Best Zwift setups for every rider – from budget to ultimate

The four stages of creating a training pain cave, from basic setups to £3,500 indoor bikes

Zwift is taking the indoor cycling world by storm at the moment, and with winter well and truly underway here in the Northern Hemisphere, you might be thinking about taking the plunge and investing in a dedicated setup.

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However, it can be hard to know exactly what you need or how much money you should spend to get your ideal set up.

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 entry-level to the ultimate high-end Zwift indoor training configuration.

Why should you use Zwift?

Zwift set ups
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. 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, and even races to be won and lost.

Zwift is great not just for taking the boredom out of indoor training, but is so fully-featured that it can be considered an ideal complement to riding outside, rather than simply an alternative.

If you’re totally new to Zwift, you can check out our complete guide to the platform, which sets out everything you need to know about all of the current major features.

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.

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.

Again, we’ve covered this in lots more detail in our complete guide to Zwift, so if you’re feeling confused, give it a read for the full run-down.

Best budget Zwift setup

Zwift budget set ups
A basic Zwift setup can be cobbled together from a few bits of kit that many cyclists will already own.
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At its most basic, you need the following equipment:

  • A bike
  • A trainer or a set of rollers
  • An ANT+ or Bluetooth measurement tool: a power meter, smart trainer or speed/cadence sensor
  • 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.

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.

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, 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.

Best mid-range Zwift setup

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.

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.

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 set-up, 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

Zwift high-end setup
Top-end Zwift setups usually comprise of a direct-drive trainer and an HD TV, 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.

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.

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 £150 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 it’s 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.

The ultimate Zwift setup

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.

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?

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.

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.

But, 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.

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 pain cave and might want to consider a >projector and >cinema screen to create the truly ultimate experience.

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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.