Best Zwift setup for every rider – from cheapest to ultimate - BikeRadar

2022-12-13 06:04:24 By : Ms. Sandy Ms

How to create the perfect Zwift setup, from budget options to four-figure indoor bikes

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Best Zwift setup for every rider – from cheapest to ultimate - BikeRadar

It can be hard to know exactly what you need or how much money you should spend to get your ideal Zwift setup.

With that in mind, we’ve examined all of the options and put together a guide to the best Zwift setups for every rider and every budget.

We’ve covered it all – from the cheapest Zwift turbo trainer to the ultimate high-end indoor training pain cave.

Otherwise, check out our complete guide to Zwift for more on the virtual cycling platform, as well as our round-up of the best smart trainers and best indoor cycling apps.

Zwift is a great way to race and train, enabling you to reap the benefits of indoor cycling while having fun – or stoking the competitive fire – along the way. It can be used throughout the year, at any time of the day or night.

It’s an online cycling game with different worlds to ride around, virtual group rides to join, Zwift workouts and training plans to complete, and FTP and ramp tests to benchmark your fitness. There are even Zwift races to be won and lost.

Zwift is great not just because it takes the boredom out of indoor cycling, but because it’s so feature-rich that it can be considered an ideal complement to riding outside, rather than an alternative.

You can sign up to Zwift on a Mac or PC via zwift.com, or on a compatible tablet or mobile device via the Zwift app, which is available through the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Once you’ve created an account, you’ll get a 14-day free trial if you signed up online, or 25km of free riding if you joined via the Apple App Store.

Once that’s finished, you’ll need to sign up for a subscription, which costs £12.99 / $14.99 per month.

If you’re on a tight Zwift budget, you’ll need the following equipment to put together the cheapest setup.

A budget wheel-on smart trainer is the ideal introduction to the immersive experience Zwift offers.

We’d recommend a cheap wheel-on smart trainer over a regular, dumb (i.e. non-smart) turbo trainer.

A smart trainer’s variable resistance and power measurement enable you to reap the benefits of Zwift’s virtual worlds and workouts.

You needn’t break the bank to get started.

Though budget options may not, on paper, appear to offer comparable performance to more expensive smart trainers, our testing has shown there are good options for less than £300 / $400.

Our pick of the bunch would be the Tacx Flow Smart. At a penny under £270 / $349 as tested, it offers a solid spec for beginners, is easy to set up and use, and delivers great performance at a very competitive price.

Alternatively, an even cheaper option is the Elite Novo Smart (RRP £259 / $350).

While its construction quality doesn’t quite stand up to that of the Tacx Flow Smart, and it has a lower maximum power output (660 watts versus the Tacx Flow Smart’s 800 watts), it nevertheless takes full advantage of all of Zwift’s immersive features.

Both the Tacx Flow Smart and Elite Novo Smart offer claimed power accuracy of +/- 5 per cent.

As you spend more, the power accuracy of a smart trainer will improve. While that may be important if you’re embarking on serious training or virtual racing, for riders on a budget wanting to explore Zwift’s features, the accuracy on offer here is absolutely fine.

It’s also worth noting that, while both of these trainers can technically only simulate gradients up to 6 per cent, Zwift’s default trainer difficulty is set at 50 per cent, meaning you won’t actually max out the trainer’s resistance until you hit a 12 per cent gradient in the game.

If you’ve got a bit more to spend, our current favourite mid-range wheel-on smart trainer is the Saris M2 (RRP £499 and $549.99).

It has a claimed power accuracy of +/- 5 per cent but, in practice, our tester found it generally kept within 3 per cent of his Garmin Vector 3 power meter pedals.

However, as we’ll come on to, at this price there’s now a growing range of budget direct-drive smart trainer options and that’s where we’d recommend most riders spend their money.

We’d recommend starting with a wheel-on smart trainer if you’re on a budget, as detailed above, but any standard, non-smart turbo trainer can be used with Zwift, as long as you have a few accessories.

