What do you need for a cheap Zwift setup?

All you need to know about the cheapest Zwift set up at home

Indoor cylcing on zwift
(Image credit: Future)

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. If you've already had a look at our page on the best bike turbo trainers you'll have swiftly realised that there are a huge range in models to choose from, with the high end options running in to four figure prices. 

It is perhaps surprising to learn, powering around virtual roads is actually possible on a tight budget, and your cheap Zwift 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 this guide which goes through a range of setups for smaller budgets, while still catering for every performance need.

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.

After that comes some kind of screen set up in order to use it. There are lots of options available, so we have a page just on the best Zwift screen set up: TV vs laptop vs tablet vs phone to help you navigate this question. The chances are you already own more than one option, so this just helps you pick out the best system to use. 

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 trainer

(Image credit: Lifeline)

LifeLine TT-01 Turbo Trainer

Best budget pay and play turbo trainer

Specifications
Flywheel: Magnetic-resistance
Wheel size : Road and mountain bike wheels between 700c, 29, 27.5, 26 and many 24 wheels
Width of rear fork: Most 120mm - 180mm frame widths
Max watts: Approx 800
Reasons to buy
+Really quiet system when in use+Can fold away easily
Reasons to avoid
-Max 800 watts will be an issue for sprinters

As smart turbo trainers have become more and more popular, the number of simple trianers available has deminished. However, if you don't want to spend a lot then this option from Wiggle's in-house brand Lifeline is a reliable choice.

The LifeLine TT-01 turbo trainer, which you can buy directly from Wiggle, is powered my a magnetic resistance unit, it will suit most bikes, and it's can fold up neatly into a corner of the room when out of use (a capability many heavy smart trainers can't boast of!). The max power this unit can take is 800 watts, but that will be plenty for most riders beginning their journey. Larger riders or sprinters will often produce more than 800 watts at full effort, but this will be far in excess of the power riders will be producing for all but the hardest sprint finishes. 

cheap Zwift set up requires sensors to read speed and cadence. This is an image of the Wahoo sensors

Wahoo RPM Speed and Cadence Cycle Sensors

Best sensors for a cheap Zwift setup

Specifications
Compatablility: All bikes
Connectivity: ANT+ and Bluetooth 4.0
Features : Speed, cadence,
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight unit+Two data connection options+Compatible with all bikes +Real time data+Price
Reasons to avoid
-No head unit, so not about to use without one. 

Wahoo's speed and cadence sensors capture your speed and cadence data and connects wirelessly to Zwift via ANT+ and bluetooth, a good option if you aren't sure what system you will be using just yet. 

Both units are really lightweight, with the speed sensor capable of mounting to any bike's wheel hub and the cadence sensor easily attaching to your bike's crank arm or your shoe, both mounts are included in the box.

Real time data will ensure you keep pace with the virtual ride or race, ensuring you aren't left behind. 

The price of this sensor bundle is a great option for a cheap Zwift setup at home, but no head unit does mean that you'll need to one if you do want to use it away from the turbo trainer. You could use your smart phone, but you might find that actually by investing in something like the Garmin Edge 130 cycling computer, you get everything you need for both indoor and outdoor riding, including GPS navigational assistance. 

Standard turbo trainer with power meter

If you already own a standard (non-smart) turbo trainer investing in an external power meter is a an ideal option for a more accurate method for obtaining power data than speed/cadence sensors alone.

It saves replacing your current turbo for a more expensive smart version—although you do miss out on course gradient simulation that a smart trainer can do.

Obviously, there's a significant price hike between purchasing just speed and cadence sensors, but you gain a big upgrade to your bike, allowing you to keep track of your numbers on every ride, both at home and out on the road.

cheap zwift set up can mean purchasing a power meter. In the image is a left sided crank power meter from 4iii

Best power meter on a budget

Specifications
Accuracy: ±1%
Reading type: Left leg
Battery type: Coin cell
Reasons to buy
+One of the most affordable power meters+Easy to fit+Ridiculously light +You can account for left/right imbalance+Scale factor adjustment
Reasons to avoid
-Left side only not for everyone-We noticed some inaccuracy at high intensity

When we tested the 4iii precision power meter, we found it to be a reliable and inexpensive left-side crank that only added 9g to the weight of the crank including the battery.

It does only measure your left leg power, meaning that it won't be as accurate as a dual sided crank option, but it does automatically double it to give you an overall reading

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, which is helpful. However won't take account of discrepancies of data if you know you have a vastly weaker left leg, so you might find that it's under reading, so you have to work harder in a race to keep up to take account for it. 

