After a long time logging “Just Ride” training rides on a Peloton, it was finally time to get on a bike that fits and put it on a trainer. This meant changing over to Zwift, and starting the process of building a whole new set of streaks and digital badges.
Getting going with Zwift was easy enough, and it quickly became apparent that the accumulation of Gear, XP, Drops, and PRs would provide a whole new level of motivation.
This article covers everything found in the first few weeks of riding in Zwift and trying to determine how to level up the quickest and make things fun.
Which Level Is Needed For Zwift Gear?
First thing first, XP is not “drops”. While drops are accumulated for riding distance they do not help achieve new levels. Drops can be used to buy gear, and for the most part the drops and garage gear are frames, wheels, and setups that will help with in game performance. Some of this gear can NOT be purchased until you are a certain level, but you don’t get that gear at the level.
In contrast, the XP level awarded gear is mostly about creating a unique avatar and looking good (or wacky) in digital form. You get access to it and it’ll automatically show up in your garage at that level. You do not have to spend drops to access the awarded gear from each level.
While you can ride and run on Zwift, the levels are independent of each other. Riding or cyclist levels go up to level 60, but run levels cap out at just level 21. Zwift is a riding first activity, it launched in 2015 with just cycling events, but running was only 3 years behind in 2018 and has still been available for more than 6 years.
Why are Zwift levels important?
Zwift is a fun way to gamify simple workouts. While it provides things like graphics, and group rides, there are also in game upgrades that can only be accessed by leveling up. Levels are controlled by experience, or XP points. The more you have the higher your level. It is important to note that Zwift levels are discipline specific, you can be a riding level 60 and still be Level 1 runner!
There are two major things that XP levels in Zwift will unlock. The first benefit of XP is gear, things like in game kits, hats, glasses, etc. that can be worn by your virtual rider. Second is XP level gated access to new parts of the map.
Famously the Alpe de Zwift is an area of the map that known as a brutal hill climb (modeled off the real life alpe d’huez, a portion of the the Tour de France) and is only accessible to riders who have achieved level 12. In game there are other gates that will have a big “lock” symbol with a number in front of them. If you see one it means you need to be that level before you can access that portion of the map.
To level up all you have to do is ride. Earning XP will come naturally as you ride either workouts, groups rides, or races. In game are also bonuses and accelerators, even so, if you want to reach the current highest level (level 60) expect it to take at very least a few months and most likely a year or more of regular riding.
Of course there are ways to earn more quickly, which we cover below.
How to earn XP in Zwift? Tips to Earn Faster
Zwift makes it easy to earn XP. You just do more riding and you get more experience. Each mile, or kilometer, will add a handful of XP points.
- Riding Distance (or Running Distance). Each mile (or kilometer) you ride gets you additional XP.
- Power Ups – Ride through a banner or arch and get the XP bonus power up.
- Ride through a Banner or Arch on a TT bike (ie. finish any sprint, climb, or loop)
- Finish a Specific Route for the First time
- Get an “Achievement” badge. There are badges for specific top speeds, power output, riding a marathon distance, and more.
The ways to earn also highlight some of the hacks to getting more XP quickly.
Use Metric Measurement. Because conversion rates benefit metric units, choose metric measurement overall imperial and each kilometer ridden will get you more XP than the mile equivalence.
Coast Down. While climbing is a great workout and has it’s own goals, it is slower. There are ways to overcome this though, for example when riding the Alpe de Zwift you get to coast all the way back down for added distance. Don’t stop your workout at the top and instead head down and you’ll effectivelly double your XP without any more pedaling.
Focus on Fast and Far. Since XP is linked to virtual distance ridden, opting for aero kits, flat routes, drafting, will all wind up getting more XP. This means riding in groups (with draft benefit) can be a quicker way to earn XP.
Try New Areas. Each of the routes on Zwift is worth a few hundred XP, some times well into the thousands. They are mostly associated with their distance though so you’ll want to be ready for big XP on some of the bigger 90+ minute rides. Even if you prefer a specific area it is easy to do new routes (try counter-clockwise laps of the same route) and check them off the list. To get the first few levels you can even start and stop you’re ride and jump between the shortest routes in order to get the route bonus without having to ride between the start points. There are more than 125 routes, each with it’s own badge and bonus, so there is plenty of XP to collect.
Event Bonus. There are specific events that themselves have XP bonuses. This can mean earning double XP per kilometer/mile ridden, or just have extra bonus similar to route bonuses. Check the event details to see which ones will help level up the quickest.
Zwift Levels Unlocks and XP Chart
Any rider who is looking to level up will of course ask, how much XP is needed to get to level 60 in Zwift. Below is a chart showing each level and the unlocks it gains. The status bar in game also shows progress toward the next level, but sadly at the higher levels it is hard to tell how much of the 10k-20k per level XP is still needed.
So how long does it take to get to each level in Zwift? This varies, mostly on your average bike pace since levels are so linked to distance ridden. Still, with decent choices it’s pretty easy to get to Level 6 and unlock the big portions of the map with just a few hours of riding.
Some riders have estimated that it is possible to average 1000+ XP per hour of riding with the right setup. This can be skewed at the lower levels where riding new routes will secure even more bonuses. In the chart below we’ve updated the approximate time spent riding before unlocking each level.
|Level||XP Needed||Unlocked Gear||Estimated Ride Time|
|2||1000||Basic Kits||<1 hr|
|9||13000||Camo Kits||~10 hrs|
|11||19000||More Camo Kits|
|15||38000||Level 15 Jersey|
|18||56000||Classy Kit||~50 Hours|
|20||70000||Level 20 Jersey|
|29||150000||Sworks Evade Helmet|
|37||260000||Felt IA Frame|
|40||310000||Level 40 Jersey|
|60||750000||Level 60 Jersey|
Currently, as of June 2023, the highest Zwift cycling level available is level 60. To earn that you will need to accumulate 750,000 XP. If ridden just distance with no bonuses that would mean riding 37,500k to reach the top. Realistically the distance is likely only about 60-75% of that (or around 26000k) since bonuses and multipliers will account for a good chunk of XP.
The shortest distance available to max out Zwift levels is less than 18,000k if you managed to ride only multiplier events and pick up some bonuses along the way. Still, if someone is sitting at level 60 it is safe to say they have spent some serious time in the saddle.