The cheapest Zwift trainer, therefore, might just be the one you already have.

If you currently own an ANT+ or Bluetooth-compatible measurement tool, such as a modern power meter, Zwift can use the data from that device to power your on-screen avatar.

Of course, this means missing out on things such as simulated gradient changes, drafting and ERG mode, but it’s a workable option in a pinch.

It is worth noting that if you’re using an iOS device, then connecting via Bluetooth is your only option at this point.

Those without a power measurement tool will need a speed/cadence measurement device instead.

Something like Wahoo’s RPM Speed and Cadence Cycle Sensors is what you’re looking for, but any Bluetooth or ANT+ speed sensor should work.

If you are just using a speed/cadence sensor and a non-smart trainer or rollers, then Zwift has two methods of calculating virtual watts.

The first way is for Zwift to use the known power curve of your turbo trainer. If you own a trainer that Zwift has tested (the full list of compatible trainers can be found on Zwift’s website) this can be a fairly accurate way of measuring power, but your in-game wattage will be capped at 1,200 watts.

If you have an unsupported trainer, Zwift will try to make a rough calculation based on your wheel speed. Realistically, this is a last-ditch option, so don’t expect the numbers to be particularly accurate. Your in-game wattage will also be capped at 400 watts, so this isn’t a long-term solution for many.

Finally, you might also consider a trainer-specific tyre for use with a wheel-on trainer, but you’ll ideally need a spare wheel to put this on because swapping tyres every time you want to use the trainer isn’t practical.

In terms of accessories, you’ll also need some kind of stand for your phone, tablet or computer – but you can just as easily make do with a few boxes stacked on top of a chair or stool, if that’s all you have available.

Finally, you’re going to need a fan. A cheap but powerful option such as the aptly named Honeywell Turbo Fan from Amazon will work fine, if you can get it in the right position.

If you have a bit more to spend, you’ll have the option of a budget direct-drive smart trainer. Combined with a few accessories that help improve the quality of the Zwift experience, this is where most riders will see the best bang for their buck.

Good-quality direct-drive smart trainers are more competitively priced than ever.

With a direct-drive trainer, you remove the rear wheel and connect your bike to the trainer via a standard cassette.

The advantage of this is there’s no wear on your rear tyre. The best examples are able to offer better power accuracy, as well as a quieter and more realistic ride feel than a wheel-on trainer – usually thanks to having a larger flywheel.

They’re also generally able to simulate steeper gradients and offer better support for higher-wattage outputs because there’s no risk of the tyre slipping on the trainer during sprint efforts.

As a result, if you can afford it, we’d typically recommend a budget direct-drive trainer over a mid-range wheel-on trainer.

For £449.99 / $499, the Zwift Hub is one of the best budget direct-drive smart trainers we’ve tested. It offers good ride feel, high accuracy and is very quiet.

In terms of specs, it offers a maximum power of 1,800 watts, claimed power accuracy of +/- 2.5 per cent and a maximum gradient simulation of 16 per cent.

The Elite Zumo comes in at the same price and is also well worth considering.

The specs aren’t as good on paper (1,350 watts maximum power, +/- 3 per cent accuracy and 12 per cent gradient simulation) but it’ll fit the bill for most everyday riders with a mid-range budget.

A dedicated trainer table with extendable legs will help you easily get your laptop or tablet at eye level, as well as provide a convenient place to put your phone and spare water bottle.

You may need a riser block for your front wheel too, if the trainer you purchase doesn’t come with one. This levels out the bike and holds the front wheel in place for better stability.

However, some of the latest smart trainers, including the Zwift Hub and Wahoo Kickr Core, have a level axle height so a riser isn’t needed to bring your bike’s angle back to ‘normal’.

If you’re buying a direct-drive trainer, you may also need to buy a cassette (some trainers include one, but many don’t so factor this – and the availability of a spare cassette – into your budget).

