The time has come. Curiosity has gotten the better of you and you've finally decided to take the plunge and invest in an indoor trainer setup so you can see what all this hype is about surrounding Zwift.
You've no doubt done your research and already know that Zwift itself is a rather inexpensive subscription. For £12.99 ($14.99) a month, you can immerse yourself in an entirely new (virtual) world. However, it's the required hardware that can add up to make getting onto Zwift a rather expensive investment.
The most premium setup will cost you four figures for the 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 (you'll need a fan!). If you're planning on running Zwift in the garage or shed, you may even need to factor in the extension lead! The overwhelming thought of all this investment might initially be more stressful than the thought of just putting up with winter yet again and cleaning your bike every day. Thankfully, we're here to help. We're going to answer the question: What are the cheapest Zwift setups?
If you've read our guide to Zwift, you'll know there are a couple of trainer types: direct-drive and wheel-on. You'll also know that some trainers are smart, meaning the resistance can be controlled by Zwift, whereas others are 'dumb'.
Below, we'll go through the cheapest options for all, as well as the best ways to get a cheap Zwift setup in your home, no matter your circumstances. Of course, once you're up and running, you won't be limited to Zwift. All of the below options will work with other training software such as TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, Rouvy and more.
What you need to get onto Zwift
1. Turbo trainer
Firstly, for any Zwift setup, you'll need a turbo trainer. Rollers aren't completely out of the question, but unless you're planning on spinning 140rpm, you'll need resistance rollers, and unless you already own these, you're much better off investing in a turbo trainer. Most 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.
You'll need an internet connection. This can come in the form of 4G, but in our test, a one-hour-long Zwift race used approximately 650MB of data, so be careful with your data allowance if choosing this option. Running an ethernet cable to the garage mightn't be the quickest solution, but it might be the only option you have. If you're able to run a permanent ethernet cable, a second router or WiFi booster is a worthy consideration. There's nothing more '21st century' than getting dropped due to a poor internet connection, but it's annoying nonetheless.
3. 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, an iPhone screen is too small to read the data numbers in the corners when riding at or near your limit.
4. Bluetooth / ANT+
Bluetooth or ANT+ connectivity. No matter your budget, 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.
5. Mains power
You'll ideally need a power supply. Especially if using a smart trainer. Some of the best smart trainers, such as the Tacx NEO 2T, will work without, but you'll also want a fan and you don't want your laptop's battery life to cut your ride short.
6. 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.
From our experience, the Honeywell HT900e is a great mid-sized powerful option, and it can be fixed to a wall. But if you're unsure, the general rule is the bigger the better. View Deal
Unessential things that will 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 you can often make do with a less dedicated solution, such as an ironing board or a stepladder.
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.
A sweat cover needn't cost the earth. This simple sweat cover called the Sweat Net from Lifeline is under £10 at Wiggle. View Deal
3. Turbo trainer floor mat
Unless you're in the garage or shed, you'll probably want to protect your floor from the same salty sweat as well as any 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. Not only will this ruin the tyre's on-road cornering performance, but it will also remove any puncture protection it once had. Dedicated hard-wearing turbo trainer tyres exist to overcome this very problem. You could invest in a dedicated turbo trainer tyre but if you fancy some new rubber for on the road, recycle your old part-worn tyre for indoor-use only.
The major difference between this and a typical road tyre is the density of the rubber and the lack of tread pattern, which reduces heat, noise and vibration. View Deal
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 unessential peripherals.
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 £35.00, and a similar length ethernet cable for around half that.
The Cheapest Zwift setups
Dumb trainer and speed sensor
Possibly the cheapest Zwift setup available is to use a dumb turbo trainer and a speed sensor. You could even consider buying second hand on eBay to reduce costs further, but if you're unsure what you're looking for when it comes to quality, we recommend buying new, as even a new turbo trainer can be fetched for well under £100. With this method, Zwift calculates power output based on the speed of the rear wheel so the downside is that your avatar won't react immediately to an increase in power. As a result, accuracy is negatively affected, so upgrading to a power meter or smart trainer would be our recommendation.
This budget option from Wiggle is the LifeLine TT-01 magnetic trainer. Don't expect smooth road feel or extreme durability, but at under £70.00, it might just be the cheapest way into the virtual world of Watopia. View Deal
A real 'starter pack' from CycleOps at Rutland Cycling. Coming complete with Trainer mat, riser block, sweat towel, and QR skewer, this is a great way to get up and running in the world of indoor training on a budget.