The perk of it being left sided only is that you only have to change the crank, and not (if it were right sided or duel sided) the whole crank set, meaning it's simple a case of twiddling a couple of hex keys to slide it on and off your bike. 

For the price it's a great option and as it can benefit you inside and out, almost feels like a BOGOF. 

FSA PowerBox power meter right sided crank and chainset is pictured

(Image credit: Cycling Studio)

Best crank-based power meter for versatility

Specifications
Accuracy : ±2%
Reading type: Right and left leg (with upgrade)
Battery type: Coin cell
Reasons to buy
+Reliable and accurate live data+Universal standard 110mm BCD (bolt circle diameter) across chainring sizes, working with big three component manufacturers+Both leg reading compatible+Frequent self calibration+Ease of setting up
Reasons to avoid
-Have to use an FSA chainset-There are lighter power meter options-30mm spindle only-Chainset power meters are not the easiest to transfer across bikes

If dual sided power readings are what you are after, the duel sided FSA Powerbox power meter which shows your left/right balance will be perfect for your cheap Zwift set up. 

The power meter works by calculating the percentage each leg is contributing to your total power output, and on test we found it to be around a +/-2% precision rate, so you can be confident you are accurately hitting your target watts in training and racing.

We highly rated it's reliability and good design, again the auto-self calibration means minimal faff for the user, making it easy to set up. 

Its claimed weight is 738g means is not one of the lightest power meters out there, but for indoor riding this is inconsequential, and if you're not just looking for the cheapest Zwift set up at home, you can always invest in the higher priced hollow carbon-crank version. 

Compatible with Shimano, Zipp and Campagnolo drive trains, with different sized chainrings and length cranks available makes it pretty versatile option. 

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 giving it an arcade game like feel.

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 one of the best smart turbo trainers you feel more directly connected to the lumps of the virtual world, which will ensure you have a much more engaging, if possibly tougher, 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 could be the way to go. Expect to pay a more than a non-smart one, but it's a worth investment keep home training stimulating. 

Smart turbo trainers can be direct drive, or wheel on - direct drive trainers will be heavier and allow you to really sprint out the saddle, but wheel on models are cheaper. 

Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Turbo Trainer in this image is folded out and side on

(Image credit: Future)

Best non-direct drive turbo trainer with KICKR features on a budget

Specifications
Connectivity : Bluetooth Smart open and ANT+ FE-C
Smart Max Resistance : 1500w
Max gradient simulation: 12%
Flywheel: Electromagnetic
Width of rear fork: 130mm and 135mm Quick Release and12x142 Thru-Axle with adapter (sold separately)
Weight: 17kg / 37.5lb
Reasons to buy
+Same functionality as the Kickr+Much lower price point+Open API allows use of third party software
Reasons to avoid
-Wheel-on means tyre wear-Slightly less accurate power measurement

The Wahoo Kickr Snap might not feel as smooth as the top end direct drive options, but it still packs a punch at a much lower price point, perfect for those looking to create a cheap Zwift set up at home. 

On test we found it true to it's offering a max power output of 1500 watts before the resistance wavered, and good for it's 12 per cent inclines, both of which are plenty for most riders.

With a versatile rear wheel width and clamp design, it's a versatile unit, capable of taking all wheels between 24 inches up to 29er mountain bikes, although we would recommend getting a turbo trainer specific trainer tyre it is worth getting a trainer tyre, designed to minimise overheating, slippage and wear which will be limited in size options. Do note, the trainer tyre is not suitable for outdoor cycling.

The Wahoo Kickr Snap borrows many features from it's more expensive sibling the direct drive Wahoo Kickr smart turbo trainer , including the Wahoo app, compatible with Apple and Android and same open software interface, which is compatible with third parties, e.g. Zwift, and power meters to vary the unit's resistant automatically. 

Naturally there will be some data inconsistencies, as there's no auto calibration  to take account of tyre pressure changes, and or even tyre wear, which can also create slippage when putting out higher numbers. 

But anyone looking at a money saving option, than the Wahoo Kickr Snap is a great option. 

Elite Suito smart turbo trainer is a direct drive. This image show's the trainer front side on, with the three legs to stabilise the flywheel and cassette on display.

(Image credit: Future)

Best smart turbo trainer on a budget

Specifications
Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth
Smart Max Resistance: 1900w
Max gradient simulation: 15%
Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11 speed (and Campagnolo 11sp unofficially) 12 sp adaptor available
Weight: 14.5kg/ 32lbs
Reasons to buy
+Easy to set up and get going+Competitively priced +Smooth pedal feel 
Reasons to avoid
-Not as accurate as top models

The Zumo Elite smart turbo trainer is not only the brand's most affordable direct drive turbo, but probably the best on the market at the price point.  

