I never would have believed exercising indoors on a bike could be so much fun.

I will explain.  I have always had two great interests;  general geekery and cycling.

When I was two years old, I demanded to be allowed to watch the first moon landing.  Growing up, I played with electronics and chemistry sets, read voraciously, and desperately wanted a home computer, which I saved for years to buy (a Commodore Vic 20, for those of you with long memories).   I first wrote code, in BASIC, at 12 years old, and science and technology have influenced my life ever since.

Like most people, I also loved riding bikes as a kid.  Scaring my Mum by disappearing for too long on more than one occasion.  I got into mountain biking, and getting muddy, happily tired, and returning home having gathered cuts, bruises and a huge grin continued for many years.  Then I found my wife, we had kids of our own, and life changed.

Rather than give up cycling, I started riding road bikes.  To help me get fit in limited time, I started using an indoor trainer.   Any serious cyclist will tell you that although it can be a great workout in a short time,  it can also be very boring (if you’re a runner, think treadmills…).

About a year ago, I stumbled across Zwift (www.zwift.com).  My initial geeky infatuation with the wonderfully realised technology has grown into an enduring love.  Every cyclist I know, quite a few of whom are also people I’ve worked with (yes, cycling is rapidly becoming the new golf) who’s tried it agrees – they’ve nailed it.

Why?

–          They have understood what cyclists want;  somewhere to ride a bike when time is short or the weather is really bad, a way of getting great quality workouts in a short time, somewhere to ride with other cyclists, being able to choose your own clothing and equipment to suit your preferences, a way of competing with people of a similar ability, somewhere hang out and chat, and beautiful, fun environments in which to do it all.

–          They have understood particularly well what geeky cyclists, who also often happen to be people who are likely to be aware of and able to pay for the product, want;  Data!  Lots of data – heart rate, cadence, power, speed, distance, rate of climb (oh yes, they definitely do hills!) and the ability to integrate with training, analysis and social tools such as Strava and Training Peaks.  Gamification – levelling, power ups, achievements, unlocking new pieces of in game equipment, ‘Easter eggs’ and various other features to help sustain interest.  And also the ability to make great use of all that real world equipment you have been ‘Investing’ in by offering you the ability to hook it up, and also by representing it in the virtual world.

–          It is a lively, active social platform.  There are ways of organising events and races and tie-ins with real world events like the Tour de France and RideLondon.  There is also chat built into the product, official and unofficial blogs and twitter accounts, relationships with popular YouTube cycling channels like the Global Cycling Network. and a substantial online community of Zwift ‘Tribes’ on Facebook and other platforms, in which Zwift’s founder, Eric Min, can sometimes be found.  They run an academy programme for aspiring competitive cyclists, and use the data generated by riders to help them identify the best candidates, with links to the Canyon / SRAM racing professional team providing great motivation for the truly talented.

–          They are also great at the technical side.  New releases for the PC and Mac, as well as the companion Android and iOS apps, are frequent, and are downloaded and installed seamlessly, as are route extensions and new equipment, challenges and worlds.  Technical support is rapid, accurate and staffed by people who understand your problems from a cyclists, as well as technical, point of view.

   For me,  they have done a great job of making something customers love by understanding what they want and using technology to not only deliver it but make it a rounded experience across a number of digital channels, as well as getting both quantitative and qualitative data which helps them improve it and make it more valuable.

   When considering their customers, they have thought about the different archetypes of cyclist, from leisure  to competitive, and not only served them well, but given other people the tools to do so.  Which also brings us to partners, from ‘New Media’ organisations large and small, to cycling equipment vendors and manufacturers, to cycling events and teams looking for exposure and even talent, they can offer great data, information and insight into their prospective customers and a means of reaching them directly and promoting their products and services.

   For me, it is a great product because it’s a near perfect, constantly evolving, fusion of putting the customer at the heart, really understanding what Digital can do, delivering it well, and leveraging data to both create value and improve the product and experience.

   The result? Lots of very happy cyclists, a lot of whom have become evangelists ‘Selling’ the product for them through their enthusiasm (I have done so to at least two people I know, who I hope thank me for it), and whilst Zwift don’t publish figures for user numbers, the number of riders logging Zwift rides on Strava is in the tens of thousands and growing.  They have a version for runners in Beta too, and with subscription charges of £8 / month, relationships with a number of big brands, and recent investment from a new Japanese VC  fund established to support virtual reality companies, they seem very well set for the future.

For the rest of us, we can enjoy the experience,  but also learn from how they have established such a strong product and dedicated following since their launch in September 2014.