Indoor bike training is a great way to get a workout when the weather turns sour. It’s become hugely popular in recent years, even more so during COVID-19 lockdowns, which restricted many cyclists’ riding options.
The ability to ride/race with others online has revolutionized cycling for millions of people. In this article, we’ll look at Rouvy vs Zwift and compare two of the biggest platforms in the online cycling arena. Which is best for you?
What Is Zwift?
Often described as a game, because it is basically an MMO game, Zwift places you in a virtual online cycling world where you are represented by a customizable avatar.
On Zwift, you ride in virtual “worlds” created entirely of graphics. Within these worlds, there are various courses you can ride. Most of the worlds are actual cities, counties, or countries:
- Richmond (Virginia)
- Makuri Islands (fictional)
- New York
- Watopia (fictional)
Not all worlds are constantly active. Most, apart from Watopia, are “guest worlds” and can only be accessed at scheduled times (officially).
Watopia is Zwift’s showcase world and is available non-stop. It is a fictionalized, utopian cycling environment inspired by two Pacific Islands (Te Anu and Naunonga). The Makuri Islands are also fictional but based on Japanese countryside and culture.
Video: Alpe du Zwift Climb in Watopia
Zwift Training & Races
There are three types of event on Zwift: group rides, group workouts and races (or Fondos). Group rides are much like real life, including the social aspect. They have a leader and a set pace.
Group workouts have you doing structured intervals within a Zwift group. The intensity of the workout is tailored to your FTP, but the group stays together regardless of different fitness levels.
Zwift races occur daily and fall into categories representing four power-based fitness levels (A, B, C and D). You can also enter Zwift Fondos. Just like a real-life Gran Fondo, you can treat these events as training rides or race them.
Zwift Solo Training
When you log on to Zwift, there are always thousands of riders active, so even if you try riding solo you’re likely to soon have company. How do you ride alone? The most popular way is by switching your WiFi connection to Airplane Mode.
After switching to Airplane Mode, you’ll find yourself alone. Remember to turn WiFi back on before saving your activity and exiting, otherwise you’ll lose the data.
Since it’s a game, it’s unsurprising to learn Zwift awards riders with powerups during a race. For instance, the “Lightweight” powerup reduces your weight for 15 seconds on hills. The “Draft Boost” lets you ride easy for a little while or move to the front of a group.
Zwift powerups are awarded when you go through an arch, but new ones are not issued unless you used the last one. These powerups add some of the unpredictability that is present in any real bike race.
Experience Points (XP)
Like many video games, in Zwift you earn XPs (experience points) as you progress. They are awarded for every km or mile you ride. In workout mode, you receive them according to interval type and length and your precision in executing intervals.
XPs are also awarded as large bonus or small bonus powerups and for various other achievements and occurrences during gameplay. As you accumulate XPs, you slowly unlock 50 rider levels, each carrying a prize (shoes, gloves, helmets, glasses, kits).
How Much Does Zwift Cost?
The current cost of Zwift is USD $14.99 per month (at time of publish), or the equivalent in local currency. There is a free 7-day trial, giving you time to test your setup and explore. You may be eligible for a free 30-day trial if you purchase a smart trainer through Zwift.
• Cost per month: USD $14.99 (monthly subscription)
• Platforms: Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Android
• Trial: 7 days
• Features: group rides, group workouts, races (categorized by w/kg power), Fondos, solo rides & training (minus WiFi)
What is Rouvy?
Zwift has around four times more users than Rouvy, but Rouvy is different enough that you may prefer it. Obviously it has similar aims to Zwift, but the USP of Rouvy is primarily its augmented reality (AR) experience.
One of Rouvy’s major coups is acting as host to the biggest online pro race to currently exist. The Digital Swiss 5 features numerous WorldTour teams and some of the biggest stars in cycling, all competing in a series of 5 short races
Video: The Digital Swiss 5 On Rouvy
Rather than create virtual worlds like Zwift (albeit often based on reality), Rouvy uses real imagery to create the AR riding environment and places your virtual avatar within it. There are thousands of routes to choose from.
Apart from your avatar, other virtual elements adorn certain Rouvy AR routes like road signs, barriers and arches.
If you’re into iconic climbs, you can do plenty of those on Rouvy, including the Stelvio Pass, Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux. The ability to try the climbs that you might be attempting in a future event or vacation is an appealing aspect of Rouvy.
Of course, if you’re after a flat route for a gentler workout, there are plenty of those to choose from as well. The 32 km Ponte Tresa-Stabio route is an example on the Italian-Swiss border, which has a modest 195m of elevation.
Rouvy has two main modes: Route and Event. Route Mode is further split into a Training Mode (TM) and Time Trial Mode (TT).
Route: Training Mode
In Training Mode, you can train on your chosen routes, but your personal record will not be recorded on the leaderboard. It is recorded in your training diary only.
A feature of Training Mode is the ability to adjust the “Reality Level”, which flattens gradients and lets you go faster on them. You can also increase the Reality Level beyond 100%, so gradients are steeper and you’re slower.
Reality Level essentially alters your training load by letting you adjust the intensity of your ride. You can also pause or move your cursor in Training Mode so that you’re positioned on a different part of the route.
Route: Time Trial Mode
In Time Trial Mode, you ride the route exactly as it is and don’t have the ability to alter your position or the Reality Level. This way, all the results are equal and can be entered onto the Rouvy leaderboards. Your Time Trial results will also go in your Rouvy diary.
