Tech & Wearables

Elite Sterzo Smart Zwift steering: What I love; what bugs me

Being able to steer inside Zwift with your handlebars is cool, but the Sterzo Smart doesn't always work. Here's why.

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Since Zwift was launched back in 2014, riders have been wanting to steer inside the virtual riding game. With the Elite Sterzo Smart, now you can. The Bluetooth-enabled, spring-loaded platform sits under your front wheel, allowing you to point your avatar when riding or racing — some of the time.

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What I love: In a nutshell, I love the concept, if not this early product itself.

Since the game’s creation, the algorithm in Zwift has handled steering and much of the ride-dynamics decisions for you. To draft, you just pedal at the same rate or just a little bit less than the rider(s) in front of you. To move up, you pedal harder. As for steering, well, the game handles that, whether you would want to stay right on a wheel or would prefer to swing wide to attack or drop back.

Now, being able to actually drive adds a whole new level of interactivity. That is cool.

Even when just riding along or doing a workout, it’s fun to be able to weave in and out of riders on the road. And when racing or doing a group ride, it’s beneficial to be able to take an inside line when possible or to just keep yourself right in the draft. (Sometimes the game’s autosteer makes for terrible bike handling, swinging you way out of the draft on corners. What are we, triathletes, here?)

You can’t crash, ride off the road, or drive into other riders. If you don’t actively steer, the game still funnels you along on autopilot through turns. Basically the Sterzo Smart steering allows you to shift lanes, which all follow the digital course.

In the real world, pedaling is a vital part of cycling, followed closely by balance and steering. Zwift has the replication of the first part executed quite well, and the addition of steering is a fun next step, albeit a baby one.

Working on Bluetooth, the Elite Sterzo Smart translates handlebar steering into Zwift avatar positioning. The wheel tray can handle tires up to 56mm wide, but there is no adjustment for different head-tube angles. Photo: Ben Delaney

What bugs me: In short, this brand-new technology isn’t 100 percent ready for prime time, nor is the game entirely ready for it.

Since the Sterzo Smart is a new thing, hardly any one has it, so you are almost always steering against everyone else who is on autopilot. Sometimes steering yourself is faster or better, but it’s not an equal playing field. And sometimes you are able to steer yourself out to the side of a group, but you can’t always steer yourself back into the draft, while those on autopilot get sucked right back in.

Because it’s so new, many races and group rides automatically disable the steering, so you are left with free riding, workouts, and a select few steering-specific races in which to use it.

Some of the steering limitations make sense, like not being able to steer ‘through’ a group of riders; that mimics common sense from the real world. But some of it is annoying; when you come to a junction, you can’t steer to turn like you would outside. Instead, you have to press a directional arrow key like everyone else. That’s dumb.

For now, Elite has an exclusive deal with Zwift. You can only steer in Zwift with this, not on other virtual platforms. And companies that make indoor bikes with buttons that could be used for steering, such as Wahoo and Stages, aren’t being given the green light for full functionality. For riders, that’s annoying.

Lastly, some early adopters have had rust issues with the moving pieces from sweat. I have kept my test unit clean and haven’t experienced this, but it’s something Elite is working on now.

The most exciting thing about the Sterzo Smart is the progress in interactivity that it represents. A broader inclusion of other steering devices would make Zwift better for everyone. Photo: Ben Delaney