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Best Zwift setup for every rider – from budget to ultimate

How to create the perfect Zwift pain cave, from basic setups to four-figure indoor bikes

With Zwift taking the indoor cycling world by storm at the moment, giving riders the chance to immerse themselves in a virtual universe and train more efficiently than ever, are you thinking about taking the plunge and investing in a dedicated Zwift setup?

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It can be hard to know exactly what you need or how much money you should spend to get your ideal Zwift setup. So, with that in mind, we’ve examined all of the options and put together a guide to the best Zwift setup for every rider and every budget.

We’ve covered it all; from the cheapest Zwift setup 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.

Why should you use Zwift?

Zwift setup
There’s a Zwift setup for practically every budget – painting your living room in Zwift orange is optional, though.
Zwift

Zwift is a great way to race and train, enabling you to reap the benefits of indoor training 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 virtual cycling game with different worlds to ride around, group rides to join, workouts and training plans to complete, FTP and ramp tests to benchmark your fitness, and even 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 fully-featured that it can be considered an ideal complement to riding outside, rather than simply an alternative.

How to sign up to Zwift

Visit the Zwift website to sign up for a free seven-day trial. After your trial period ends, Zwift costs £12.99 / $14.99 per month.

What do you need to get started?

You do need to sign up for a Zwift account, which can be done on a Mac or PC via zwift.com/create_account, or on a compatible tablet or mobile device via the Zwift app, which is available through the Apple App Store or Google Play.

You can also purchase a digital membership gift card on Zwift.com.

Once you’ve created an account, you’ll get a seven-day free trial if you signed up online, or 25km of free riding if you sign up 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.

Cheapest Zwift setup

Standard turbo trainer and speed/cadence sensor

Zwift budget setup
A basic Zwift setup can be cobbled together from a few bits of kit that many cyclists will already own.
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If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll need the following equipment to put together the cheapest Zwift setup:

  • A bike
  • A trainer or a set of rollers
  • An ANT+ or Bluetooth measurement tool: a speed/cadence sensor or power meter
  • A compatible computer, smartphone or tablet with Bluetooth or ANT+ (or an ANT+ USB dongle)

Most people will probably want to start here because many dedicated cyclists will likely have access to a lot of this equipment already.

Any standard 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. You’ll obviously miss out on features such as course/gradient simulation, but this is a good option if you don’t want to invest in a new trainer.

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

Change the way you workout indoors...
If you’re just dipping your toes into the world of Zwift, or are on a tight budget, practically any turbo trainer can be made to work – you’ll just need a few accessories.
Courtesy of Zwift

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

Something like Wahoo’s RPM Speed and Cadence Cycle Sensors are 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 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.

With that in mind, the Saris Fluid 2 trainer could be a good option if you don’t already own a turbo trainer – we gave it five stars when we reviewed it back in 2013, and it’s on Zwift’s supported list for virtual power.

If you have an unsupported trainer, Zwift will try to make a rough calculation based on your wheel speed, but 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 great long-term solution for many.

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 some sort of fan. A cheap desktop fan such as this one from Argos will work fine, if you can get it in the right position.

Mid-range Zwift setup

Wheel-on smart trainer

Best mid-range Zwift setup
A mid-range Zwift setup means stepping into the world of smart trainers, plus a few reasonably priced accessories that massively improve the quality of the experience.
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The mid-range is dominated by wheel-on smart trainers, plus a few accessories that help improve the quality of the experience:

  • Wheel-on smart trainer
  • Turbo trainer table or tablet/phone stand
  • Trainer-specific tyre
  • Front wheel riser block

With a wheel-on smart trainer you’ll be able to access all of the features Zwift has to offer, such as simulated courses and gradients, power-based workouts and training plans, group rides, races, etc. They’re a great way for riders on a budget to get into interactive training.

Our current favourite wheel-on smart trainer is the Saris M2. We were impressed not only with the price, but also with its performance compared to pricier, direct-drive trainers.

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 power meter pedals.

Saris M2 smart turbo trainer
The Saris M2 wheel-on smart trainer is a top performer at a good price, allowing a much more immersive experience without costing the earth.
Simon Bromley

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’ll want to get 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.

