If you’re one of the many people who has looked to training indoors over the past year, then you’ve probably had many questions about what you need for indoor cycling. Various solutions are available, ranging from simple systems that by themselves are incompatible with Zwift to the premium options that, while app-compatible, can leave your bank account feeling emptier than your stomach after a fasted ride.
Here we’re going to run through all the options, with a guide on how to get the cheapest Zwift setup, so that you can have the interactivity of the apps, without it costing a fortune.
But before we start, let’s take a brief look at the cycling industry as a whole. 2020 has been a peculiar year. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to indoor cycling to get their fitness fix, and as a result, there was a huge surge in demand for turbo trainers. At the same time, factories were forced to close, and a stock shortage ensued around the world. Months later, manufacturers are still playing catch up and as winter takes hold of the northern hemisphere amid further lockdowns, the turbo trainer demand remains high. Fortunately for those still looking to take their training indoors, stock levels are finally recovering, but the demand is still there so discounts are rare to find.
However, despite vaccines finally being made available, COVID-19 still dominates headlines and lockdowns are still happening so factory closures are entirely possible at a moment’s notice. Therefore, if you want to be prepared for a winter of indoor training, we suggest taking advantage of the deals available now.
The best turbo trainers can indeed cost a small fortune, but you can absolutely bring your training indoors on a budget. Below, we overview the various ways you can get onto Zwift, the cheapest ways for each, along with any deals we can find to get you rolling indoors on a budget.
- Want to save money on your other cycling purchases? Check out our cycling deals roundup
Zwift itself is priced as a monthly subscription of £12.99 / $14.99 a month. However, retailers do occasionally offer three- or 12-month subscription gift-vouchers that can save you a bit of money.
TrainerRoad is similarly priced at $19.95 per month, although there is an annual subscription of $189.00 which equates to the better price of $15.75 per month.
It’s the required hardware that can add up to make getting onto Zwift a rather expensive investment. Without taking advantage of the deals below, the most premium setup will cost you four figures for the turbo trainer alone and that’s before you consider the cost of the bike, possible additions of a computer or tablet, as well as a fan. If you’re planning on running Zwift in an unpowered garage or shed, you may even need to factor in an extension lead, wifi booster, even the light bulbs!
The overwhelming thought of all this investment might put you off, but thankfully, we’re here to help. If you’ve read our guide to Zwift, you’ll know there are a couple of turbo trainer types: direct-drive and wheel-on. You’ll also know that some trainers are smart, meaning the resistance can be controlled by software (Zwift, TrainerRoad, etc), whereas others are ‘dumb’, and will need to be controlled by your gear selection or a manual resistance controller that clamps to your handlebars.
While Zwift is undoubtedly the biggest of the various indoor cycling apps, it’s worth noting that the following setups will work with other training software such as TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, Rouvy and more, so once you’re set up, you can test out the various platforms for yourself.
Cheapest Zwift setups, in price order
Assuming you already have a road bike to use, the cheapest Zwift setup uses a ‘dumb’ turbo trainer and a speed sensor. With a dumb trainer, Zwift calculates power output based on the speed of the rear wheel so the downside is that there will be a delay between power output and your in-game avatar’s response.
This isn’t too problematic for long steady efforts, but for sprint efforts or Zwift races, a ‘smart’ trainer or power meter will offer a better in-game experience.
To fit your bike onto the turbo trainer, you’ll also need an adaptor for the rear axle. This is where it gets a little bit confusing, as you’ll need to get the right adaptor for your bike. If your bike uses quick-release axles, the most common rear spacing (distance between the dropouts) is 130mm for road bikes. If your bike uses bolt-thru axles (a closed dropout with a threaded bolt), then check the axle itself for size spec (the most common on road bikes is 142 x 12mm).
These deals are selling out FAST, so if you’re on the fence make your mind up quickly, as you might miss out.
