Go backwards on (Zwift) climbs w/ same W/kg?

Hi all, This is a Zwift question but this is the best forum and TR is my goto!! I tend to do the odd Team Time Trial on Zwift as a break from TR. I’ve noticed that I consistently get dropped immediately into a climb and have to work quite a bit harder than the others to keep up. I’m 72kg so not exactly big and I’m a sprinter, not a climber. Sure it might just be that, but I was wondering if it might be my turbo. Most others I know have Kickrs and I’m on a Saris H3. Could this be a difference. I’m assuming its my fitness but thought I’d ask in case anyone else had experienced the same. Any advice welcome, Under/Overs make a difference but it just seems something else might be going on…

Generally speaking, the trainer difference is not likely to be an issue. They are both reasonably accurate, and other than the old (and since corrected) sprint overshoot on some Saris trainers, they are “equal” for all intents and purposes.

One key feature that many racers play with in Z is the Trainer Difficultly setting. Most racers turn it very low (like 20% or less, set well to the left side) so they have to shift less often on the changes of hills. If you have TD set in the middle or further right, you may be getting a bit of a loss from more (and delayed?) shifting compared to others.

TD is a tricky topic, and the word “cheat” comes up far too often. There is a fair bit of confusion and misunderstanding. But rest assured that propelling your rider in the Z world takes the same actual power from you no matter what. The TD change just alters when and how often you may have to shift vs others with a different setting.

  • What is this based on? Do you know you are working harder, or are they kicking hard and you aren’t responding well to the kick?

From all my time on Z, any minor pitch usually results in riders hitting super hard. Unless you are watching their direct power (side panel at the least, but that misses some kicks just often enough to be misleading), how are you really evaluating what others are doing / feeling?

Hmm… I’ve never tried it as low as 20% as I’d assumed it might make me “miss” that I’m on a climb even more. I wonder if I’m also leaving it too late to change gear and grinding a bit like a diesel… Will try out 10% and see

Looking at W/kg stats on the right. I’m often pushing 0.3 - 0.5W/kg more at the base of the climb.

  • Correct, you will not “feel” the change from the hills as much at a lower TD setting. This is KEY to why many use it so they don’t lose power via shifting changes.

  • A low setting requires a very attentive rider who knows the course and/or is paying close attention to the pitch indicatory in the top right of the screen.

  • Very likely. If you are “responding” to a kick that you see on the screen via avatars, you are TOO LATE. You have to anticipate the kick and be ready to just about primitively kick for the hill. On occasion, this is a waste and you end up at the front while others are lagging, but if someone drills it, you are right on them. Even watching the side panel w/kg data has enough delay that you may be missing the jump.

  • This is part of the “gaming” aspect and race tactics that many people don’t recognize are part of the experience. The differences present here vs outside require some different approaches and planning.

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This is DEFINITELY happening. I only look at the gradient once I feel it. OK. Good tip. So you reckon others go with a lower TD and just bump their cadence and not shift gears?? Thats not me

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This is good advice… need to plan and anticipate better and reduce TD. Hope it works…sick of getting dropped! Thanks for the input

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I can’t say for sure, but some will still shift. It just may not be as much of a shift as you’d expect when swapping from flat to say 8%. Think of how quick you can get back on the power if you only have one or two shifts (low TD) vs having to do three or more (higher TD). That time you usually have to “soft pedal” when shifting is time lost to someone not doing that.

  • That’s the beauty of the system, you can choose. But know that your choices have impact here, and may be altering your experience. You have to decide if you want to “play the game” to be competitive, or just stick with what you have been doing.

could be that others are cashing in their feather power ups.

also the other guys could have upgraded to a lighter bike, lighter wheels. I don’t think the w/kg stat on the right looks at bike weight. I’m still on the default Level 1 bike and Zwift describes it as heavy.

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This :point_up_2:

At the base of a rise, you should already be a few strokes into upping the power. If you’re not applying power until you see others moving away from you or until you feel the gradient change, you’re already late if not too late.

edit: You’ll need to up your power regardless of the TD setting.


Another platform uses the term virtual gearing to explain it. By lowering the TD you have a virtually lower gear but in that lower gear 100w etc still gets you the same distance based on your weight which is unchanged you just pedalled at a higher cadence to achieve it.


I stopped paying attention to zwift racing or anything other than my own times when I saw a group of four people riding up the Alp at 46 kph doing about 108 watts. And on that same ride I saw someone doing 220 Watts which was about 5.8 watts per kilo for them. Moral the story is, unfortunately it’s really hard to use with as anything concrete for more than just yourself. That being said, equipment choice within the game can actually have a pretty big influence on how you ride. Especially in the hills.
That being said, I love my lightweight wheels and aethos frame when writing up the Alp lol

Pro tip would be to shut off the controllable feature. Way easier to not have to respond to the gradient changes IMO

That is essentially what you get with Trainer Difficulty set at 0% (full left) like I mentioned.

Both options can work. But there can also be different response from various trainers when they have Controllable off. Some have a really low resistance level while others mimic a fluid trainer power curve. Good to test and see what a rider prefers.


