What's Cool In Road Cycling

Zwift on a Shoestring!

How to Zwift for ‘Cheap-Oh’: ‘Never!’ ‘Not for me!’ Those phrases were used when ‘Zwift’ was suggested, but if you don’t try something how will you ever know? Our PEZ-man in Spain, Alastair Hamilton, has dipped his toe in the virtual cycling World, but he has spent as little money as possible on the Zwift experience.

These guys gave me a hard time on Box Hill

Confession Time: A few years ago, when the nice people at Zwift offered to help me get started on their training system, I said: “why would I want to ride my bike indoors when I can just go outside?” I live on the east coast of Spain, where it doesn’t rain much and it never gets very cold, which is why 90% of the pro peloton trains around here in the winter. Jump forward in time and I can see that Zwift isn’t just training indoors, but also a game and another tool, like Strava, to encourage you to get some exercise. I’m the Luddite who said, about 25 years ago, that I would never have a computer in the house because, “they’ll never catch on!”

Underwater in Watopia

I had this thought (wrongly) that you would have to spend over 1,000 € $ or £ to get set up with Zwift. After watching a few different videos and reading more about the Zwift set up, I got to thinking that it could be done with what I have at hand in the house.

You can make do with your phone

Obviously everyone has a smart phone and you can run Zwift on that, but then I got to thinking: “who doesn’t have a laptop or computer, or an Apple TV?” Anyway, let’s start with what you need:

● Bike – OK, a bit obvious
● Indoor trainer – Basic rear wheel trainer or rollers
● Mobile phone (better to use a computer or Apple TV, but more about that Later)
● Handlebar phone support
● Electric fan
● Pulse monitor
● Speed sensor
● Cadence sensor (optional)
● 7-Day Zwift free trial
● You can use a power meter, but if you have a power meter you are probably already on Zwift.

Remember the whole point of this exercise is to get started on Zwift without spending any money, otherwise you could just go out and buy the top smart trainer and all the add-ons for a couple of thousand Euros, Dollars or Pounds.

The old ‘dumb’ trainer or rollers

Of course with a normal ‘dumb trainer’ or rollers, you won’t get the difficulty of an incline change when you go up a hill or the advantage of sitting on another riders wheel, but the Zwift experience adds a lot to your training/riding and breaks the monotony of indoor training.

It’s easy enough to pair everything on Apple

Also on Windows

The Set Up:
As I said this is either the ‘cheap-oh’ way to get into Zwift, or the start of a love affair. First thing you need to do is create a Zwift account and get the 7-Day free trial. Also check-out the ‘How-To Videos for Cycling’ they explain much more than I can.

I dug out my old rear wheel home trainer, which hadn’t been used for over 20 years, there was dust and rust, but the roller still turned, but I think the magnetic resistance had lost its power and the spring to hold the roller to the wheel wasn’t great. A bit of oil on the spring seemed to help, but I was glad of the lack of resistance from the magnets.

Wahoo speed sensor

Wahoo cadence – Good, but not necessary

As I use a Wahoo ELEMNT, I also have pulse monitor and cadence sensors, so here was my first purchase, a Wahoo speed sensor to go on the wheel (€39,99, arrived in a couple of days). Out on the road the ELEMNT works from GPS – not so in the house.

Pairing on the phone is just the same

Once on the trainer and Zwift fired-up on the mobile phone, it’s a case of pairing the speed, pulse and cadence (if you have it). Then you get the choice of trainer, here I had to go for the ‘unknown home trainer’ and I was ready to go.

Ready to go

The Home Trainer Ride
On my first ride on the Watopia course everything is explained to you and you soon get into catching people, and being caught, and to be honest, half an hour, passed very quickly. With not having a smart trainer I did feel I was cheating, the guys I overtook would be struggling on the climb while I was spinning. But I rode 16.93 kilometres in 31:43, with 92 meters elevation at an average power of 217 watts and allegedly burnt 386 calories. It was great fun. The only drawback is that the phone screen is small and I had to wear my glasses during the ride, the next time I’ll use my laptop.

Starting in Innsbruck

The Roller Ride
I have a set of Brand X rollers, they have been gathering dust for over 5 years. They were one of those planned ‘get some fitness during the winter’ ideas that didn’t go anywhere. The first suggestion is not to use the phone, apart from the eyesight problem, you need to concentrate a bit more on the rollers. The set-up is the same, but you select the rollers option.

Best to use the Zwift companion on your mobile phone to control your laptop or Apple TV

Everything you need to know is on the companion – Numbers, map, messages, control your ride….

My second ride I used the London course. I did a lap and a bit: 22.19 kilometres, 40:05 time with 224 metres of climbing at 572 calories burnt. Average speed was 33.2 kph and average power was 249 watts. Of course, as with the trainer, all of this is guess work from Zwift as it hasn’t a clue what my real power output is or the resistance I’m pushing against (in my case as little as possible). The rollers were not as much fun as the trainer as you have to pay more attention to what you are doing.

Battering across Tower Bridge in London

Companion control from your phone

You can use your mobile phone, but the laptop is by far the better option, only to be topped by a big screen TV and the Zwift phone companion to control everything.

Best on the big screen TV – Lots of riders Zwifting today

The Final Conclusion
I love it! No, its not the same as riding outside, but great for a quick spin if you are short of time. Perfect for some serious training in fairly controlled circumstances. Also the only way to train in bad weather without discomfort, mess and damage to your bike. Basically it’s great fun without the boredom of indoor training. And it will go to your Strava. ‘If it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen’.

One last word of warning if you use rollers: Don’t try to lean over when you go round a bend, it doesn’t end well.

The open roads of Zwift – No cars here

Overall Outlay:
● Wahoo speed sensor €39,99
● Handlebar phone support €3,95

Getting started on Zwift is neither difficult nor expensive and a great fun way of keeping/getting fit. With a ‘dumb trainer’ you don’t get the full Zwift experience, but if you enjoy this basic sample you will be hooked.

Heading for a KOM in Innsbruck

What next? Get my hands on a smart trainer and get the full Zwift experience… I’ll let you know how that goes!

Box Hill on the London circuit – Longer than you think

More info:
Zwift on YouTube
Apple TV

If Mat Hayman can use Zwift to win Paris-Roubaix, then….

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?

Comments are closed.