- If you know that indoor cycle training is for you then the next step is Zwifting to relieve your boredom and get a better training experience. So what do you need to get into Zwift? You can connect to Zwift relatively cheaply or you can go for a fully immersive experience… The more money you spend the better the experience, the choice is yours!
What do you need to get into Zwift?
You can adapt your classic trainer to work with Zwift or you can buy a full immersive smart trainer for a much better experience. If you are unsure which to go for check out my post on smart trainer VS normal trainer.
If you have not experienced training with Zwift I’ll briefly tell you what to expect. Basically the Zwift cycle app controls the resistance of your trainer to make pedalling harder or easier and the app can work out the amount of power (Watts) you are using to spin the wheel. This doesn’t sound exciting but it works magic to give you am amazing interactive training session.
If you decide to convert your classic cycle trainer to work with Zwift you will not be able to get the app to adjust your resistance… You can get around this by eyeballing it and adjust your own resistance using your gears, however the app can still work out your power input and adjust your virtual avatars speed and let you know on-screen your Wattage.
Some people manage just fine with the non “smart” trainer so let’s start with the budget Zwift set up.
I’ll go over the barest minimum needed to connect to Zwift but later I will go over the best Zwift set-up
What do I need to start Riding in Zwift?
The minimum you require:
- Cycle trainer
- speed/cadence sensor
- Heart Rate Monitor (not essential but helps to know how hard your working in the absence of power meter)
- USB ant + dongle (to read the sensors above)
- PC/laptop or smart phone with Zwift installed
- USB extension cable
- Internet connection
I’ll go through these and let you know why you need them.
Bike – OK I’m stating the obvious but you do need something to ride on.
If you have not got a cycle turbo trainer then I would suggest you buy a cheap one to see if you like indoor training (some people don’t), but don’t get the cheapest as they are painful to train on and not a lot of fun at all… they will put you off for life!
Speed/Cadence Sensor – These are affordable small sensors that you attach to your bike. They are a little fiddly to attach but once on you can leave them alone, so this is a one-time step and doesn’t have to be repeated every time you wish to use your indoor trainer.
If you are unsure what these are I’ll link one from Amazon here for you to check out.
Heart Rate Monitor – Not essential but they can be found cheap. These connect to the Zwift app and give you a much more accurate power reading.
ANT+ dongle – This receives the signal data given out by the sensors that you are using.
PC/laptop or smart phone with Zwift installed – You need a device to run Zwift on and also to display your ride and virtual cyclist. There are also a lot of information showed on-screen also so the bigger the screen the better.
USB extension cable – The signal given out by the sensors attached to your bike is very weak and may not reach your viewing device (even if it’s just in front of the bike). So you need to pug one end into your laptop and the other the ANT+ dongle and place this end near the sensors.
Internet connection – The Zwift app connects you with riders from all over the world allowing you to ride with your friends and club mates.
This is the cheapest Zwift set up and many people are happy with this but they are missing out on so much…
The main drawback with this set up is the lack of auto adjusting that a smart set up will give you.
You miss the fully interactive feeling of inclines and declines, of drifting while in a pack. The Zwift app doesn’t just make it harder or easier to pedal but by clever use of the resistor and great programming it does make your ride feel very realistic… Some smart trainers can even give you the feeling of different road textures.
But it’s not just about the immersive virtual ride; a smart trainer can also vastly improve your training and performance with its structured interactive workouts (this is what they were originally made for).
OK now for the Smart cycle trainer set up.
Smart trainer set up for Zwift
There is very little you need for a smart trainer set up to connect to Zwift.
- Smart trainer.
- Optional Heart rate monitor.
- PC/laptop or smart phone with Zwift installed.
- USB ant + dongle (to read the sensors above)
- Internet connection.
Apart for the smart trainer I’ve given the reasons why you need everything in the section above.
The smart trainer has a power meter already installed and because most smart trainer uses Bluetooth to connect to Zwift there is no need for extra cables or clutter. I’ve still added the ANT+ dongle though because it’s a more reliable signal.
Now we come to the sexy bit… which is the best trainer for Zwift?
