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Check out the new Zwift Play controller that offers fingertip control of virtual rides from your handlebar

New accessory is designed to give you fingertip control of your Zwift rides

Zwift has unveiled its first game controllers, Zwift Play, allowing you to control your ride from the handlebar. Zwift Play is being launched alongside a new Beta Zwift Play Game Experience.

2023 Zwift Play and updates - 4.jpeg

“Until now, the easiest way to control the Zwift experience has been through Zwift Companion app,” says Zwift. “With most setups designed to optimise cooling and to maximise screen size, controls for the majority of Zwift have been at arm's length. Zwift Play aims to unlock the benefits of game interaction for more Zwifters by placing full control at their fingertips.”

> Check out our video: a Zwift setup for every budget 

You get two Zwift Play controllers, each of which attaches to one side of your handlebar using a silicone strap. The controllers are designed to sit alongside the shifters on a drop bar (Zwift isn't currently working on a version for a flat bar although it will be monitoring demand). Zwift says it tested over 400 bikes with different bars and shifters and found that Zwift Play fitted 97.6% of them.

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“A directional pad on the left controller allows for seamless navigation of game menus and also enables Zwifters to select turns or U-turn while exploring Zwift’s virtual worlds,” says Zwift.

“Shortcut buttons placed on the right controller are laid out in a familiar configuration allowing Zwifters to keep their eyes on the road. Buttons allow riders to make selections in menus but when riding act as shortcuts to give Ride Ons, deploy PowerUps, skip workout blocks, teleport to Pacer Groups, and more.”

2023 Zwift Play and updates - 1.jpeg

The two controllers feature paddles that provide steering and braking. You rock the paddle inwards to brake and pull it out to steer. You’re able to steer in events and in freeride mode.

Although haptic feedback will not be turned on in the game at the time of launch, it will be introduced in the coming weeks. Zwift says that the plan is to provide haptic feedback when the controllers are successfully paired, using PowerUps, when receiving RideOns, returning a RideOn, and giving a RideOn bomb. 

The controllers are sweat-resistant and run off lithium-ion batteries that offer around 20 hours of ride time before they need recharging (you can recharge while riding if that is required).

Zwift says that Apple TV users will need to pair Zwift Play by using the Zwift Companion app as a bridge. This is due to limited Bluetooth connections available on Apple TV devices.

The Zwift Play controllers are being launched alongside a new Beta Zwift Play Game Experience.

> Read our Zwift review 

2023 Zwift Play and updates - 7.jpeg

“The first new experience is the renewed Repack Rush (formerly Repack Ridge),” says Zwift. “Repack Rush showcases some of the functionality of the new game controllers, testing Zwifters on a twisting course where they need to dodge braking pads, snag boost pads and collect time bonuses to set a time. Repack Rush is a great personal challenge when you want to simply escape and have a little extra fun on the bike.”

2023 Zwift Play and updates - 8.jpeg

Zwift says that you can expect to see more new game experiences launched over the coming months. During this beta testing phase, the Zwift Play controller is available at £99 compared with the normal intended price of £149. You can buy Zwift Play through Zwift’s website

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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19 comments

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peted76 | 10 months ago
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If they are heading towards more of a Mario Cart sort of experience I can see this taking off, that would be fun, dodging banana skins, steering for bonuses, dropping traps etc.. 

But this is so far down my list of 'nice to haves' I can't see me easily buying this. 

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Off the back replied to peted76 | 10 months ago
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If they are heading towards more of a Mario Cart sort of experience I can see this taking off, that would be fun, dodging Potholes , steering to avoid irate gamon faced taxi drivers, dropping energy gel wrappers etc.. 

But this is so far down my list of 'nice to haves' I can't see me easily buying this. 

FTFY

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Matthew Acton-Varian | 10 months ago
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I'm interested in trying it when it becomes more affordable. At the end of the day, Zwift needs to give itself a selling point as its competitors in a very niche market offer the same base experience with more specified training or racing insight. By making the platform different, it makes them stand out. But as the potential customer demographic is already small, it's not likely to be cheap.

