Of course I prefer to cycle outdoors. However when it’s rather cold and dark when I usually start to cycle the motivation is significantly reduced. In such situations I’m using Zwift. In case you don’t know Zwift: Let’s call it a cycling simulator which you control with your bike. You need some electronics like a power meter, cadence sensor, heart rate sensor. if you want to really immerse further for example with a steering sensor and a monstrous thing to simulate resistance dependent on the gradient (which includes power meter and cadence in my case). If you really want to overdo it, you can do it with an even more monstrous thing to simulate the gradient by lifting or lowering the bike at the front. Using Zwift works reasonably well to cycle longer distances as it’s really awful just to look at a wall when cycling indoors for two hours.

A large part of Zwift is gamification. In order to motivate people to mount their bikes in front of their television sets they want some incentive. There are “drops” you get by cycling and which you can invest in new in-game bikes and wheels. And there are XP points which are used to classify you in levels. It’s some kind of status indicator in Zwift.

At the moment there are 50 levels, I’m at level 49 at the moment. Of course you want to level up as fast as possible in these levels. Just for the sake of being at the highest level. There is nothing you earn of it except a virtual jersey you can only get when you are in level 50.

You earn for example 20 XP by cycling one virtual kilometre in normal mode, you get 11 XP per 1 minute 2 seconds in workout mode. The levels are almost without any relevant meaning

My situation

However I found out a way to accelerate things a little bit. First, there is a large climb in Zwift, called Alpe d’Zwift. It’s a GPS exact reproduction of Alpe d’Huez, one of the famous climbs at the Tour de France. There are people in Zwift going up this hill in 30 minutes. But I have a self imposed limit of 200 to 250 watts so 30 minutes is out of reach. My limit is between 2.1 and 2.6 Watts per Kilogram and so I need around between 1hour 19 minutes and 1 hours 30 to go up this climb. That’s somewhat important for my considerations around Zwift XP. Furthermore it’s important to know that I’m currently riding 2 hours almost every day. I plan them in a way that I start my work day right after it.

Some calculations on a napkin

Alpe Du Zwift is roughly 12 km long and goes 1000m up. If I cycle it up in normal mode I would get 240 XP points. That would mean that I get 2.75 XP per 1 minute and 2 Seconds. So obviously I ride up in workout mode, because I get 11 XP for the same time interval. This yields 958 XP for me. Okay. At the top there is another gamification part. There is a wheel of fortune where you can get wheels (simulated Lightweight Meilensteins) or gear like gloves. This is done each time you get up to the summit. However: When you already have the wheels earlier, you get 1000 XP when the wheel of fortune wants you to give the wheels again. If you already have the other gear items, you get 250 XP when the wheel of fortune stops at those gear items. I needed 7 or 8 climbs to get the wheels, however it looks like when you already have the wheels it’s much more probable for the wheel of fortunes to stop at the Meilensteins. So quite frequently you get 1000 XP, however your minimum is 250 XP. So you have accumulated between 1208 and 1958 XP in a single ride.

I see many people disappearing at the top of Alpe d’Zwift right after the wheel of fortune meaning that they are leaving the game right now. But that is not a good idea. You are simulated 1000m high and there are 12 km in front of you which you can descent. You have a lot of potential energy and you should use it. My fastest descent in Zwift was 9:55 in workout mode. You get 88 XP points for it. However if you do the same in normal mode you get 240 km for it (12 km at 20 XP per Kilometre). So of course you would cycle down the descent in normal mode. You switch over into normal mode when you start to decent AdZ. We have now accumulated between 1448 and 2198 XP on a single ride when we reach the end of the descent. But don’t switch now.

But at first: To be exact it’s a little bit more, as you don’t start right at the bottom of Alpe du Zwift, you start a few km before it. As I do a warmup there starting at 80 watts, I need roughly 12-13 minutes for it. In workout mode you get 121 XP for it. We are now between 1569 and 2319 XP.

However, you can even optimise it further. You should not do the descent right now. There is a little plateau at the top of AdZ with no incline and I still have some time in my 2 hour budget. I still have roughly 20 minutes left. That’s 209 XP. Okay , we accumulated 1778 XP or 2528 XP.

Let it go

You may say „Hey, stop, you told me that you have a 2h time slot“ you can’t use the 20 minutes and the descent. Well, in Zwift you can because you accumulate XP points in normal mode as long as the bike has some speed and it will have speed until you reach the end of the descent at AdZ. And it will do it no matter if you are sitting on the bike or not. Because Zwift doesn’t know if you are just not using the pedal or if you are not on the bike. In Zwift the bike will roll down the hill where in reality the bike would just fall down on the three or if you unlucky just fall down the hill. So you start the descent right before the end of your training time slot and go to the showers. I’m showering faster than the bike needs to roll down the hill on itself. I start to work right after my training+showing time slots and at some convenient time I stop Zwift and get my XP points and my Zwift entry.

Of course just letting the simulated bike roll down the hill doesn’t give you calories (or pizza slices as it’s displayed as well in Zwift) but that is only fair. However this is the way, how I maximise my XP earning in order to get to Level 50 in Zwift.

Tempus Fugit

How much XP would I get if I ride Tempus Fugit for two hours in workout mode ? 1277. As my watt per kilogram doesn’t matter much here and I’m able to ride 68 km in two hours I would get 1320 XP . However the ride is rather loud on my bike and smart trainer in the necessary gear to ride at 200 watts, so in order not to annoy my neighbours I will leave the 50 points on the table.


What can you learn from this article

  • you can get a lot of XP from a single ride when you just don’t ride Tempus Fugit.
  • There is nothing you can’t overthink and make a pseudoscience out of it.
  • Mamils do everything to reach a meaningless level faster
Written by

Joerg Moellenkamp

Avid bicyclist, likes california, dreams to combine both.