You might also consider a trainer-specific tyre, 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.

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.

Best top-end Zwift setup

Direct-drive smart trainer

Zwift high-end setup
Top-end Zwift setups usually comprise of a direct-drive trainer and an HDTV, as well as some accessories that are slightly more pricey.
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At the top-end, the market is dominated by direct-drive smart trainers:

  • Direct-drive smart trainer
  • Apple TV or powerful tablet/laptop with HDMI connection
  • Indoor training-specific fan

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 that there’s no wear on your rear tyre, and the best ones 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 them having a larger flywheel.

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

Even though direct-drive smart trainers are a top-end option, there’s a range of price points to choose from, but the best ones generally cost over £500.

Elite Suito smart turbo trainer
Direct-drive smart trainers, like this Elite Suito, offer excellent ride feel, better power accuracy and increased immersion.
Simon Bromley/Immediate Media

A reasonably accessible option is the Tacx Flux S. At an RRP of £549, it’s an excellent value route into direct-drive trainers. Its specs might not match up to its more expensive competitors on paper, but in reality it’s a great trainer that offers more than enough power and resistance for the vast majority of riders.

For only £100 more, the Elite Suito (RRP £650) is another good option. It’s ever so slightly louder than some of the best direct-drive trainers we’ve tested, but its performance, ease of use and stability make it a great option.

At this level, you may even want to consider playing Zwift on a TV, so that 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.

Ultimate Zwift setup

Indoor smart bike

Zwift ultimate setup
If money’s no object, or you just take your Zwifting very seriously, one of the top of the range direct-drive trainers, or even a dedicated smart indoor training bike, could be your ultimate Zwift setup.
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If money is truly no object, then there’s still another tier of Zwift setup you can reach:

  • Top-end direct-drive smart trainer or smart indoor bike
  • Accessories that create a more immersive experience
  • Projector and cinema screen

At this level you really will have 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?

One of the most fully-featured direct-drive smart trainers is the Tacx Neo 2T Smart. At an RRP of £1,200, it’s not cheap, but it has excellent ride feel thanks to its virtual flywheel, a claimed power accuracy of +/- 1 per cent, and it can even simulate descents and different surfaces (such as cobbles and gravel).

Similarly, Elite’s top of the range Drivo II is able to simulate gradients up to 24 per cent and has a monstrous maximum power of 3,600 watts at 60kph – so if you’ve got legs like Chris Hoy it could be one to consider. Elite also recently released the Direto XR, another fully-featured, high-end smart trainer that works perfectly with accessories like Elite’s Sterzo Smart steering block.

If you use a Wahoo Kickr trainer, you can also make use of the Wahoo 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.

If you’re able (and willing) to spend even more, there’s a recent trend towards dedicated smart indoor training bikes.

There’s the Wahoo Kickr Bike, for example, which is claimed to “blur the line between the indoor reality and an outdoor experience”. There are also offerings available, either now or in the near future, from Stages, WattBike, Tacx and SRM.

Zwift setups
If money’s no object, or you just take your Zwifting very seriously, a dedicated smart indoor training bike (plus all the accessories) could be the ultimate Zwift setup.
Wahoo

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 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.

The benefits over a top-end setup will probably only be marginal, but marginal gains are gains nevertheless. So, if you’re looking to squeeze out every last watt from your sessions, spending this kind of money could be worth it.

Best MTB setup for Zwift

Direct-drive smart trainer

Best MTB setup Zwift
Zwift isn’t just for roadies, there’s plenty going on for mountain bikers too.
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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:

  • Direct-drive smart trainer
  • Compatible freehub or cassette
  • Steering platform

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.

Mathieu van der Poel riding a MTB on Zwift
Multi-discipline riders like Mathieu van der Poel use Zwift on all kinds of bikes.
Zwift

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, like a turbo-trainer table.

Turbo trainer accessories for Zwift

Turbo trainer accessories for Zwift
A towel and water bottles are two essential accessories for your best Zwift setup.
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No run-through of the best Zwift setups would be complete without briefly touching 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:

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  • Sports towel
  • Large water bottles
  • Trainer mat or some form of floor protection
  • Wireless headphones
  • Cotton cap or sweatband