Cycling indoors at home is no longer a lonely experience: Zwift’s turbo trainer game allows you to ride with other cyclists from across the world and train more effectively than ever before.
It is perhaps surprising to learn, but powering around Zwift’s virtual roads is actually possible on a tight budget, and your cheap indoor cycling setup doesn’t have to be at the sacrifice of user experience.
There are lots of different options when it comes to having a Zwift setup and we have put together a guide which goes through a range of setups for small budgets, while also catering for every performance need.
We realise that you may already have some equipment, such as a standard turbo, so we have also included the cheapest options for making your current indoor setup compatible with Zwift.
But first, comes the cost of the subscription itself. Zwift is priced at £12.99 / $14.99 a month and you can buy three- or 12-month subscription gift cards for an extra saving.
It can take the boredom out of indoor riding and keep you engaged while cycling with others and completing courses in Zwift’s set of worlds.
There are many events you can join in with at all times of the day, including group workout sessions, races and Cycling Weekly‘s very own weekly time trial, which will make cycling indoors fun whatever your other outside commitments.
Best cheap Zwift setups
It is worth noting these indoor setups that we guide you through will also have you covered for using other indoor cycling platforms, such as The Sufferfest, Rouvy and Road Grand Tour (RGT)—so you are not restricted to just Zwift.
With each product is a ‘See more’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Standard turbo trainer with speed/cadence sensor
The cheapest option for riding on Zwift is using a standard turbo trainer paired with a speed and cadence sensor that connects to Zwift via ANT+ or bluetooth.
When using a standard turbo trainer that doesn’t transmit data with a speed and cadence sensor, your in-game effort is generated by virtual watts called zPower. Zwift translates the speed from the turbo trainer into watts using a estimated power curve. The company has tested a range of turbo trainers to calculate the watts required on each trainer for speed-based power.
Although not as accurate as power meters, you will be able to train in the virtual world and take part in group workouts with zPower. However some races will DQ you in the final results on Zwift Power if you race with zPower. So if you are investing in Zwift for its racing opportunities read past this section to the power meter options.
LifeLine TT-01 Turbo trainer
This simple and stable turbo trainer is from Wiggle’s in-house brand Lifeline and will do the job for under the £100 mark.
It’s folding frame design also makes this trainer ideal for storage and transporting to events.
Wahoo RPM Speed and Cadence Cycle Sensors
Wahoo’s speed and cadence sensors capture your speed and cadence data and connects wirelessly to Zwift via ANT+ and bluetooth.
The speed sensor mounts to any bike’s wheel hub and the cadence sensor easily attaches to your bike’s crank arm or shoe (both mounts are included).
Standard turbo trainer with external power meter for Zwift
If you already own a standard turbo trainer investing in an external power meter is a great option for a more accurate method for obtaining power data than speed/cadence sensors. It also saves replacing your current turbo with a more expensive smart version—although you will miss out on course gradient simulation that a smart trainer can do.
External power meters do come at a higher cost than speed/cadence sensors, but you will also benefit from being able to record power accurately while out on the road.
Hub, crank (single or dual sided) and pedal based are the three different forms external power meters come in.
Our testing has found a crank based setup is usually the most reliable – while pedals can be a bit vulnerable in poor weather and are also more expensive. Hub-based options have proven themselves to be hugely reliable too, but they do limit you in wheel choice.
PowerTap G3 Hub £375
The PowerTap G3 Hub sits at the centre of your rear wheel and we have found it to be incredibly reliable, giving you detailed and trustable power numbers.
Changing the battery can be a bit fiddly, but this means the unit is confidently watertight and also makes the G3 a versatile piece of kit that can be used in all weather conditions on the road.
You don’t get separate readings for left and right leg power, but that is highly detailed, nuanced data and it is not an essential for starting out on Zwift.
Read more: PowerTap G3 hub review
4iiii Precision power meter £299
The 4iiii Precision is a reliable and inexpensive left-side crank that only adds 9g to the weight of the crank including the battery.
It only measures left leg power, but with the 4iiii Precision, you can adjust the scale factor to account for a known imbalance in your power output between your legs.
Read more: 4iiii Precision power meter review
FSA Powerbox power meter £459.99
If dual sided power readings are what you are after, the FSA Powerbox can be upgraded to show your left/right balance – the percentage each leg is contributing to your total power output.
The Powerbox boasts +/-2% precision, so you can be confident you are accurately hitting your target watts in training and racing.
Its claimed weight is 738g, meaning it is not one of the lightest power meters out there, but for indoor riding this is inconsequential.