LifeLine TT-02 | £149.99 at Wiggle UK
The LifeLine is a fluid trainer, meaning it offers a progressive resistance curve (the harder you pedal, the more it resists). It is compatible with QR axle bikes (a thru-axle adaptor is available to buy) and the legs fold up to make it easy to transport. View Deal
Saris 9902T | $229.99 at Jenson USA
Like the trainer above, the 9902T is a dumb trainer, so you’ll need a speed sensor to connect yourself up to Zwift. It comes with a remote for adjusting your resistance, and it also comes with a month’s subscription to Zwift competitor Rouvy.View Deal
$239.99 at Jenson USA | £149.99 at Tredz UK
A magnetic trainer with a noise level of around 72-76 decibels. The main selling point of this unit is that Jenson USA have bundled it with a speed sensor, which makes it capable of getting you into Zwift. View Deal
$299.99 at Jenson USA | £229.99 at Rutland Cycling UK
A recently relaunched trainer from Tacx, the Boost is a basic trainer which will actively reduce noise. It features a handlebar-mounted resistance control, a stable base and a front wheel riser block. Additionally, you can select bundle and get a speed sensor to connect you to Zwift. View Deal
A slightly more accurate method of using Zwift is with a power meter. It’ll cost more than a speed sensor, but it will come with added accuracy (and immediate response), along with the benefit of being able to take your power measurement outdoors.
We recommend choosing something with Bluetooth compatibility as well as ANT+, because it will communicate with more computers, phones and laptops than an ANT+ only device. You can overcome that with an ANT+ adapter, but that’s an extra cost we’re trying to avoid.
A power meter paired with your device running Zwift will increase the accuracy of your in-game experience and will be a great training tool for intervals and steady-state training, theoretically resulting in long-term performance gains.
Your choice of power meter will depend on your bike and the subsequent compatibility requirements. More details can be found in our guide to the best power meters, but here are a few of the best prices we’re able to find.
Avio Powersense Power Meter | 37% off at ProBikeKit UK
Was £199.99 | Now £134.99
This unit requires a bit of effort, but it can save you a lot of money. It’s a strain gauge that you’ll need to fit onto your own bike’s left-hand-crank to convert it into a power meter. Compatible with Hollowtech II Shimano cranks. View Deal
4IIII Precision – Shimano 105
20% off at ProBikeKit UK | 30% off at ProBikeKit USA
$406.99 $282.99 | £299.00 £238.99
With 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm crank lengths, this left-hand-crank power meter simply replaces the crank of any modern Shimano road cranksets. It’s Shimano’s 105 spec, the brand’s 3rd tier, but it will fit anything from Tiagra up to Dura-Ace. View Deal
Power meter pedals
Power meter pedals aren’t exactly cheap – they’re generally twice the price of a budget crank-based power meter or the same as a wheel-on smart trainer – however, the benefit to owning power meter pedals over a smart turbo trainer is the flexibility to use it in multiple scenarios: At the gym, at home on your own Zwift setup, outside in the real world, and across multiple bikes.
The initial spend might be higher, but if you intend on using your bike outside as well as on the turbo, you will benefit from a single consistent reading of power across all of your training sessions.
If your gym doesn’t have smart bikes like a Wattbike, with a pair of power meter pedals and a polite request, your gym might allow you to swap them onto one of their non-smart indoor bikes – the type used for spin classes. Pair them with your Bluetooth enabled phone or tablet and you’ve got Zwift at the gym – great for those who are often on the road.
Smart wheel-on turbo trainers
The resistance of a smart turbo trainer can be controlled by software and work in perfect harmony with your Zwift experience, meaning when the road points up, pedalling gets harder, just like in the real world.
There are many different smart wheel-on turbo trainers available, but here are a few of the best of the turbo trainer prices we’ve been able to find where stock remains available.
The Wahoo Kickr Snap features all the necessary tech to connect you to indoor cycling apps, but the wheel-on nature helps to keep the price down.
It features power accuracy of +/- 3%, a maximum resistance of 1500 watts, as well as a maximum gradient simulation of 12%. The 10.5lb flywheel helps to offer a realistic road feel, and the included accessories make it compatible with road bikes of all styles.
Smart direct-drive turbo trainers
For the ultimate experience and a true road feel, a direct drive turbo trainer really does offer a considerably better experience compared to a wheel-on trainer. Not only does it prevent that laboured pedalling-through-treacle feeling, but it’s also considerably quieter and doesn’t chew through tyres like the cool kids doing skids. The top-spec direct-drive trainers add extra niceties such as vibration (to provide off-road feel in off-road in-game sections) and generally have a higher maximum power and incline simulation.
Yes, they’re a far cry from the cheapest Zwift setup that this article provided at the top, but if you’re looking for a premium turbo trainer setup, you can still save money with the following deals.