Finally, if you’ve got a little bit more money to spend, it’s worth investing in a slightly more powerful fan than recommended in our budget setup, to help keep you cool and comfortable, such as this Vornado 460 Small Air Circulator – but anything similar will do.

Here, the market is dominated by high-spec direct-drive smart trainers.

As you spend more, and move into the world of high-end direct-drive smart trainers, the resistance ceiling, gradient simulation, power accuracy and ride feel will often improve.

However, given the quality of the latest budget smart trainers, some of the improvements in this price bracket are marginal unless you’re a dedicated indoor training or Zwift racing enthusiast.

At an RRP of £650 / $799, the Elite Suito ups maximum power to 1,900 watts and, as a bonus over most budget direct-drive trainers, has collapsible legs, making it a fairly compact option for home storage.

Meanwhile, the Wahoo Kickr Core (RRP £699.99 / $899.99) offers a spec with few compromises (1,800 watts, +/- 2 per cent accuracy, 16 per cent gradient), excellent ride feel and is also very quiet. It’s another fantastic option, but the legs are fixed in place.

The specs of the Wahoo Kickr Core and Elite Suito might not match up to even more expensive competitors on paper, which we’ll come on to next, but they both offer more than enough power and resistance for the vast majority of riders.

At this level, you may even want to consider using Zwift on a TV, so you can really enjoy the virtual worlds in all their glory.

You could connect a laptop or tablet to your TV via an HDMI cable, but the easiest and possibly most cost-efficient way (if you don’t already own a suitable laptop or tablet) is to use an Apple TV 4k because there’s a dedicated app for that platform.

In terms of top-end fans, the Wahoo Kickr Headwind can simulate a headwind of up to 38mph / 48kph, with the fan speed controlled by your effort level – which can be measured in speed, power or heart rate.

If money is truly no object, then there’s still another tier of Zwift setup you can reach.

At this level, you really will need to have deep pockets because costs can spiral out of control very quickly. But, if you take your Zwifting seriously and you’ve got the cash to spend, why not treat yourself to the ultimate Zwift setup?

The Wahoo Kickr V6 (£1,099.99 / $1,299.99) is one of the best direct-drive smart trainers we have tested.

While it isn’t quite as fully-featured as the Tacx Neo 2T Smart (£1,200 / $1,399.99), it has excellent ride feel, thanks to its virtual flywheel, and excellent power accuracy. WiFi connectivity also makes it very easy to set up.

Speaking of the Tacx Neo 2T Smart, this is one of the most expensive smart trainers on the market.

However, that’s reflected in the top-end specs, with claimed power accuracy of +/- 1 per cent, a maximum power output of 2,200 watts and gradient simulation up to 25 per cent. It’s also a super-stable unit with superb ride feel.

The Elite Direto XR (£824.99 / $949.99) is another fully featured, high-end smart trainer that also works perfectly with accessories such as Elite’s Sterzo Smart steering block.

It’s a good option for a high-end smart trainer that won’t break the bank compared to some of its competitors in this tier.

If you’re able (and willing) to spend even more, you may want to consider a dedicated smart indoor bike.

Our pick of the best smart bikes is the Wattbike Atom. There’s also the Wahoo Kickr Bike, StagesBike and Tacx Neo Bike Smart (which was recently updated, becoming the Tacx Neo Bike Plus).

These are definitely halo products and will likely be out of reach for most people, but they have some key specs that differentiate them from even the best smart trainers, if your budget stretches this far.

Bike fit and crank length are usually highly adjustable, for example, and many models allow you to customise shifting and even chainring or cassette profiles.

They often claim better ride feel and power accuracy, have support for higher maximum power outputs, and can also offer even greater degrees of gradient and descent simulations.

An obvious drawback, aside from the price (which extends well into four figures) to these indoor bikes is that they can’t be folded away for easy storage, so you really need a dedicated space to train.