If you want see some metrics on how to ride a course, head to Best Bike Splits, activate the trial, set up your FTP. Then create a race and import a Zwift route (You can find them online or in Strava), and run the analysis.

What you get is essentially a complete guide to exactly how hard you should be riding everywhere along the course.

Here is my old data for Zwift New York:

Best Bike Splits NY.pdf (1.5 MB)

So how is this useful?

  1. Time Trials
    I think the main ways people use this data is to import it to their computer and try to match exactly the targets it proved; this is basically the same as riding a time trial. Kinda neat if you want to ride solo and see if you can PB your times for a particular route. I’ve done it. It works in Zwift. You could print out the Race intervals and try to follow from the paper when riding, but that is nigh impossible for me. My eyes are not that keen and I am too gassed usually to read while riding hard. And if you are racing in Zwift, then there are other factors that affect your in-game ride such as drafting, and race strategy in general. In a race you really have to adapt to stay on-pace or you get dropped. This is what you are experiencing as you hit the hills.

  2. Target power for climbs
    For me, the main thing I get from this data is essentially a baseline of how hard I COULD or SHOULD be going anywhere on course. The main thing I look for is the target power for specific gradients. Gradient changes are easy to follow in Zwift (top right) and what I try to do is exceed the target that I get from BBSplits. You can try and do the same thing using mileage, but I find it too difficult to make effective changes.

The best way I have found to use the data, is to write the gradients from -10 to +10 and put the target power next to it. I have a small whiteboard next to my TV (coincidence) so this is easy and I can see it quickly. When you see the gradient start to change, you can glance at the power required for +2-degrees and hit it quickly. It works as a quick reference.

  1. Learning how to optimize your output
    Do #2 a few times and you start to learn things. Take a look at the data in the red boxes in the report and look at the required wattage for each of the gradients:


What do you think of those changes? These are the recommended outputs for you to set personal records based on the total course. The difference between flat to 4% is 72w; and that’s instantaneous power. When you hit a hill, are you hammering the pedals to get +72w in microseconds? Probably not. If you haven’t anticipated the hill and ramped up, you are slowing down UNTIL you add enough power to overcome the effects of the virtual hill. If you are trying to push the pedals as the gradient changes +1% more, it’s too late if everyone else was hammering at 0%, and you slow down and maybe get dropped.

From 4% to 10% the instantaneous jump is only 23w, but that is OVER my FTP; not exactly my “power-on-demand” powerband. 4% @ 306w I can do as much as I need to in the races I do. 329w burns after about 6 minutes so I have to be a bit smarter about how I use my muscles.

What I have learned from this data is that I have to go HARDER than I think and really want to on any climbs over 5%. I really need to be at 125% FTP to keep up on the climbs because I’m 102kg (225lbs). I have no choice but to go REALLY hard or I simply get dropped. On less steep gradients, I can GRIND out 310w and stay with the pack.

What I try to do is calculate the differences between the gradients that matter so I can apply extra power over what I’m riding at. My comfortable pace (call it sweet spot) is currently around 275w; 90% of my FTP. (Go figure). If the race is fast, I might have to ride at 290w just to keep up. So I have to add that 70+ watts on 5% grades to be competitive. Generally, I shoot for 90% FTP on flats, 110% up to 3%, 115% to 6%, and then +125% (over 330w) above 7%. This I learned from the data from Best Bike Splits.

Geeky I know. If you think about it, go HARDER than you think when it gets steep, PUSH a little on most climbs, and sit slightly below FTP everywhere else. But power targets help.

Good Hunting.

Definitely play with td. If I’m doing an endurance group ride where I want to spin and hold steady watts, I’ll unpair my smart rollers and just set a manual resistance that allows me to hang in the same gear. If there are hills and people start pushing, ill up my cadence and sometimes shift into a harder gear to push more watts. If I’m racing, I like some of the resistance feedback, but will usually run under 50% td. If you set it right, you don’t have to shift much for the hills because holding steady cadence will cause watts to go way up as you need to match speed of those around you. Just like real life, if you don’t downshift on an uphill and you don’t reduce your cadence, the speed stays the same and the watts go way up.


Given that it’s a TTT and therefore your team mates aren’t actually trying to drop you (hopefully!) it may also be that their Trainer Difficulty is set high and they’re spiking power at the bottom of the climb without realising it before shifting down. Even a short spike might be enough to pop you out of the draft, and the way Zwift physics seem to work it’s much harder to get back onto a group once dropped.

Getting the whole team to drop TD to ~10-20% should enable everybody to keep the power smoother throughout which helps keep the team together.

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Interesting… I did a couple of Z “races” whilst doing a TR workout recently (Galena and Redondo with longer intervals) I used TR to control the turbo and power meter pedals to feed zwift…essentially 0% TD as you describe. At one point I did notice I wasn’t dropping back as much and on the recovery bits of the TR workout I was surprised how long I stayed with a group. If I had had Z controlling the turbo I’d have had TD at 50%… i only did this twice, but my experience kind of correlates with what you’re saying


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