Getting into Esports
Bike Guide

Getting Started in Cycling Esports

By: Jim Rutberg & Joe Friel  February 07, 2022

USA Cycling champions all aspects of cycling, and when it comes to lowering barriers to participation, esports create new opportunities for camaraderie and competition. You can join the ride or race from your living room. There’s no risk of crashing or getting lost, and the next feed zone is as close as your kitchen. And on February 20, 2022, USA Cycling members can race the USA Cycling Esports National Championship on RGT Cycling! If you’re new to the world of competitive indoor cycling, here’s a guide to getting started.

Esports Cycling Apps

There are a growing number of indoor cycling apps available. Although they share many common features, each app has unique characteristics that may make it more or less appealing to you. USA Cycling has a partnership with RGT Cycling, and many cyclists have subscriptions to more than one app. The follo wing is a very broad view of the differentiating features of several popular apps for virtual group rides and esports competitions. (Read a more comprehensive comparison of available cycling apps here.) All the apps below also support structured interval workouts and training plans.

  • RGT Cycling: Simulated versions of real-world routes. Users can upload custom routes via .gpx files and organize custom group rides and races.
  • Zwift: Virtual worlds and simulated versions of select real-world courses. Subscribers can interact socially during rides, organize group rides, and join public group rides and races. Users cannot create own routes from .gpx files.
  • Rouvy: Ride real-world routes with augmented reality features, including rider avatars and roadside banners and arches. Users cannot create own routes from .gpx files.
  • Bkool: Simulated version of real-world routes and video routes. Organize race leagues or compete in existing league events. Users cannot create own routes from .gpx files.
  • Fulgaz: Ride real-world routes with first-person video. Organize private group rides and races or participate in public events. Users can contribute ride videos for possible inclusion in the route library.
Indoor Training Apps

Although the apps above can be used for structured interval training, group rides, and races, some popular indoor cycling apps are primarily oriented to structured training.

  • Trainerroad: Minimalist design that focuses on interval workouts and adaptive AI technology that adjusts workouts based on performance.
  • Wahoo SYSTM: Features structured cycling workouts and training plans, plus additional non-cycling workouts, including strength training and yoga. Provides access to race footage and video content to watch during workouts.
Required Equipment

At the most basic level, to participate in an esports event using one of the apps above, you will need: the app of your choice, an indoor trainer, and a way of communicating data between the bike or trainer and the app. The following are the most common setups:

1. Smart trainer or smart bike: The app controls the resistance on the trainer in response to terrain, speed, and the effects of drafting. For some esports competitions, smart trainers or smart bikes are required.

2. Traditional trainer or rollers with an on-bike power meter: The app cannot control the resistance felt by the rider, but can use the rider’s weight and data from an on-bike power meter to control the speed of the rider’s avatar in the app.

3. Traditional trainer with a speed sensor: By pairing a speed sensor with a fluid, magnetic, and wind resistance trainer that has a known resistance curve, apps can calculate a rider’s power output. Using the rider’s weight and the calculated power output, the app controls the speed of the rider’s avatar in the app.

Other Accessories

In addition to the bike, the trainer, and the app, there are other accessories that range from essential to appealing.

  • A fan: Heat is the enemy of endurance performance, and airflow is limited indoors compared to riding outside. One fan is good. You’re even better off with two or three fans, especially during high intensity workouts and esports competitions.
  • Water: Even with fans, overheating is still an issue and riders often sweat profusely during indoor rides and competitions. This can lead riders to experience the effects of acute dehydration sooner than they’re accustomed to during outdoor rides. For rides and events longer than 60 minutes, riders may benefit from electrolyte drinks or carbohydrate-rich sports drinks.
  • Food: Assuming you start with full stores of muscle glycogen, cyclists can complete a high-quality 60- to 75-minute indoor training session or esports competition without consuming any calories during the ride. This is good news because, for many cyclists, eating during short, high-intensity sessions can be both inconvenient and cause gastric distress. If your training session or event is longer than 60-75 minutes, consuming exogenous carbohydrate will improve performance. Start eating within the first 20 minutes and aim to consume around 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour.
  • A big screen: Particularly during e-sports competitions, you will need to keep track of on-screen data to monitor your performance and adjust your competition strategies. A big screen makes it easier to read the data, especially during hard efforts. The position of the screen matters, too. Place your primary screen so it is in your natural line of sight while riding in a high-performance cycling position.
  • A table/desk: Several apps can be controlled by a wireless keyboard or a companion app on a mobile device. You may also have remotes to control video or music you’re using for entertainment. And you may want a place to put a towel, snacks, and a water bottle. Having a table or desk within reach gives you somewhere to put all your gear.
Performance Tips for Virtual Group Rides and Esports Cycling Competitions