Attach this little unit to the hub of your rear wheel and it will calculate your speed, then push that data to your Zwift device via either Bluetooth or ANT+ to control your in-game avatar.
Dumb trainer and power meter
If you're shopping for a power meter for Zwift, we recommend choosing something with Bluetooth compatibility, and this will communicate to more computers, phones and laptops than an ANT+ only device. 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, but here are a few of the best deals we're able to find.
If you have a Shimano Hollowtech II chainset on your bike, then this 105 left-hand crank will fit your bike. With Bluetooth and ANT+ compatibility, this power meter will talk to your smartphone or tablet. Just be sure to get the correct crank length to match the right-hand side!View Deal
4iiii Precision 2.0: Shimano 105 5800 - £259.99
The previous model Shimano 105 is compatible with current generation Shimano Hollowtech II chainsets. Just be sure to get the correct crank length to match the right-hand side!View Deal
Both 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?
If you're a member of a gym, there's a possibility your gym has a Zwift-ready bike with a built-in power meter such as a Stages bike or Wattbike. Check with the gym's staff as to the facilities available - you may be able to pair your bike with your phone and be on Zwift in seconds.
Power meter pedals
If your gym doesn't have smart bikes, there may still be an option. With a pair of power meter pedals, your gym might allow you to swap them onto one of their indoor bikes used for spin classes.
Power meter pedals aren't exactly cheap. They're generally twice the price of a budget crank-based power meter or 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, both on Zwift, and outside of your pain cave in the real world. It may be a slightly more expensive total outlay, 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.
Garmin Vector 3S Pedal Power Meter - £427.99
The Garmin Vector 3S pedal-based power meter is a single-sided power meter that uses Look's Keo cleat type. You do get two pedals, but the right will be void of any electronics or sensors. Garmin does also sell the right-hand power meter pedal separately, should you wish to upgrade to dual-sided later. View Deal
PowerTap Power Pedals P2 - £649.00
While at this price, we're getting into the realm of Kickr Core direct-drive turbo trainer kind of money, hear us out.
These power meter pedals use ANT+ or Bluetooth, so will easily talk to your smartphone or tablet. They can be used on your turbo trainer or rollers for a power-based indoor experience. They can be fitted to any kind of indoor bike that uses 9/16" thread, or they can be used on any bike outdoors, without compatibility issues. View Deal
Smart wheel-on turbo trainer
If you want the full Zwift experience, you'll undoubtedly want a smart turbo trainer. The variable resistance offered by a smart trainer can be controlled electronically 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 deals we've been able to find.
The Tacx Flow Smart is the cheapest trainer we can find that can be controlled by Zwift (or other software). It's recently been discontinued by Tacx, so act fast and you'll get a solid, cheap turbo trainer that will provide the full online training experience for a mere £180.00. It has a low maximum resistance of just 800w, but if you're just looking to Zwift on a budget, it's a great option.View Deal
The Tacx Bushido Smart can be controlled electronically by Zwift, meaning it can tailor the resistance to aid interval training or gradient simulation. The best thing about the Bushido? It harnesses the power of your legs to function and therefore doesn't require electricity to function.View Deal
A turbo trainer that wouldn't look out of place in an IKEA show home is the Elite Tuo FE-C. It's relatively new to the market, so discounts are hard to come by, but it stands out by way of its modern aesthetics. View Deal
No list of turbo trainer deals would be complete without something from Wahoo. The Kickr Snap is their wheel-on offering and it sets the benchmark for wheel-on performance and road feel. View Deal
Smart direct-drive turbo trainer
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 Ken Block on a track day. 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.
The Elite Turbo Muin II is a low-cost direct-drive smart trainer and comes in at a lower price than some of the wheel-on options above. Assuming compatibility with your bike, it's a great option. View Deal
The Flux S the mid-range option from Tacx. Offering direct-drive to those with slightly tighter purse strings. It loses a few features but the road feel remains superb. View Deal
Originally £999.99, the H2 Hammer is now available with 38% off at £623.99. Not only does it have the widest footprint for a more stable ride, but it also folds neatly for storage. View Deal
Formerly the range-topping model from Tacx, the Neo 2 is still one of the best direct-drive turbo trainers on the market. It doesn't require a power supply - instead using the power of your legs to function. It can handle power of up to 2200 watts, and can simulate gradients of up to 25%. View Deal
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 add them to the comments below. The best tips may be added to the body of this article.