! 🙂

indieVelo VLOdrome 6
T-shirt design courtesy of Beta tester James Eastwood

And I can make the most out of my VLOdrome fetishism at indieVelo.

Autonomous in Creating My indieVelo Experience

At indieVelo, all users can organize their own races and events, deciding routes, laps, wind speed, weather, etc.

This allows unlimited possibilities and options for customizing your own indieVelo experience. 

Imagine, theoretically, someone idiot enough to organize an event featuring 200 laps of the flat and routinary VLOdrome. Logically, nobody would be insane enough to organize such an event. It would attract… well… only me.

indieVelo VLOdrome 7

I love extremely long rides on the VLOdrome. By long, I mean at least 100km rides. I know I need more therapy, but I cannot go beyond the four sessions per week I already attend. And my VLOdrome addiction is not even in the top 30 obsessions my shrink identified I need help with (you think you wanna know that top 30, but believe me, you don’t wanna know).

Since I publicly assume my delusion, I can create my own dystopian 200-laps Forest Velodrome scratch race with 50 bots accompanying me. I did it more than once, it felt good. It’s my thing, and indieVelo welcomes my “diversity” and allows me to practice it to its full extent. 

indieVelo VLOdrome 1

Don’t believe that my craziness is more deviant than the craziness of some others. We have one colleague, whose name I will not disclaim at this point in time, who fancies the one-lap races of the VLOdrome. SHAME ON HIM!!! 

Shame on him; however, at indieVelo, he can still create as many public events accessible to all other users of one full lap of the VLOdrome. As an indieVelo user, you are autonomous and own a great part of your in-game experience. 

Same for the team kit. There is a kit template. As a team manager, you can use it, and if you are really bad at it, you may want to bribe Matt Gardiner (don’t worry, he is cheap) to try it. The probability that your team kit will be available in the next release, or the following one, tends to the infinity—it’s highly likely.

indieVelo Is Not Perfect, Far From It

The journey from January to now has been incredibly satisfying. The evolution and improvement of indieVelo in seven months are just mind-blowing, and each time I have a friend or colleague testing it for the first time, there is the same reaction of “Wow, this is different.” 

Of course, there are still a ton of things to define, enhance, or even create. However, from my perspective, what makes indieVelo unique is how George ensures it stays loyal to its original principles and values. The latest example is the Fully Customizable User Interface Functionality Support through Modding

It is not only about making indieVelo better. It is about creating the standards enabling virtual cycling to be a credible Olympic discipline. That is an inspiring purpose!

indieVelo VLOdrome 8

As ambitious as the project is, so far indieVelo hasn’t solved my arrogance, my immense sense of self-entitlement, or my even more embarrassing sprinting abilities. I blame the platform for this. I hope George implements those features in the next release. 

For everything else, virtual cycling related, at indieVelo, I see only a fantastic world, which is still in development, but I totally identify with it.

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