ERG Mode in Zwift

Zwift offers several types of events, as you know: rides, races, workouts. You can do solo workouts, just as in other stationary platforms. Or, do your workouts inside the camaraderie of a group. There are several of these on the Slowtwitch Calendar, one of which I regularly participate in: Slowtwitch Structured Training at 4pm Pacific Time. We just launched a new event, women-only group workout, Ride of the Valkyries, Tuesday mornings. (Not a Zwifter? Ready to take the plunge? Click here.)

It’s almost impossible to get dropped from these rides. However, sometimes it’s almost impossible to keep pedaling during the ride. How can both things be true?

It’s hard to get dropped because these workouts are effort based, not talent based. If the workout is pegged to some percentage of your FTP, then if my FTP is 200 watts, and your FTP may be 350 watts, we’re riding side-by-side as long as we’re both riding at, say, 90 percent of our FTP. (FTP is what you can hold, in watts, on the bike for about an hour.)

Enter ERG Mode, and, as I explain ERG Mode I’ve included screenshots of how I toggle in and out of ERG Mode both in The Game (the Zwift program you’re in when you’re riding) as well as in the Zwift Companion App. If you’re confused already, I explain this below.

ERG Mode became popular among Computrainer users a quarter century ago. You tell you resistance unit on your stationary trainer to “make” you pedal 250 watts. Power is torque x RPM. So, if my cadence drops, my Computrainer then, and now Zwift today, recognizes this cadence drop and increases the resistance, so that the power I’m producing remains 250 watts.

This works great. I use ERG Mode in bike fitting. I make a change in your position, and you and I decide which of two positional options (e.g., handlebars slightly higher or lower) is best if you need to continue to pedal 250 watts. (In fact, with the demise of Computrainer and few other good options, I’m investigating a bike fitting protocol that uses Zwift controlling the other resistance units we're putting on our new fit bikes, such as those by Kinetic.)

Our structured training workouts on Zwift are much like the workouts you’re riding on any of a number of stationary software platforms. They’re interval workouts, so, 2 minutes at 120 percent of FTP, 1 minute at 60 percent, that sort of thing, for an hour.

Sometimes I’m just plum tuckered. I’m not having a stellar day. And, maybe the ride leader decides to give us a rather tough workout. My cadence drops to 80, torque goes up. My cadence drops further, to 70, torque goes up. This spirals down until I just can’t pedal the bike any longer. What do I do? When I first started Zwifting, I just sat there, dumb, on my bike, not pedaling. Today? I just drop out of ERG Mode.

There are two ways to do this. I always have Zwift, the program – AKA “The Game” to seasoned Zwifters – running on a particular computer, which has been my Apple MacBook Air, then changed to a Windows 10 laptap, and just last week I started running it on a new 4k AppleTV. The two screenshots above I took using the camera on my iPhone, while pedaling. They're of a new 43" big screen smart TV (sounds expensive but I bought it for under $300 at Best Buy) running The Game loaded onto AppleTV ($179 at Best Buy).

Then, separately, I run a thing called the Zwift Companion App on my iPhone (this runs on any Android or iOS device). I use the Companion App to message people, and to give Ride Ons!, because it’s easier to wrangle my iPhone (including speaking into it) than to try to type on a laptop or mess with AppleTV’s remote when I’m riding. You can toggle yourself in and out of ERG Mode either inside The Game or on the Companion App.

You might say, “That’s cheating! You’re cheating the workout!” And you’d be right, I guess. It’s more like sitting out a 50, in Masters Swim workout. The workout just got too hot. There’s another explanation, of course. I have my FTP set too high! (You tell Zwift things about yourself in your Zwift profile, like your weight, your gender, and your FTP; if you find yourself continually needing to bail on your structured training workouts, perhaps you've "told" Zwift your FTP is higher than it currently is.)

What is most often the case, however, is that the job of leading events (which I must sometimes engage in) sometimes conflicts with the personal imperative to complete certain challenging workouts. I can’t, for example, easily talk to you all during a stiff workout and also concentrate on riding a hard effort myself. As we’ve moved from 2 weekly Slowzwift events to 5 in recent weeks, with more coming, this is a message I give our ride leaders as we bring more of them aboard – chaining yourself to ERG Mode for an entire workout may make it hard to properly lead a workout.

The screenshots highest above show me bringing up the navbar on the bottom of The Game by clicking near the bottom of the screen. You see ERG Mode to the left on the navbar. Simple. Click and it’s off; click again and it’s back on. The second screenshot above shows me riding with ERG Mode off. I’m pedaling below the power the workout is asking for. But I’m not getting dropped from the group, because that’s the nature of group workouts in Zwift (it’s hard to get dropped).

Then, just above, there are two screenshots from my iPhone, side by side, running the Companion App. There’s a blue navbar menu across the bottom, and in the “Workout” pane, that’s where I click ERG Mode on and off. In the screenshot on the left, you can’t find ERG Mode. That’s because it’s off; you see “Incline” there (more on that some other time). The screenshot on the right is what you see if you click where it says “Incline”. If you click there, “Incline” is replaced by “ERG Mode” and now you’re in ERG Mode.

What happens when ERG Mode is off? Phew! I’m just riding along, at whatever power I’m riding, untethered from the requirement of the workout. As long as I keep pedaling even a somewhat reasonable amount I remain tethered to the group. I can drop back in to ERG Mode at any time. (If the workout calls for a hard effort, and you see me tooling along at 1.5 watts per kilogram, you know I’ve dropped out of ERG Mode.)

I write this because I want you busy this Winter. I want you engaged. Whether you choose to take part in our 100/100 Run Challenge, in a VASA strength-building regime to make you a better swimmer, The Sufferfest and Tour of Sufferlandria, Trainerroad, Rouvy, or Zwift, I want you engaged. Eager. Happy. Not discouraged. Retreat is the better part of valor, and I’d rather have you retreat out of ERG Mode on days when you just don’t have it rather than the workout forcing you to pedal to a stop.