The Wahoo Kickr Core delivers an authentic and accurate indoor cycling experience, thanks to the brand’s proven 5.4kg flywheel technology and the smooth and quiet belt motor drivetrain. When connected to your smartphone, tablet or laptop, you can use the Wahoo SUF Training app to automatically set your resistance. Meanwhile, the Kickr Core can simulate climbs of up to a 16 per cent gradient, and provides a maximum of 1,800W of resistance for you to power through.
$999.99 at Jenson USA | £849.00 at Evans Cycles UK
The H3 comes with integrated speed and cadence (and of course power) sensors and offers smooth transitions in resistance. The standout figure is the low noise, promising just 59 decibels at 20mph, the H3 is arguably the best turbo trainer for those looking to keep neighbours happy.View Deal
The ever-popular Wahoo Kickr smart trainer has been upgraded to incorporate even better power accuracy, automatic calibration, and new Kickr Axis feet that provide authentic side-to-side movement to enhance the ride feel and mimic the feeling of cycling outdoors.
Rollers are the left-field inclusion here in that your bike isn’t fixed into place, and as such requires greater concentration in order to avoid riding off the side. Great for working on core strength whilst riding, but for beginners, they certainly take some getting used to. Also, while not impossible, a sprint session is better undertaken on a turbo trainer.
Premium solution: Smart bikes
Tacx Neo Smart Bike | $3,199.99 at Jenson USA
Quite the comprehensive solution to indoor cycling, the Neo Bike Smart comes complete with a fully adjustable setup, along with integrated fans, a tablet holder and phone holder, as well as industry-leading accuracy, resistance and gradient simulation.View Deal
If you’re starting your pain cave setup from scratch and would rather not relegate one of your bikes to the house, there’s a lot to be gained from Wahoo’s Kickr smart bike. Constructed from robust steel and aluminium, the Kickr Bike uses the same legendary flywheel technology as the Kickr smart trainer, which means incredible power accuracy and responsiveness. The Kickr Bike delivers real-time grade changes to match ascents of up to 20 per cent, replicating an authentic ride feel that enables you to maintain your pace. You can programme the virtual shifting to match your preferred gear ratio, number of speeds, cassette tooth count and even groupset from Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. All in all it delivers the ultimate indoor bike training setup, while the free year’s subscription to Wahoo SUF Training will make the perfect companion for it.
Alternative: Gym subscription
All of the above options assume you already have a bike ready to be used in conjunction with a turbo trainer, but what if you don’t?
Assuming your local gym is open – we know that’s not a given in today’s society – this can be the cheapest Zwift setup of them all, especially if you’re already paying for gym subscription anyway.
If you’re a member of a gym, there’s a chance your gym has a Zwift-ready bike with a built-in power meter such as a Stages bike or Wattbike. If you’re unsure, you can either check with the gym’s staff as to the facilities available, or just open up the settings on your phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a smart bike is found, it’s likely that it’ll connect up to Zwift without a hitch. Bring a power bank though, as Zwift can be battery intensive and your gym buddies mightn’t appreciate you trailing charging cables across the floor.
Pure Gym Membership (UK only)
Various prices depending on location
Starting at around £9.99 a month, you can join your local PureGym. We can’t speak for every single Pure Gym location, but any that we’ve visited (mainly around the south-west) have all featured a smart bike in the form of either a Stages bike or a Wattbike. Both of which are directly compatible with Zwift. View Deal
Anytime Fitness Gym Membership (worldwide)
Various prices depending on location
Whether you’re in LA, HK, the UK or on vacay, there’s probably an Anytime Fitness near you. As with most modern gyms, they tend to have Zwift compatible smart bikes on offer. View Deal
What you need for Zwift
What you need for Zwift
For any Zwift setup, you’ll likely need a turbo trainer, if you’re looking for advice on which to get, we have a guide to the best turbo trainers to help.
You can alternatively use a smart bike (our guide to the best smart bikes will help you there) but they’re far from cheap, with a starting price of around £1700 / $2000.
An adapted gym bike will work with a pair of power meter pedals, but we’d only advise trying this option if you have one lying around anyway. The money can be better spent elsewhere.
Rollers aren’t completely out of the question, but you’ll need resistance rollers to avoid spinning 140rpm.
