Do you feel left out when the conversation turns to Zwift? Are you wondering why friends on strict diets are suddenly discussing Bacon Rolls? Are you confused about the sudden interest in the borough of Richmond? Have you been greeted with baffled looks from shopkeepers after asking for one these much-discussed London Pretzels? Fear no more – our guide to the best budget turbo trainer for Zwift has it all…
Being among the last remaining non-Zwifting cyclists is a lonely place, but The Hub is here to help. We’re going to get you up and running on this bike training programme for less than the cost of a big grocery shop and faster than you can say, “…er, I might have acted too quickly buying that Watopia time share on the internet.”
Let’s do it in two parts:
- Zwift on a budget – starting from scratch: Putting together the best budget smart turbo trainer setup.
- Converting your classic ‘dumb’ trainer into a smart turbo trainer: You’ve got a classic trainer and want to see what the Zwift fuss is about, without breaking the bank.
Part 1: Zwift on a budget – starting from scratch
Assuming you’ve already got a laptop or phone that’ll run Zwift (full compatibility table at the Zwift website), there’s a few other bits you need to get started:
- a turbo trainer (obviously)
- a speed sensor to detect your speed
- a cadence sensor (optional but recommended) to analyse your pedalling
- an ANT+ USB stick which will ‘talk’ to Zwift and the sensor
And a bike, don’t forget the bike.
Option 1: Thrifty Zwifting
So assuming you have a WiFi connection, compatible device, and a bike, this option will give you the basic essentials you need to get onto Zwift. This is a good option if you just want to give it a crack and see what all the fuss is about. You can even use the free trial period for Zwift, so apart from your phone or broadband bill, this will cover the basics in terms of cost:
Option 2: Putting in a Zwift shift
The basic package will be enough to get you Zwifting, but once you get going you’ll realise there’s a few additions that’ll improve the experience. Firstly, you’ll notice the slightly raised back wheel feels a bit awkward. Secondly, when you really get going you’ll find the trainer can move around a bit when you’re putting down the power. Then, once you’ve emerged from a race or stage, you’ll also notice a considerable puddle of sweat on the floor. A training mat and riser sort these problems quickly and cheaply.
Option 3: Zwift justice
To many, Zwift is turbo training revelation. Historically, visits to the pain cave resulted in a soul-sapping experience in which only the most dedicated indulged. But by making the experience competitive and social, Zwift has turned those hours of isolation into training that’s rewarding mentally as well as physically, so it’s worth doing it justice. A few more quid begets you the complete experience: A fluid trainer for more life-like pedalling, a trainer table to bring your laptop or monitor to eye-level, a sweat net to protect your bike, and an ANT+ and Bluetooth HRM to give you accurate feedback and detailed data on your progress. Now you’re Zwifting.
Converting your ‘dumb’ trainer into a Zwifting beast
Let’s assume you’re using a laptop, PC, or Mac, and you’ve got yourself the speed/cadence sensor and ANT+ USB.
The first thing you need to do is connect your speed/cadence sensor to your computer. There are two ways to do this – Bluetooth or ANT+. For those just starting out, ANT+ is the cheapest. Attach your speed/cadence sensor according to the instructions and pair your smartphone or computer with the sensor.
Download Zwift onto your mobile or laptop/desktop. For smartphones, both Apple IOS (IOS 9.0 or higher) and Andriod (7.0 or higher) are currently fully functional.
Once you’ve downloaded Zwift, sign up and follow the instructions. It’ll ask you to set up a profile and calibrate your trainer. You can see a full set of instructions on the Zwift website.
Zwift is based on power and once you have your set up all connected you must calibrate Zwift and your trainer. To calibrate it you will need to set your power. There are two options you are presented with, Zpower or Estimated power.
Zpower is available to those with turbo trainers made by many better-known brands. Zwift creates a power curve for each trainer they have listed, creating an estimate of the effort needed to spin to a particular speed. Selecting your model of trainer from the list of trainers, you will set the resistance level specified by Zwift (capped at 1,200 watts). You are then free to get the legs moving with a level of reasonable accurate resistance.
Estimated power is less precise than Zpower however it applies to a larger list of trainers. Working off the same principle you can cap it at 1,200 watts and as long as you hold a steady effort you will see the reasonably accurate result.
Step 4 (optional):
For the best experience, many Zwift users use their phone as a conduit between their trainer and computer or Smart TV. This allows them to use the phone as they would a bike computer, relaying stats and information, while also acting as a remote interface with the training programme on their big screen.
For this setup, download the free Zwift Mobile Link (ZML) app to your phone or tablet (which you’ll mount on your bike handlebars). This app becomes the bridge for both Android and iOS mobile devices to send trainer data to the Zwift desktop/laptop/Smart TV programme, allowing you to get fully immersed in a big display.
Although you can use your smartphone’s WIFI or Bluetooth signal, it’s recommended you connect your phone to your display using an HDMI cable for a seamless connection.
While Zwift is incredibly popular around the world, there are several alternative programmes. These include Trainer Road, BKOOL Simulator, The Sufferfest, Rouvy, KINOMAP, and more. Set-up will be like Zwift, and you may find their focus on data or realistic graphics more to your taste.