Under the Event tab, you can enter official Rouvy races or non-official races. The latter includes your own private races between you and friends, which you can create in the
Event mode is also where you can join a non-competitive group ride, where different levels of fitness are equalized. This is the AR equivalent of a friendly group ride, where you can ride alongside elite riders and pros without being dropped.
How Much Does Rouvy Cost?
Rouvy offers 3 subscription plans: $15/month for a 1-month subscription, $14/month for a 6-month subscription, and $12/month for a 12-month subscription (at time of publish). Naturally, subscriptions over 6 or 12 months are paid in advance.
Rouvy also has a Family Sharing feature that allows a subscription to be shared with 2 other family members (3 in total). A maximum of 5 devices can be linked to one family.
- Cost per month: USD $15 for 1 month, $84 for 6 months, $144 for 12 months
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, Apple TV, phone or tablet
- Trial: 14 days
- Features: TT mode, Training Mode, thousands of real-photo AR courses, races (official and unofficial), equalized friendly group rides, family sharing subscription
Differences Between Zwift And Rouvy
If you’ve scoured all of the above, you’ll have noted some significant differences between Zwift and Rouvy. They are summarized below.
Virtual vs Augmented Reality
One of the fundamental differences between Zwift and Rouvy is the setting you ride in. Zwift is 100% virtual reality (VR) where everything is represented graphically. This has given Zwift the scope to create idyllic cycling “worlds” like Watopia.
Rouvy uses real photography to create its routes and places your virtual self (an avatar) on “real” roads. Other features are added virtually to the Rouvy environment, such as arches and road signs.
Zwift is more gamified than Rouvy, in keeping with its total VR design. It includes many powerups, 50 different levels to aim for with prizes, XPs (experience points), and special bike upgrades you can achieve at different levels or by completing challenges.
Rouvy’s USP is its vast choice (1000s) of real-photo courses, so it should come as no surprise that it veers away from Zwift’s MMO virtualized gaming model.
Training For Events & Vacations
Rouvy has the upper hand over Zwift if you’re entered into an event or have a cycling vacation booked and want some “specificity” in your training. It doesn’t get more specific than riding the actual roads, which is often possible in Rouvy.
On Zwift, this opportunity doesn’t exist. You can climb the Alpe Du Zwift, which is a virtual version of Alpe d’Huez, or you can take on Mont Ventoux within the Ven-Top route. But Rouvy wins out on training for actual locations.
Best For Group Rides & Racing?
The sheer number of users on Zwift (around 2 million) means you can log on at any time of day and be sure to catch a group ride. You’re never alone unless you cut the WiFi.
Racing infrastructure on Zwift is also exceptional and caters for riders of all levels. Once you know your FTP and watts-per-kilogram you can easily find events suited to your prevailing fitness level.
A significant point in favor of Rouvy is the ability to create your own private races and invite friends to join in.
Another difference between Zwift and Rouvy is the social aspect. On Zwift, you can chat to other riders or wave to them via the Zwift Companion app. With Rouvy, the most you can do is add friends. For some, that means fewer distractions to training.
What Gear You Need To Get The Best Out Of Rouvy And Zwift
The equipment you buy to get started on Rouvy or Zwift has a major impact on functionality and your experience on either platform. A mid-price setup looks like this:
- Bike (usually a road bike)
- Smart turbo trainer (including power meter)
- A laptop or tablet
- Bluetooth or Ant + dongle
The main expense here, assuming you already have a bike, is the smart trainer. An inherent part of the cost is the built-in power meter. This is absent on cheaper trainers.
A smart trainer differs from a regular (“dumb”) trainer in that it allows Zwift or Rouvy to control resistance for a more realistic riding experience. If you climb a mountain, for instance, you’ll feel the effects of the incline rather than just slow down onscreen.
Aside from turbo trainers, you can also enjoy Zwift or Rouvy on a range of indoor smart bikes (those with power meters & connectivity).
Zwift offers a list of compatible stationary bikes on its website, though you may find some off the list that work.
A Cheap Setup
It is possible to get onto Rouvy or Zwift on a modest budget. You can then upgrade your experience later if the opportunity arises. This is a cheap setup:
- Bike (a cheap road bike will do)
- Dumb trainer or rollers
- Speed sensor
- Old laptop or a smartphone
- Bluetooth or Ant + dongle (if needed for a laptop)
It’s likely you have some of this gear already, so you could get started for under $200. Either app will estimate power based on the data from your speed sensor.
A Luxury Setup
This is what you might use if money is no object:
- Bike – your best/regular road bike for reasons of fit and familiarity
- Smart trainer (e.g. Wahoo KICKR, TACX Neo)
- Rocker plate – a moving base that adds realism
- Large TV screen & Apple TV 4K or large monitor & gaming PC
- Fan (Wahoo Fitness KICKR Headwind)
You are always likely to need a fan, no matter how much or little you spend on your indoor training setup.
Video: Zwift on Apple TV 4K vs Gaming PC
To summarize, Zwift is the go-to choice if you want maximum racing opportunity and social interaction, whereas Rouvy lets you ride thousands of real-life roads without distraction. Both are great training tools, so which should you go for?
If you fancy riding in some epic worldwide locations from the comfort of your own home, you’ll love Rouvy. It’s a great way to “travel”. Alternatively, Zwift gives you that extra element of escapism with its many fictional routes and incentivizing gameplay.
We hope you enjoyed this article. Please feel free to add your own experiences or share it with friends.