Most turbo trainers will come with a front-wheel riser block, but if not, adding one of these will prevent your weight from being pushed onto your hands. But to save money, so will a block of wood or a couple of books.
Riser block | $15.99 / £6.99 at Amazon
They don’t need to be anything special, the cheapest versions can be found for around £4.00 at Amazon. Or you can save that and slide a block of wood beneath your front wheel – just make sure it’s stable enough not to topple during sprint efforts. View Deal
You’ll need an internet connection. This can come in the form of 4G but be careful with your data allowance if choosing this option – in our test, a one-hour-long Zwift ride used approximately 300MB of data.
Running an ethernet cable to the garage mightn’t be the most permanent solution, but it might be the only option you have. If you’re considering this method, a second router or WiFi booster is an alternative idea.
There’s nothing more ’21st century’ than getting dropped due to a poor internet connection, but it’s annoying nonetheless.
2. Zwift compatible computer
You’ll need a Zwift compatible computer. This can be in the form of a PC, a laptop, tablet, Apple TV, or even your smartphone. The majority of us will already have something that technically can run Zwift, but in our experience, a phone screen is too small to read the data numbers when riding at or near your limit.
3. Bluetooth / ANT+
Bluetooth or ANT+ connectivity. If your turbo trainer, power meter or speed sensor are ANT+ only, you’re likely to need an ANT+ adapter. If you’re using Bluetooth, then there’s a greater chance your device will connect without the need for an adapter.
4. Mains power
You’ll ideally need a power supply, especially if using a smart trainer. Some of the best turbo trainers, such as the Tacx NEO 2T, will work without it but you’ll also want a fan and you don’t want your laptop’s battery life to cut your ride short.
For anyone looking to run Zwift in a garage or outbuilding, a power supply and wifi connection might not be a guarantee. The options here will very much depend on your circumstances. If you’re unable to run a permanent power supply, an extension lead and temporary ethernet cable might be the only option. You can get a 50m extension lead from Amazon for around $40, and a similar length ethernet cable for around half that.
5. A fan
You’ll also need a fan.
OK, you don’t need a fan, but when you’re sweating from places you didn’t know existed, we promise you’ll want one more than you’ve ever wanted anything before.
Things to improve your Zwift experience
You might want a desk. If you’re running a laptop, you’ll need to be able to reach it so you can use the Zwift menu without having to climb off the bike. Brands do make dedicated turbo trainer desks, such as the Wahoo Kickr Desk, but for the budget-conscious, you can often make do with a less dedicated solution, such as an ironing board or some adjustable shelving from Ikea.
2. Sweat protector
To protect your bike against corrosion from the cumulative drips of salty sweat, you can get a dedicated sweat protector to catch the drips. The majority of sweat will drip from your face and shoulders, so it’s the handlebars that need the most protection. Therefore, a towel placed atop the bars and stem will generally do a good job – with the added benefit of being able to wipe your brow every so often.
For the budget-conscious, a towel or an old sweatshirt draped over the handlebars and top tube can have the same outcome.
3. Turbo trainer floor mat
Unless you’re in the garage or shed, you’ll probably want to protect your floor from your salty sweat droplets, not to mention the damage caused by the feet of your turbo trainer. A turbo trainer mat will offer this protection and are available pretty cheap, but an old yoga mat or even an offcut of kitchen lino will do the same job – just don’t cut it out of your parents’ kitchen floor!
4. Turbo trainer tyre
If using a wheel-on turbo trainer – especially a cheap one – the roller’s interaction with the soft rubber of your rear tyre can quite quickly churn through your rubber and cause a square edge and ruin the tyre’s on-road performance. Dedicated hard-wearing turbo trainer tyres exist to overcome this very problem. You could invest in a dedicated turbo trainer tyre, or alternatively, if you regularly ride on the road, upgrade your best road bike tyres and recycle your old part-worn tyre for indoor-use only.
If you’re setting up Zwift for the first time and your budget is limited, our advice would be to invest your money in the trainer and the fan, to begin with, then add to the experience later with the peripherals. Look for a turbo trainer deal to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
Any questions / tips?
If you have any Zwift setup related questions, feel free to drop us a comment below – we’ll be sure to answer as many as we can, and if, during your own pain-cave building process, you’ve learned any tips and tricks that will help others looking to invest in a cheap Zwift setup, feel free to share them.