For many cyclists, Zwift turns indoor training into a game.
For those who love games, it can turn them into cyclists.
Nick, a 28-year-old baker from Ohio, wasn’t an avid cyclist when he joined Zwift. He was drawn to it by watching others play it on the livestreaming platform Twitch.
He says he sees similarities between Zwift and other games.
“At least to me, Zwift has this MMO feel,” Nick says. “It’s fairly immersive.”
Like other MMOs (massively multiplayer online games), it offers opportunities for people around the world to work with or against each other. Similar to going on a raid with a pick-up group in another game, Zwifters can join group rides with people and get to know them as they ride.
Through their live video streams, he could see the people behind the in-game avatars – riding their bikes, making big efforts, and chatting with viewers about their goals. He liked watching their rides and chatting with them, but it wasn’t until he found others who looked like him that he felt he could be one of them.
“I was significantly heavier than everyone else and I hadn’t seen any other black or African-American Zwift streamers,” he says.
Then he saw other black Zwifters like “moallen” streaming their own rides.
“It meant a lot,” says Nick. “Since I spent most of my time in predominantly white environments, it’s nice to see people who look like you. It somewhat made me feel less ‘alone.’”
Zwift invites all Zwifters to participate in our Black Celebration Series. This month-long events series gives anyone the chance to ride with clubs led by Black Zwifters, highlighting this important but under-represented community of cyclists.
Nick, known as “ouranhshc” on Twitch, joined Zwift in mid-April 2021. Before then, he’d ride a bike occasionally, but his main source of exercise was through active video games like StepMania or Dance Dance Revolution.
On Twitch, he had been watching someone nicknamed “freyja87” playing StepMania. She happened to also be a Zwifter, and one day she sent her viewers to another streamer called “BikeBEAST” who was riding Zwift.
It looked like fun, and he figured he could get in shape naturally by doing something he enjoys. He checked out some other Zwift streamers, and then he started riding with his dad’s bike on a fluid trainer.
“After that, I fell in love with Zwift and invested in a Kickr Core along with buying my own bike for Zwift and riding outdoors,” he says.
At the time he joined Zwift, he weighed about 264 pounds, and he has lost about 30 since then. He had been as heavy as 320 pounds in the past.
“I was always very anxious when it came to sports,” he says. “People will judge your ability based on your weight and just being black… in predominantly white environments like soccer and tennis. It created extra stress of having to always impress, since eyes were on me.”
It took a while before he felt comfortable inviting people to watch him ride Zwift. He streamed other games first, like Minecraft, League of Legends, and StepMania.
Then he got to know Zwift streamers of different races, body types, and abilities, and he decided to jump in and join them.
Soon, Nick became part of an online community that encouraged him to keep riding and pushed him to take on new challenges, like the “7 Horsemen” race for the Norseman Festival of Climbing event in August. The event took nearly two laps of the “4 Horsemen” route, ending on top of the Epic KOM, for a total distance of 123 kilometers and 2,783 meters of climbing.
Nick rode it with two other streamers he had met nicknamed “DrWeebles” and “Pookiebutt”, and it was the hardest ride he had ever attempted.
“It really showed how much my fitness had improved,” he says. When he started to struggle at the end, he added, “The community support really got me through the rest of the climb for the finish.”
One of Nick’s best memories on Zwift is when he joined an effort in the spring of 2022 to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. A team of streamers held a campaign called “Kilometers 4 Kiddos.” During the campaign, Nick rode two races and won the second one by a hundredth of a second! Another streamer rode with him using voice chat on Discord and encouraged him the whole way.
Nick says it feels amazing to know he has accomplished so much in less than two years. He was inspired by watching other community members’ epic rides.
“It was cool to see all the crazy efforts that people would do, and then what I can do,” he says.
Nick and his indoor training setup
During the spring and summer, Nick adds some outdoor cycling. He aims for 50 to 60-kilometer training rides and occasionally throws in a 100-kilometer ride.
“I started training for the MARR/MAD Gran Fondo (Mad Anthony River Valley/Mad Fondo in Toledo, Ohio) with a goal of completing under 6 hours, which I ended up doing in 5 hours and 47 minutes, including stopping to change a flat tire,” he says. “It was a 100-mile ride.”
Zwift can be a good entry point for people who don’t ride often, Nick says. Indoors, riders don’t have to worry about traffic, hazardous conditions, or being away from home. They can go at their own pace and don’t have to ride alone.
“You can find other people who are at your fitness level, whether it’s in group rides, free rides, or pace partners (RoboPacers),” he says.
Nick sometimes struggles with the urge to compare himself to others, especially when it comes to weight. To try to prevent that, he says, he tries not to spend too much time looking at others’ weight and power numbers.
Instead, he focuses on his next challenge, whether it’s getting a new personal record on a segment or seeing how long he can last with a fast RoboPacer. And he enjoys being part of the communities he’s found with Twitch, the Canyon Ranch group ride, and the Nosco Foundation Social Club.
“Sometimes you just need to remember your ‘why,’” says Nick. “For me, it’s just seeing what I can do and having fun.”
For more about Nick, check out his streams at twitch.tv/ouranhshc!