Read more: FSA Powerbox power meter review
Smart turbo trainer with integrated power meter for Zwift
Smart turbo trainers are interactive which means apps, such as Zwift, can control the trainer’s resistance to replicate hills and drafting behind other riders’ avatars, inside the virtual world.
When you select ERG mode on Zwift a smart trainer will automatically adjust the resistance to keep you at the required power in a power-based interval workout. This ensures you are regularly hitting your training targets and means you no longer have to stare endlessly at the screen to check you are riding at the right numbers.
With a smart trainer you feel more directly connected to the lumps of the virtual world, which will ensure you have a much more engaging training session.
If you don’t already own a standard turbo trainer and only wish to have power readings for efforts indoors, a smart turbo is an ideal option and the cost of one is not always extortionate.
Direct drive vs. non-direct drive smart turbo trainers
Smart trainers come in direct drive and non-direct drive options, with the latter seeing a significant increase in price.
With a non-direct style of turbo trainer you keep the rear wheel on your bike and your rear tyre sits on a small roller on the trainer. ‘Wheel-on’ turbo trainers can be noisy and wear out your back tyre.
A direct drive trainer takes the place of the rear wheel, with the bike attaching directly to the trainer at the rear dropouts and the bike’s chain drives a cassette that is connected to the trainer.
These trainers utilise a heavy flywheel to generate momentum and this creates a more realistic simulation of riding on the road.
A direct drive trainer also eliminates inaccuracies created through wheel slippage and roller tension inconsistencies.
Wahoo KICKR SNAP smart turbo trainer £429.99
The Kickr Snap might not feel as smooth as the top end direct drive options, but it still offers a max power output of 1500 watts before the resistance wavers, which is pretty hefty for most riders.
It’ll replicate climbs as steep as 12 per cent which will be more than enough to provide a good workout.
Read more: Wahoo Kicker Snap turbo trainer review
Alongside purchasing the a fly wheel turbo trainer it is worth getting a trainer tyre. These tyres are designed to minimise overheating, slippage and wear. Do note, the trainer tyre is not suitable for outdoor cycling.
Elite Zumo Smart Interactive Turbo Trainer
Zumo is Elite’s affordable direct drive turbo that claims to measure power to an accuracy within +/- 3% and it can simulate slopes up to 12%. The Richmond Reverse course on Zwift features climbs with sections as steep as 21%, but the Zumo will be able to offer a realistic experience on the majority of virtual roads.
When sprinting the maximum amount of power you can exert is capped at around 1,100 watts on the Zumo. For stronger riders this could prove a problem but dropping over 1,100 watts is not an unachievable goal for many amateur racers.
Should I also buy a fan for Zwift?
Whichever of the setups you decide is best for your riding needs and budget, a fan is an essential for you to be able to make the most of any indoor riding.
Overheating can easily cause a reduction in power, as well as making the whole experience a lot less enjoyable.
Our bodies aren’t very efficient so with every turn of the pedal a lot of watts are wasted and turned into heat. This heat hangs around your body unless you blast it away with a fan.
A cheap desktop fan such as this one from Amazon coupled with a standard hand towel will help keep you cool, but Wahoo’s Kickr Headwind is designed specifically for turbo training.
Wahoo Kickr Headwind Smart fan
This smart-style fan can be paired with your heart rate monitor or speed sensor to provide optimised cooling based on the intensity of your workout. Essentially, the harder you push yourself, the more it will help cool you down.
It also blows a very narrow column of air which is easy to direct to hit you where you need it.
Zwift compatible device
You can download and run the Zwift platform on most modern devices including smartphones, tablets and desktops. But there are some minimum system requirements you need to be aware of for your device to be able to run the virtual platform without hiccups.
For laptops and computers:
- Operating system: Microsoft® Windows 7 64bit or higher, or macOS® 10.10 or higher
- CPU: Intel® Core™ 2 Duo or better
- RAM: 4GB
- Graphics: 1GB dedicated GPU, or embedded Intel® HD 4000 or AMD R5
- Hard Drive: 4GB of free space
For smartphones, tablets and streaming devices:
- Android: Android 7.0 or higher
- iPhone: iPhone SE/iPhone5S or higher. iOS9.0 or higher
- iPad/iPod: iPad Air or higher, iPad® Pro, iPad mini® 2 or higher, or
- iPod 6. iOS® 9.0 or higher
- Apple TV: 4th generation or higher
A reliable internet connection will also ensure the other cycling avatars around you don’t disappear from the virtual roads. If your paincave setup is located in the garage, a WiFi booster may be worth considering if you have a weak signal.