Make it smart How to connect your non-smart trainer to Zwift

Connect to ZwiftThis indoor cycling training is working… I’m fitter, I’m finding it easier and I’m losing weight, but “Oh my, is it boring!” there must be a better way to train… Some people do this for hours on end… How do they do it? There must be a cycle app for this.

And there is… In fact there are loads of them but the most popular and interactive leader is the Zwift. I show you how to connect your non-smart trainer to Zwift.

How do I get it, what do I need and how much will it cost to set up? These questions flashing through my head and the answers are pleasing ones… It’s easy to get, you may already have everything you need and it can cost, next to nothing to set up to thousands for the full immersive experience.



Zwifting is fun.

Racing around London, surrounded by fellow riders and friends, no traffic and no diesel fumes, what could be better?

There’s Steve from my club up ahead, always wanted to beat him… Got to push harder… I will get him before the finish… Wow training has never been so hard or exhilarating, and I’ve not even left home!

Yep, being connected to the internet and Zwift is a fun and entertaining way to train when the weather is unsuitable for riding outside. Sooooo much better than just staring at the wall and praying for the clock to go faster… Now you can look forward to training!

What do you need to connect to Zwift?

How to tell how many miles done on cycle trainerZwift is fun! An excellent way to improve your workouts and entertain you while you use your cycle trainer. Good news you don’t have to buy high end equipment to join in the fun either, you can convert your classic trainer into a smart trainer for very little money.

Ok it won’t be a full blown smart trainer but it will connect your set up with the Zwift app and you will have interaction with it… You pedal faster and your virtual bike will go faster.

It will also work out your wattage for interactive training sessions and more realistic rides.

You won’t have the full experience though! You will miss the app making your trainer harder to pedal on inclines and easier on the flat as you would get on a “smart cycle trainer” but the experience is still great.

What you need:

  • Bike
  • Classic “dumb” indoor cycle trainer
  • Wireless cycle odometer or better (for a similar price) a bike Speed Sensor and Cadence Sensor combination. If you are unsure what these are I’ve linked one here.
  • ANT+ stick – Note: skip this if you are using a mobile phone that has its own receiver in.
  • USB extension cable for the ANT
  • Something to run the app on: Laptop, iPad, mobile phone, Apple TV – The bigger the screen the better.
  • Internet connection

How to set up your cycle and trainer to connect to Zwift

The first thing you need to make your setup “smart” is a speedometer fitted to your back wheel. This will work fine but for more accurate readings it is recommended that you fit a cadence sensor as well. For an Idea of what these are I’ve linked one to Amazon for you. (Ooops did this above but here is the link again)

Fit the speed sensor to your back wheel. This may be a fiddly affair depending on the make and type of speed sensor but you only have to do it the once. You can leave it on your bike when you go out on the road and when you wish to use the trainer again you are already set to go.

The same is with the cadence sensor which you fit to your pedal crank… Set and forget, unless you don’t like the looks of it on your bike, but it’s easy to take on and off.

Put the bike in the cycle trainer as usual.

Now you need something to download and run the Zwift on:

Laptop, iPad, mobile phone, Apple TV or a smart TV – The bigger the screen the better for full immersion.

Set your smart device in easy viewing range, front and center is usual.

If you are using a mobile phone and strapping it to your bike you can skip the next step.

Because the signal from the speed monitor and the cadence is week and only travels a short distance (probably not even the length of your cycle) you will have to connect the ANT+ key to a USB extension wire.

Place the ANT+ key as close to the speed sensor as possible and the other end into your smart device.

That’s it you are good to go.

How to connect to Zwift to your cycle trainer.

Start the Zwift app and spin the back wheel… That’s it! The Zwift app should find your set up. Put in your personal details and your cycle trainer make and model and you are ready to set off.

There may be a short calibration time before you can start your virtual ride but this can be part of your warm up.

Now chose what type of training session you would like, (virtual rides – Structured workouts – social group rides – races) and have, dare I say it “Fun!” while you train.

Upgrade to a smart trainer.

What is a smart cycle trainer?Follow the above instructions on how to connect your non-smart trainer to Zwift and that will give you a taster for an interactive cycle app, but you are still missing out on even more fun and better training.

But for the better experience you will have to upgrade to a smart trainer.

There are two main types of smart trainer with a third just appearing, watch out for this one it’s a bit sneaky!

  1. Direct drive, off wheel smart trainer.
  2. On wheel smart trainer.
  3. Non interactive smart trainer – it is a classic trainer with only a power meter added… no auto adjustment of the resistance. (it is just like the one you can make above)

What is an off wheel smart trainer?

This is a top of the range cycle trainer used and favored by professionals and top cyclists.

As the name suggests you remove your rear wheel and clamp the frame to the trainer stand. It is the chain that drives the trainer and not a tire against a roller.

The advantages of these types of cycle trainers are:

  • Because of the quality components and large flywheel they have a much better “real” road feel.
  • They give a more accurate power output because of the elimination of tire slippage.
  • They are quieter due to the lack of tire noise.
  • There is less vibration that you would get from the tire against the roller, this reduces noise transference to other rooms.

Disadvantages:

  • Cost – They are quality and quality costs
  • You have the hassle of removing your rear wheel every time you wish to train and in some cases even the cassette.

What is an on wheel cycle trainer?


This is the classic trainer that you probably already have where you leave your bike in normal set up and clamp your bike into a frame with the rear tire pressing against a roller.

Again normally the more you pay the better the experience both in “real” road feel and training.

But what are the advantages of using a smart trainer with Zwift?

A smart trainer has variable resistance which makes it easier or harder to pedal and this resistor is controlled by a cycle app of your choosing, and modern apps such as Zwift has got very clever at controlling this resistor both for “realistic” interaction and immersion of a virtual ride but also with set training regimes and exercises.

Virtual rides and races

A smart trainer can simulate the riding terrain that you are seeing on the screen. For example when you come to an incline the trainer resistance is increased becomes harder to pedal and increasing in resistance the steeper the incline, just like out on the roads.

And of course the resistance is reduced when a decline is encountered, this is where the high end smart trainers excel with their flywheel effect which simulates freewheeling just as you would on the road.

There are even some smart trainers that can emulate the road surface you are riding upon for extra immersion.

When racing on the simulator or just riding in a pack the smart trainer will feign drafting making the race even more realistic.

A smart trainer is better for training

cycle thong, sweat netWhen paired with a cycle app a smart trainer gives you a more accurate workout for your power level along with a wide range of training sessions that will suit all levels and time restraints.

There are group power training rides where your group all set their own power levels but stay as a group on the screen.

There are full training guides designed by the professionals including Marco Pinotti and Chris Carmichael to help you reach your goals.

World championships.

If you thing that Zwifting is a bit gimmicky then you may be surprised to know that the use of cycling apps and smart cycling trainers have become a sport unto themselves with sponsored virtual races and even world championships. It’s not just a winter fitness trainer anymore!

Summary for How to connect your non-smart trainer to Zwift

I do hope you convert your classic trainer into a “smart” one and discover the fun virtual world of Zwift, which is a fantastic form of training on your bike, and who knows you may stop riding on the road and prefer the virtual cycle world in your own home!

For more information on smart trainers check out my post.

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