Elite Sterzo and Zwift Steering Come out of the Labs!
Back before the great in darkness fell, and COVID19 covered the land, at Eurobike 2019 Zwift took the existing approach to develop new features, away from their roots as scrappy developers, and put under a nice shiny title called Zwift Future Works
The first project from this team that most people are familiar with is Zwift mountain biking module, which brought another side of the cycling community into the Zwift fold, and allowed turning to be possible due to using your smart phone gyroscope attach the handlebars.
Whilst effective, particularly with a zero-cost approach to the users, and utilising the smartphone gyroscope, it did require a way of allowing for a front wheel of the bike to pivot. Previously, manufacturers such as Tacx, and Kinetic, have produced front wheel risers which have allowed users to turn their bars, but these have not had any functional basis beyond that.
In order for Zwift to be successful, it requires deep integration with the hardware partners such as Elite. As a result, they have an inside line to potential development such as mountain bike steering. Thus, tucked away at the Elite stand, the Italians were talking in hushed tones about a prototype steering device, initially conceived as a way to allow existing Zwift riders to select their courses rather than having to lean on their sweaty keyboards, but also something which could dovetail with swift steering, and literally open up the existing virtual worlds
Today Elite have teamed with Zwift to bring the Elite Sterzo to market – a relatively important point as initially Zwift steering will ONLY be compatible with the Elite Sterzo – So let’s look at the Sterzo first, and then talk a little bit about Zwift Steering – with was bundled with the latest Zwift update as of 0000 7th Aug PST
Elite Sterzo Smart Steering Riser Block
Ok so the Elite Sterzo Smart Steering Riser Block is a bit of a mouth full, so what are we actually talking about?
Well, actually the name says it all. We’re looking at a small riser a block, about 2 inches in height. But the function isn’t really about raising up the front wheel, the purpose of the Elite Sterzo smart finally allows you to steer within Zwift. Note, I’m not talking about on a mountain bike track or providing any other forms of qualification. We are talking, about full-on steering within Zwift.
The Elite Sterzo connects to Zwift via BLE, and allows you to position your rider on the road within the virtual world – pairing will be done via a new “Accessories” widget that will now exist on the pairing screen along with all the power meter and other sensors.
Pairing otherwise is just the same as with any other sensor
When connected, you’ll can turn your bars and the Elite Sterzo will given you a numerical display for the angle of turn you are pushing, just to confirm things are working nicely
As with any other sensor, before you can pair it, you’ll need to wake it up, with the Elite Sterzo this is due just by moving the wheel side to side. As the unit wakes up, you’ll see the LED flashing, green for ANT, blue for BLE.
Hold the phone, can we just say that connection is over Bluetooth only? Yes that’s correct, at the moment the Elite Sterzo only connect with Bluetooth, but ANT is built into the unit. Whilst there may be an exclusive partnership with Elite working with Zwift, like any sensor, if another company should find a way to enable ANT+ steering to their platform, that’s just software engineering…
Speaking of engineering, the Elite Sterzo is powered by 3xAAA batteries, giving ~ 500hrs of riding time, so thankfully you’ll not be having to wipe the sweat off it very often to open it up. Given the nature of the Elite Sterzo, there is actually very little in the box, but thankfully the 3xAAA batteries are included 🙂
There are actually two versions of the Elite Sterzo – the Elite Sterzo Smart, which we’ve been talking about so far, and mechanical versions, simply the Elite Sterzo – which is exactly the same… just without the electronic internals. That also will mean a good saving priced at £34.99 compared to the £74.99 RRP on the Elite Sterzo Smart
But why has Elite produced two units? Surely you need the electronics to use the new Zwift Steering? Not so! If I return you to the previous version of Zwift steering using the handlebars, this will also be carried over into the new Zwift build. The point being, that all riders will have access to the steering functionality, but will be required to mount the phones on the handlebars – let’s get ready for another influx of sweat proof handlebar cases! NB THIS FUNCTIONALITY IS NOT LIVE YET
The mechanical Elite Sterzo will still be of use to those handlebar riders, as it ensures a safe 34° of turning, keeping your wheel within the riser block, and preventing any issues, between the trainer, and the bike.
It is the rotating pivot within the Elite Sterzo which will allow this finely detailed riding. Bumpers at each end of the Sterzo will prevent a rider going beyond the maximum 34 degrees of rotation LEFT or RIGHT
Zwift Steering – Full Game Enabled!
Now currently, as Zwifters, we are not trained, nor prepared for this. But, the advantage will be particularly keen when it comes to speed, as you will be able to choose the inside lane on corners, if you so desire, and shuffle yourself within the pack, in order to find the best spot within the draft.
Unfortunately, as the Zwift update will be hitting in the middle of the night here in the UK, you’re going to have to wait for the reaction videos, to see it in action.
I feel personally, that Zwift steering, is likely to add an additional level of complexity, which may be a good thing for Zwift races which have previously just been about deploying power and stamina.
Don’t worry too much on “how do I do it though” as on the first load up, Zwift will give you a small tutorial so you are not riding blind. Plus, just like a computer game car, if you let go, the Sterzo will recenter, helping things for the new riders
During group rides, and workouts however, steering is not likely to be beneficial, thus steering will be variable across the Zwift game. You’ll be able to determine when the steering is active, or not by checking the “steering enabled” icon on the bottom LEFT of the central screen HUD
When it comes to riding in a peloton, your swift avatar will no longer ride through other cyclists if you are using steering. Instead, the rider will have to, to quote Zwift “Stay alert and find that gap when moving through the pack” – how this will work in practice, I’m interested to see.
Similarly, riders will be able to box people in when in a pack, suggesting that team tactics, will now become a thing. Plus with everybody’s favourite holding the wheel, will no longer be automatic, and will require the steering rider to position themselves behind the cyclist they are drafting – thus, I wonder if the tactics will now be reversible, i.e. a rider will be able to steer away, to prevent somebody drafting them.
Elite Sterzo, Zwift Steering first impressions
One thing is for sure, with the Tour de France currently being stimulated, and steering now coming to the platform, Zwift is setting itself up to be the eSport platform to beat, now with the incorporation of skills as well as fitness.
Personally I’m really interested to see the outcome on how race teams now react. If nothing else, Zwift and Elite have managed to create an accessory in the Elite Sterzo which is practically going to be a compulsory purchase for riders looking to compete in Zwift races
Check out the TG YouTube Channel for the hands on testing of the Elite Sterzo when the new Zwift build drops!