If dwindling daylight hours, a lack of time or waning motivation to get outdoors and brave the elements have convinced you to give indoor cycling a try, your next step is to pick a training platform.
Two of the most popular indoor cycling apps out there are Zwift and Rouvy. While you’ll find other training apps that focus solely on the workout element – these platforms use immersive graphics to make indoor training fun, as well as productive.
On the one hand you’ve got Zwift – with its huge global user base drawn in by the way the platform has gamified indoor cycling and created virtual worlds to escape to. On the other, there’s Rouvy which focuses on high-quality video and augmented reality to transport riders to real-world global locations.
Each platform has its pros and cons. With both platforms offering workouts, group riding and racing it can be difficult to decide which is right for you. We got two cyclists to share their honest experiences of testing Rouvy vs Zwift, to help you make up your own mind.
meet the rouvy vs ZWIFT test team
Getting started: cost and set up
To get started on either Rouvy or Zwift and make the most of the platforms, you’ll need a smart turbo trainer or a smart bike.
Both platforms are similarly priced, with monthly subscriptions and tempting “free” trials to get you started. Zwift offers an annual membership alongside the pay monthly option, and you can also get 12 months membership with the purchase of a trainer from the Zwift website.
Rouvy offers three subscription plans based on how many riders sign up. The group subscription offer can be great value if you sign up with friends, since you don’t have to be based at the same address.
Kate: “I found both apps really simple to set up. Having a teenager on standby as IT support helped. Rouvy asked me more lifestyle and motivation-based questions up front than Zwift. The short Rouvy tutorial ride also felt a bit less overwhelming than Zwift, which I struggled to get to grips with when I first started.”
Rob: “The pairing process was super slick but both apps occasionally glitched; mainly I think because I was riding when the rest of the household were online. The tech is brilliant-until it isn’t; I had a couple of drop outs with both platforms which left me feeling pretty frustrated.”
Riding experience: gamification vs augmented reality
Both indoor cycling apps offer an immersive riding experience. But how they achieve it is quite different. Rouvy uses augmented reality versions of locations across the globe – allowing you to explore iconic cycling destinations, without leaving home.
Meanwhile, Zwift has created a whole new virtual world to explore (Watopia) as well as animated versions of real-world locations. Riding on Rouvy is similar to riding in a video of real-world locations. Meanwhile riding on Zwift is more like riding through a video game – with entertaining graphic design details at every twist and turn.
Kate: “On a cold wintry day I took my first trip around the sunny roads of the infamous Alpe D’Huez on Rouvy and it was pure escapism. I felt more like I’d taken my pasty Yorkshire legs on a trip abroad. I wasn’t bothered about having loads of other riders around me as I was too busy enjoying the view and tackling the hills. Having the ghost riders helped keep me working on pace and I enjoyed imagining I was there for real.
My kids are obsessed with Fortnite and on a busy work day I sometimes find Zwift’s hectic cartoon styling and virtual high-fiving too much. The appeal of Ride Ons, Power Ups and the bike garage that make Zwift like a video game can be the things that put me off if I’m not feeling the competitive urge. That’s where Rouvy was a refreshingly zen alternative; it felt like more of an escape. Plus, I love the idea that if I wanted to I could practice routes like the Mallorca 312 before riding them for real.”
Rob: “I preferred the gamified, competitive buzz of Zwift and the fact so many riders are on it at the same time. My Rouvy avatar seemed to be floating over the road rather than on it and drifted onto the verge at times. The ghost riders were more of an annoyance than a help, dropping back and then passing me without really offering any real consistent pace setting. I find the pacer group rides on Zwift a lot more consistent and reflective of the terrain that you are riding on.
I really like the way Zwift works pretty hard to keep me entertained; there’s always something to distract me and I get motivated by the cheering crowds, the ticker tape and even the squirrels to swerve at the side of the road.”
Features: workouts, training plans, races
Zwift and Rouvy both offer huge libraries of workouts, training plans and racing opportunities. You can also join, or create, group rides on both platforms – though currently the option to do a group workout sits only on Zwift. Our testers also noted that Zwift offered more of a community feeling, due to the higher volume of riders on the platform.
Kate: “For me, indoor cycling is like a snack to keep me pedalling between outdoor rides. It’s brilliant for fitness, it’s a change of scene and it keeps me interested just in a different way. I liked the pick and mix of both platforms and the fact I can select my activity according to how much time I’ve got.
I found both apps easy to follow with helpful workout and ride overviews albeit I found the text instructions on Rouvy’s workouts too small for my midlife eyes and the Zwift motivating text pretty cheesy as I sweated it out on the hills.”
Rob: “I like a structured training plan and both apps offered me that, just with a different look and feel. I rode the Lavender Fields route on Rouvy and was a bit bored with the fairly dull real-life video which includes the very realistic power lines and wheelie bins but not many other riders. I think I saw or passed only three other people on the whole ride.
When I was chasing down riders ahead, I’d be riding on a very long and straight stretch but the avatars of those I was pursuing didn’t appear until I was about 50-60m behind them. Part of the joys of the chase is seeing the people in the distances and using them as a moving target.”
For those looking to get involved with e-racing, both platforms offer race functionality – though this is far more frequent, competitive and prevalent on Zwift. It’s worth noting though, that Rouvy have partnered with event organisers including Challenge Family to bring real triathlon bike routes to the platform. Handy for triathletes looking to recce the bike route of an upcoming race.
Rouvy vs Zwift: The verdict
After taking Rouvy and Zwift for a virtual spin, exploring the in-app features and riding experience – it’s time to find out which platform has won the indoor cycling loyalty of our two testers.
“If I had to choose one of the platforms right now I’d go for Rouvy simply because I’m a frustrated sunshine-starved outdoor rider in the Northern hemisphere who wishes she was out riding in Cap de Formentor in Mallorca or exploring hidden gems all over the world!
“Zwift would be my choice simply because I like the pace, the rewards and the video game element. It doesn’t get boring and there are just so many people globally of all abilities using it for all sorts of reasons; from amateurs to professional teams. I love the idea that I might be mixing it with the pros.”
So the jury’s out: with Kate preferring the real-world styling of Rouvy, and Rob in favour of the fast-pace and global community you’ll find on Zwift. So the verdict when it comes to Rouvy vs Zwift is… it depends. If you’re looking for a highly social platform, an established e-racing scene and a gamified experience – Zwift is the indoor training app for you. But if you want to be able to ride hyper-realistic versions of real-world routes, you might prefer to give Rouvy a try.