Steering functions on Zwift would make interesting tactics and choices. The premise being that if you have someone wheelsucking, you can move across the road to break the tow, or if you are climbing the Alpe Du Zwift you can position yourself on the hairpins to make it easier. Also it means more people can use the MTB feature which I have not yet tried out means if there is scope for more development on Repack, then great. 

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mark1a replied to Matthew Acton-Varian | 10 months ago
2 likes

I was just about to pull the pin and order it (while still £99), the steering would have been interesting to try, the shortcuts for things like power-up may have been easier and more intuitive than the companion app, but for me it would have been the ability to navigate menus, select routes, quick bike swaps in the garage for multi-terrain courses, etc. as the laptop I run Zwift on is further away, nearer the TV and requires me to get off the bike to operate.

Then I noticed that it's not compatible with the Tacx Neo Bike (not an exclusive club, it doesn't fit any of the smart bikes except Kickr which already has steering, anything with sprint shifters or Campag thumb buttons either), so now it's back to the drawing board experimenting with bluetooth keypads and 3D printed Garmin mounts.

I appreciate the whole discussion around a bluetooth controller for an indoor training platform is very much in the "first world problems" envelope.

 

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mark1a replied to mark1a | 5 months ago
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Update on an alternative control method that's now working for me. As I mentioned the Zwift Play won't fit on the bike, and I only wanted it for returning to the garage and navigating the menus without getting off the bike and using the laptop. 

It's a 9 key pad (£35), configured to replicate the keys I want. I made the icons out of adhesive vinyl to stick on the keycaps. They are garage, HUD toggle, graph toggle, escape, enter and 4 way cursors. 

Tried it tonight and it works great...

 

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Off the back | 10 months ago
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What a waste of money and effort. I cannot think of anyone who woud ever want to be able to steer their road bike on Zwift. Most of us that use it are more interested in the training benefits. We just want to push the pedals and not worry about the rest. 

The only people who would be likely to find this useful are mountain bikers where the routes are much more technical, but this controller looks like its designed exclusively for road bikes. I think whoever came up with this don't understand their customer base. 

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Jetmans Dad replied to Off the back | 10 months ago
3 likes

Off the back wrote:

What a waste of money and effort. I cannot think of anyone who woud ever want to be able to steer their road bike on Zwift. Most of us that use it are more interested in the training benefits. We just want to push the pedals and not worry about the rest. 

The only people who would be likely to find this useful are mountain bikers where the routes are much more technical, but this controller looks like its designed exclusively for road bikes. I think whoever came up with this don't understand their customer base. 

Which neatly ignores all the other things that it does that allow riders to interact with the program without needing the either the companion app or their keyboard nearby. Not to mention, early reviews are that it makes the experience for Zwifters using Apple TV significantly better than using the ATV remote control. 

Also ... sticking my neck out here ... anyone who claims to speak for "most of us" is usually mistaken. 

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Off the back replied to Jetmans Dad | 10 months ago
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The newer apple tv remote - which I use is better than the old black one which was useless. If you are prepared to pay £150 for something which offers a minor convenience then go ahead. Cos thats all it really seems to offer. IF you want to steer for the game expeience, then the Elite Sterzo Smart if around half the price. surely steering with the handlebars as you would on the road is more natural and would go further to improving handling skills - if thats possible then tapping buttons

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mark1a replied to Off the back | 10 months ago
1 like

Off the back wrote:

What a waste of money and effort. I cannot think of anyone who woud ever want to be able to steer their road bike on Zwift. Most of us that use it are more interested in the training benefits. We just want to push the pedals and not worry about the rest.

The only people who would be likely to find this useful are mountain bikers where the routes are much more technical, but this controller looks like its designed exclusively for road bikes. I think whoever came up with this don't understand their customer base. 

You do know you can do the mountain bike courses, using an on-screen virtual mountain bike, while still riding a physical real-life road bike on a physical real-life trainer?

I think I'd also put forward that the average Zwift user is using Zwift for the gamification features as well as the training benefits. Other platforms that focus purely on training & fitness are available, for example, TrainerRoad. 