On test we were able to certify Elite's 'plug and play' claim, with a box to riding time of around ten minutes. 

Giving it a through Zwift shake down, we found that, while not exactly replicating the same pedalling sensation as on the open road, or higher priced smart turbo trainers, it was very natural and came a preference over a pair of rollers. 

The margin of error number wise is about  +/- 2.5 per cent, which isn't insignificant for riders really focused on performance data and results of races, but when compaired to a Quarq DZero power meter out on the road, efforts were always comparable.

The 1900w and 15% incline replication are just about right for most riders on most Zwift courses and the Zumo performs above adequately on these, enough to question why you would want to spend extra on a more expensive direct drive smart turbo trainer. 

The Elite Zumo Smart Turbo Trainer, which can be tricky to track down in the States, but is available from Halfords in the UK is an even more affordable model to help build your cheap Zwift setup at home. However, you will find when sprinting the maximum amount of power you can exert is capped at around 1,100 watts, and there's only a 12% incline. For stronger riders this could prove a problem and dropping over 1,100 watts is not an unachievable goal for many amateur racers. The 12% incline will limit some Zwift course replications. 

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 a big plus to help make indoor riding more bearable.

Overheating can easily cause a reduction in power, as well as making the whole experience a lot less enjoyable, and even with windows and doors open, your body temperature can quickly build up. 

A cheap desktop fan such as this one from Amazon coupled with a standard hand towel will help keep you cool and soak up the sweat, but isn't specifically designed to do the job, so you might find you're always compromising on the position.  Wahoo's Kickr Headwind, however is designed specifically for turbo training.

cheap zwift set up can be achived with a regular fan, but in this image is Wahoo's turbo specific fan front right side facing.

Wahoo Kickr Headwind Smart fan

Turbo training specific fan

Specifications
Connectivity : ANT+/ Bluetooth Via Wahoo App (iOS and Android)
Compatability: Any ANT+ smart trainer and / or heat rate monitor, speed sensor or manual
Max fan speed: 30 mph/48 kph (claimed)
Weight: 5.44kg/ 12lbs
Dimensions (leg tucked): 16"L x 12"W x 19"H
Dimensions (leg extended): 18"L x 12"W x 19"H
Reasons to buy
+Compatibility with any ANT+ smart turbo trainer, heart rate monitor or cadence sensor+Auto adjusts according to data (higher numbers = more air flow) +Manual override mode+Simulates head wind+Adjustable air flow angle 
Reasons to avoid
-Pricy option for cheap Zwift setup-Extra mains power plug required 

Technically this is scope creep when it comes to cheap Zwift setups at home, as there is a sense of indulgence with a turbo specific fan. 

That said, if it makes the difference of you actually wanting to use Zwift at all, then it's probably a good investment. 

The cleaver thing with the Wahoo KICKR Headwind Bluetooth Fan is it's 'smart' functionality, with the ability to pair with a huge array of sensors and smart turbo trainers beyond the Wahoo range.  

Capable of being paired with your heart rate monitor, speed sensor or turbo trainer, the fan provides 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 replicates head wind, blowing more when riding at pace and less when hill climbing, or there are four manual fan speeds to choose from, which can be done via the Wahoo App (iOS and Android compatible).  

Wahoo say it's targeted airflow is designed to mirror the shape of a rider, making it a much more targeted air flow over a conventional fan. 

We've not yet reviewed one, but anyone who has says they wish they'd made the plunge sooner and are more include to jump on their home bike because of it. If lacking motivation to overheat is something you suffer from, the Wahoo Kickr Headwind Fan could be what your missing. 

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.

Why Zwift?

Zwift is a great online platform for training and racing from the comfort of your home on a turbo trainer.

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.

If you're wondering where to start with riding at home, you might find it helpful to follow one of our cycling training plans. If you do decide to race, be warned it can be quite addictive. We learnt lessons on how to get the best out of racing the hard way, so learn by our errors on our 11 things you only know if you race on Zwift page.  

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.

Other platforms to use when training indoors

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 Wahoo Systm, Rouvy and Road Grand Tour (RGT)—so you are not restricted to just Zwift.

We have a helpful guide on indoor training apps for cycling compared: which is best for you? This will give you an example of each app and the differences between them to make sure fully committing to Zwift is the best option for you. 

It's also worth mentioning here that, once you have the basics, you don't just have to stick to Zwift. You might find specific training sessions could really help both your indoor and out door cycling performance. If you're stuck for ideas, then you might fond our page dedicated to four of the best indoor cycling sessions for turbo training great inspiration.