Best smart trainer for Zwift
Straight away I will suggest that the Tacx Neo Smart is the best trainer for Zwift. I know it is pricy but you get so much for your money.
Why the Tacx Neo Smart is the best smart trainer for Zwift:
- Real direct drive trainer with a powerful motor placed directly onto the cassette. This eliminates additional gearing that some other trainers have and makes it very quiet. Noise: 70dB at 200w/80rpm; 80dB max
- Excellent virtual feel including road surface simulation with varied vibrations on surfaces such as dirt, cobbles, wooden bridges and more.
- Excellent power accuracy.
- Slight give at the axle which allows movement of the bike as you pedal.
- Rock solid base
- Very quiet –Already mentioned but I wanted to emphasise just how quiet it is compared to some other cycle trainers.
- Compact and fold away base – While it is heavy because of its flywheel it is surprisingly small when the base is folded away.
- A very realistic riding experience which includes boosts on downhills and varied vibrations to give virtual surfaces a more realistic feeling.
- Power accuracy: a little lower than power meters, but otherwise excellent with very consistent readings.
- Can be used completely wireless or hooked to a power outlet
- Works with Apple and Android tablet and smart phone
If you are interested or wish to dream you can find a link to Amazon here.
Video of tax neo smart
Cheapest Zwift Smart trainer
At the other end of the scale there is the Elite QUBO Digital Smart B+. Missing out on some of the real road features of the much more expensive Tacx Neo Smart, it is still a great indoor bike trainer.
While it is the cheapest “proper” smart trainer with good ratings, it is still better than some more expensive smart cycle trainers that I have seen. Importantly it does have interactive electronic resistance which is the main feature you want for an interactive Zwift ride.
NOTE: When you are looking at buying a cheap smart trainer, check for electronic resistance that can be connected to a cycle app… not all smart trainers have this feature!
There is not very much information to be found on the Elite QUBO Digital Smart B+ but I will run through the features I could find.
- Electro-magnetic resistance – As I have already stated a must for an interactive Zwift riding experience.
- 3 training modes – 16 levels of resistance/constant power, 10 pre-set programs
- 1000+ watts linear resistance
- Elastogel roller = 50% less noise, 20% less tire wear
- Fits 20″ to 29″ wheel size – not all smart trainers will fit a 29” wheel
- ANT+/Bluetooth Smart compatible. This is essential for connecting to your Zwift app.
- 6 Month Free subscription to My Etraining App. (Must be used with Android or IOS Device).
Looking at reviews and questions I did note that the power and distance readings were inaccurate but there is an easy work around.
After seeing the video below I would have no hesitation making this my upgrade smart trainer.
For more information on the Elite QUBO Digital Smart B+ I have a link here if you want to check it out – http://amzn.to/2HP1Wpo.
Best Zwift set up
I have gone over the minimum equipment you need to get into Zwift, however for a much more enjoyable training experience there are other essential and non-essential equipment you can add to make the best Zwift set up.
Ok you have your bike, smart trainer and device with the Zwift app on, now you need something to watch your ride on.
- TV – Yes you can use your mobile phone to watch on, but bigger is better and the best setups use a large TV directly in front of the bike at eye level.
- Fan – You may have already used an indoor trainer and not bothered with a fan but people who use Zwift for training say it is a more intense workout than they normally do and heat does become a problem. Check out my post on best cycle fans here.
- Cycle Mat – A multitude of uses from sound deadening to sweat collecting and more. More information on mats here.
- Trainer tire – Used for a quieter and vibration free training session and also reducing tire wear. More info on trainer tires here.
- Bike thong (sweat net) – Protect your bike and make cleaning up after a training session easier. More on Sweat nets here.
- Mobile phone holder – For the hands free approach
- Cycle training computer desk – Keep everything you need close and handy. No stopping mid training to make annoying changes to… well anything. Check out cycle training table here.
Summary of what do you need to get into Zwift.
As you can see you can get set up your bike for the Zwift app relatively cheaply but as you get into it, your Zwift set up can be improved into a fully immersive training experience but it can cost…A lot.
Is it worth it?
Many people think so, and set up a room dedicated to Zwifting and indeed it can become a yearlong training substitute and not just a winter necessity.