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Off the back replied to mark1a | 10 months ago
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You do know that if mountain biking is your thing, you're more likely to own erm - a mountain bike!

I also disagree on the average subscriber usinng the gamfication. Zwift is found across more devices and is easier to just set up and go. It does offer racing, and lots of useful things that many newer users might not find in trainer road or training peaks etc. Its also cheaper than trainer road. 

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Secret_squirrel replied to Off the back | 10 months ago
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Im not sure you're on the money there.  Multiple steering options already availble for Zwift - ranging from Elite Steerzo (which is much cheaper) , theres a wahoo thing, the elite rizer and most of the Smartbikes have steering buttons.

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Off the back replied to Secret_squirrel | 10 months ago
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I mentioned the Sterzo as a steering thing which would make more sense than paddles. And the rizer etc, I dont think many people really own that. They might think it looks cool but after using one it really doesnt realistically simulate gradient. If anything I was terrified to get out of the saddle and move the bike around in case it fell over. 

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Secret_squirrel | 10 months ago
2 likes

149?  For a glorified console controller?  They are insane.  I was expecting to scroll down and find 29.99 or 49.99. indecision

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joules1975 replied to Secret_squirrel | 10 months ago
5 likes

Secret_squirrel wrote:

149?  For a glorified console controller?  They are insane.  I was expecting to scroll down and find 29.99 or 49.99. indecision

Insane, no, quite sensible really. Remember this will be fitted to a bike that in many cases cost multiple thousands, which is in turn fitted to an indoor trainer that likely cost £700+. They know their market!

However, there is no doubt that price rules me out - I'm not stupid enough to pay that much to make riding indoors a little less unpleasant. I'd rather spend it on a new rain jacket and ride outside instead.

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Secret_squirrel replied to joules1975 | 10 months ago
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joules1975 wrote:

Secret_squirrel wrote:

149?  For a glorified console controller?  They are insane.  I was expecting to scroll down and find 29.99 or 49.99. indecision

Insane, no, quite sensible really. Remember this will be fitted to a bike that in many cases cost multiple thousands, which is in turn fitted to an indoor trainer that likely cost £700+. They know their market!

I think you are mijudging the market.  They need/want to appeal to people with £500 bike on a sub £500 turbo (like theirs) otherwise they wont get the volume they need to make decent profits.

Zwifts biggest problem is market penetration.  Cant bridge across to the peleton mob (boom boom!). cant go low enough for the casual mob.

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McVittees replied to Secret_squirrel | 10 months ago
1 like

The real issue with this product is not the cost (edit: I retract that, just re-read that its £99 price is temporary but i do get why it would cost that much - not as much bulk units of say an Xbox controller) or the game it's being launched with. It's the issue of Zwift releasing features and then not doing anything with them.  Gamification is not for me (well, maybe, sometimes) but it could be for my son, who then be encourage to ride. Cops and Robbers, Mario Cart or orienteering games are few ideas of really fun things you could do with tech like this, but it'll never happen. Closed API, old wonky engine, monalithic coporate operating model.

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Off the back replied to McVittees | 10 months ago
2 likes

Agree here. 5 years ago, Zwift  pretty much had the online cycling market sewn up. There wasn't any real alternative. Now you have RGT, wahoo x, BKool, Mywhoosh. There is a fair bit of competition and this looks like a reaction to that. But I don't think it's enough to keep them ahead of the game. Mywhoosh looks like the biggest threat with the racing it offers. Zwift could end up going down the gamer route and alienate its hardcore base if it neglects the bits that made it popular to begin with 

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fukawitribe replied to McVittees | 10 months ago
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McVittees wrote:

. Closed API, old wonky engine, monalithic coporate operating model.

FWIW Zwift are apparently going to open up the API to everyone.

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mctrials23 replied to Secret_squirrel | 10 months ago
1 like

Yeah, I would probably get these if they were under £50 just for the convenience. I don't have a trainer set up permanently and have to pause workouts to deal with babies and want to give people thumbs up etc. £100-150 though. God no. Thats ridiculous. 

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