Although the process of joining a virtual group ride or race varies from app to app, here are some tips to help you get started no matter which app you choose.

Choose The Right Group/Category For You

Read the descriptions of group rides and races carefully to select the group that best fits your goals and performance level. Sometimes the intensity is delineated by power-to-weight ratio (PWR). For instance, a group ride might say that the pace will be between 2.5-3.2 watts-per-kilogram, meaning riders of varying weights will stay together as a group by keeping their individual power outputs between 2.5-3.2 watts-per-kilogram.

For esports competitions, racing categories are sometimes determined by riders’ power-to-weight ratios at Functional Threshold Power. Beginners with lower PWRs (i.e. under 2.5 W/kg at FTP) would be in a separate category than advanced riders with higher PWRs (i.e. greater than 4.0 W/kg at FTP). Other competitions, including the USA Cycling Esports National Championships, categorize riders by age group.

Verify Your Data

Poorly calibrated equipment and incorrect user data can dramatically impact performance in esports competitions, virtual group rides, and even solo indoor workouts. Most times these errors are inadvertent, but riders can also cheat by purposely manipulating equipment or data. Therefore, race organizers may request verification of a rider’s weight, equipment calibration, and a history of recent performance data prior to the start of a competition. For instance, riders entering the USA Cycling Esports National Championships must meet these eligibility criteria, which include a rider weigh in as well as proof of calibration uploaded to

Learn The App’s Physics

Each app controls rider behavior a little differently. One example is the difference between drafting in Zwift and RGT. Closing a small gap (2-5 meters) takes less effort in RGT than in Zwift, meaning riders accustomed to drafting in Zwift may inadvertently power past the rider they intended to draft behind during an RGT competition. RGT also simulates braking before sharp turns, whereas Zwift allows riders to maintain speed. If you are planning on competing in esports competitions on a particular app, it is a good idea to enter practice events on the app beforehand. You can read a more detailed comparison of the differences in rider behavior between Zwift and RGT.

Warm Up Well And Show Up Early

Hard starts are a hallmark of esports competitions, so it is crucial to get on the bike early and complete a thorough warmup prior to the race. You should also learn the procedure for gaining entry to the start corral so you can get to the virtual starting line on time.

Learn Esports tactics

Esports cycling competitions are not just a simulation of outdoor bike races. Not only are the physics different, but so is the performance information you receive about your rivals – and yourself. Instead of observing the rider next to you or the position of the group chasing you by turning your head, you must change the view/camera option in the app to get a new perspective. And in the absence of a live video feed, avatars don’t express effort or exhaustion the way you can see and hear it from a rider beside you in the real world. Instead, you must evaluate your rivals’ strength or vulnerability from the performance data shown on the screen, including power-to-weight ratio and upcoming terrain.

Apps have different approaches to gamification, as well. Some aim to simulate real-world conditions as closely as possible. Others, particularly Zwift, leverage the opportunities presented by a virtual environment to introduce game features that don’t exist outdoors. When these features – including a short-lived drafting or aerodynamic boost, temporary weight reduction, cloaking, or the inability for someone to draft behind you – are available, it’s important to know how and when to use them to your advantage.


Esports are a great year-round option for social and competitive cycling and have the potential to bring together nationwide and worldwide cycling communities. As advances in app and equipment technologies make indoor cycling even more convenient and engaging, the popularity and competition level in esports racing will continue to grow. Untethered from geography, esports may also provide a new pathway for talent identification and rider development. So, if you haven’t tried indoor cycling recently or haven’t jumped into an esports competition, there has never been a better time to ride inside.

In addition to the USA Cycling Esports National Championships, there will also be a UCI Cycling Esport World Championships on February 26th.