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At the Back: All in on indoor racing

Bad weather now means social rides for me — inside. But even on some gorgeous days, I am completely committed to racing on the trainer.

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These days, my garage is often where I go to be social, to race until I am cross-eyed, and to join group rides.

While the COVID-19 pandemic shut down normal cycling, ingenuity and technology opened new windows for virtual riding.

I’m aware many of you reside in the ‘indoor riding isn’t actually riding’ camp. And obviously, there are differences between a physically dynamic outdoor activity and exercising inside with a bike that’s basically bolted to the floor. And yet, Zwift plus a chatting app like Discord offers socially dynamic ways to ride and race together that have been impossible ‘in the real world.’

I love outdoor group rides. Remember them? The camaraderie, the challenge, and simply the fixed schedule of something to look forward to every week to keep me motivated. Three of my favorite ones in Boulder, Colorado were Turnt-Up Tuesday from Stages Cycling, a Thursday throwdown from Panache Cyclewear, and a long Saturday ride that Todd Gogulski
and Matt Cooke would lead. Now there’s a version of all three on Zwift.

The Stages squad has adapted to racing in a weekly Zwift league on Tuesdays, where we get four to six riders in two teams. Everyone has Discord, which serves as race radio to talk tactics and smack. I’m sure my neighbors wonder what is going on, as they hear me shouting in my cold garage before later emerging, pouring sweat in my bibs and a base layer.

Similarly, former pro and current coach Jeff Winkler has taken the reins of the Panache Thursday ride. Often he’ll break us into squads, each with its own Discord channel, so we can race ‘game on’ segments as teams before regrouping and chatting together in the main channel.

And Todd has taken up the banner for organizing the weekend ride. As with the outdoor version, we usually go uphill — a lot. And as with the outdoor version, I usually get dropped. But very much unlike the outdoor version, I can chat with the entire group the whole way, instead of just the one person next to me. So thank you, Zwift and Discord, for allowing me to heckle my slimmer, fitter friends from my garage as they ride away from me.

On Wednesdays, I lead a VeloNews group ride on Zwift. We don’t use Discord, just the in-game text chat, but I love being able to chat with riders all around the world.

Prior to the pandemic, Zwift was something for the winter. Now, I’m hooked. I’m writing this on an unseasonably warm winter day. It’s lovely outside. But instead of heading out for a solo lunch ride, I’ve got my feet up, eagerly awaiting a team time trial this evening in my garage.