In terms of other equipment, everything else from the top-end tier applies here, unless you find that a TV is just too small for your ultimate training space and want to consider a projector and cinema screen to create the truly ultimate experience.

Wahoo users can also make use of the Kickr Climb, which attaches to the bike’s front dropouts and simulates climbs of up to 20 per cent and descents of -10 per cent, for a more immersive experience.

You might even decide you want some indoor-specific cycling kit as well, from the likes of NoPinz, Le Col, Rapha and Madison. Sure, your normal cycling kit will do the job, but when we’re talking about the ultimate Zwift setup, no stone should be left unturned.

The benefits over a top-end setup will probably only be marginal, but marginal gains are gains nevertheless if you have the budget and are looking to squeeze out every last watt from your sessions.

Zwift isn’t just for roadies, so if you’re a mountain biker there’s no reason you can’t join in the fun as well. You might call it the mountain biker’s dirty secret.

This is the best mountain bike setup for Zwift:

The mechanics of using a mountain bike on Zwift are essentially the same as a road bike.

If you have a wheel-on trainer, you’ll need to check the trainer is compatible with the size of tyre you’re using. There are also turbo trainer tyres available for mountain bike wheels, if you want the quietest, most stable ride possible with these types of trainers.

As with road bikes, direct-drive smart trainers are generally better though, if your budget can stretch.

If your bike has a 12-speed drivetrain, then you may need to swap the stock cassette or freehub on the trainer to make it compatible with your bike.

Most direct-drive smart trainers, such as the Wahoo Kickr or Elite Direto XR, have compatible freehub bodies available to purchase separately, though.

A cheaper and simpler alternative to a freehub swap is to use a SRAM PG-1230 NX Eagle 12-speed cassette on the trainer. This will fit on Shimano/SRAM 11-speed freehubs that come fitted as stock on practically every direct-drive smart trainer.

Elite’s Sterzo Smart steering platform is also perfect for getting the most out of the singletrack courses and other mountain bike events on Zwift.

Beyond that, everything else that applies for road bikes also applies here; you’ll need a decent fan and a device to play Zwift on, and somewhere to put it, such as a turbo-trainer table.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have a dedicated training space. If you’re tight on space, you’ll want to look out for a smart trainer that can fold down between uses. 

Those who are tight on space will want to look out for a smart trainer with folding legs. This significantly reduces a trainer’s footprint so it can be stored away when not in use.

It’s also important to opt for a quiet trainer if you live in a shared space or an apartment. Direct-drive trainers are almost always quieter than a wheel-on trainer, so should be your first port of call.

If you’re very tight on space, you may want to consider running Zwift on a tablet or phone mounted to your handlebars. While this won’t provide quite as immersive an experience as a larger screen, you’ll still get all of the benefits of interactive training.

No run-through of the best Zwift setups would be complete without touching briefly on turbo trainer accessories.

As with most things, there’s an endless array of bits and bobs you can throw money at, but there are a few things that genuinely make a difference when sweating it out on the trainer.

We’ve already covered a fan as an essential, but these are our other top picks:

Simon von Bromley is a senior technical writer for BikeRadar.com. Simon joined BikeRadar in 2020, but has been riding bikes all his life, and racing road and time trial bikes for over a decade. As a person of little physical talent, he has a keen interest in any tech which can help him ride faster and is obsessed with the tiniest details. Simon writes reviews and features on power meters, smart trainers, aerodynamic bikes and kit, and nerdy topics like chain lubricants, tyres and pro bike tech. Simon also makes regular appearances on the BikeRadar Podcast and BikeRadar’s YouTube channel. Before joining BikeRadar, Simon was a freelance writer and photographer, with work published on BikeRadar.com, Cyclingnews.com and in CyclingPlus magazine. You can follow Simon on Twitter or Instagram.

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Best Zwift setup for every rider – from cheapest to ultimate - BikeRadar

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