How to Start Indoor Cycling with Zwift – Step by Step Guide
So you want to start cycling in the virtual world of Zwift. You would be making the correct choice because Zwift is one of the best ways to stay entertained while cycling indoors. Zwift is a fantastic application, and not only will it make your indoor cycling much more enjoyable, but it will offer you structured training and some incredible training plans.
It can be a bit overwhelming getting started with the Zwift app. If you have a spin bike already compatible with the Zwift out of the box, then things are easier. But if it’s not, you will need specific equipment and have it set up correctly to get you ready to go. In this article, we are going to tell you how and give you some great tips and tricks to help you connect your spin bike or turbo trainer with Zwift.
What You Need to Connect and Ride on Zwift Application?
When going into the virtual world of indoor training, there’s certain equipment you’re going to need to make it happen. You have many options, and you can keep it very basic for a simple experience, or you can have a complex setup for a very interactive experience.
These are parts you will need no matter what to make the experience work, and we believe the more you invest in these, the better experience you will have.
Smart Trainer and A Bike
A smart trainer is basically a turbo trainer with connectivity to other devices. With Zwift, we need this to transfer data back and forward to other devices. You can buy a smart trainer ready for Zwift. The Elite Direto is the model I use. We recommend purchasing a ready smart turbo trainer as you will get the best experience from these. You will see many people using homemade standard trainers with added sensors, but unfortunately, the data isn’t accurate, and typically they are a lot of hassle.
If you have a smart spin bike, then excellent, you’re ready to go. Typically for Zwift, most people use their own road bikes. The beauty of a smart turbo trainer is that you can add and remove your bike from it. So you don’t need a dedicated indoor bike. You can use your outdoor bike.
Spin Bike (preferably a smart one)
You also have the option of a spin bike, and there are many smart indoor bikes on the market that can link up to Zwift, such as the Keiser M3i, and Bowflex C7, or even better options, the Tacx Neo bike, Wahoo Kickr bike or the Watt Bike Atom. These will give you the best experience, but they are much more expensive, and when you use a smart turbo trainer, you get to put your bike on. You can also use a homemade setup by adding speed and cadence sensors to a spin bike, but again, the data isn’t very accurate and will make the experience less enjoyable.
Unfortunately not all spin bikes are Zwift compatible out of the box so you would need a pair of cadence sensors or even better, a pair of power meter pedals for indoor cycling. I say better, because they are literally the most accurate way of measuring your performance on spin bikes and they are compatible with Zwift and many other indoor cycling applications. Plus, the process of setting up a spin bike with Zwift is really easy with power pedals because you just need to put the pedals on the bike and start pedalling. The main issue with DIY spin bike Zwift setup (both with power pedals or RPM sensors) is that the bike will not automatically change resistance for uphill and downhill. it’s something you can only get from Smart turbo trainers (not dumb ones) and smart magnetic spin bikes that come with computerised resistance system like the Tacx Neo, Watt Atom, and Wahoo Kickr.
Keep in mind that for a spin bike to synch with Zwift or change resistance automatically, it doesn’t just need to be smart, it has to be compatible with Zwift. For example, the Peloton Plus, it is a smart spin bike with automatic resistance but the company limited the bike to synch with the Peloton application only. The same scenario goes for the Nordictrack S22i and S15i, they are smart spin bikes with HD screens plus incline and decline settings but they don’t connect with the Zwift application. It’s mainly because these brands want to hook you up with their ridiculously expensive monthly subscriptions. If you are into Zwift and want to use a spin bike that fully functions with the app right out of the box, I would highly suggest the Tacx Neo. It’s the best option for Zwift cycling.
A Tablet, Laptop, SmartPhone, or Apple TV
The Zwift app can connect to many devices, and you won’t struggle to find something around your house that Zwift can link with. The best experience I have had with Zwift comes from a Tablet like an Ipad. It means you can put it anywhere and save your TV for watching a film in the background. You might also want to have a smartphone as well as Zwift has something called the Zwift companion app, and you can use this to control your workout when on the bike.
Now we have the equipment you don’t need, but we believe it is precious to any Zwift indoor training setup. When investing in an indoor trainer, especially smart trainers, you want to make the most out of it, and these are great basic devices that enormously enhance the experience.
- Heart Rate Monitor
- Turbo Tablet Desk
- A Cooling Fan
- Sweat Towels
- A Cycling Trainer Mat
- Front Wheel Riser Block
Alongside these, you can also have other turbo trainer accessories such as automatic risers, which incline and decline the front of your bike as your ride, a turning plate so in the game you have steering functionality and rocker plates that let you lean side to side. These are very extreme though, and unless you have been using a Zwift setup for a long time, would I be investing in these.
Setting up for Zwift
So you now have all the gear. It’s time to put it all together, ready for a ride in the virtual worlds. If you are new to indoor riding, make sure to take your time and set it up correctly so you don’t have any issues later.
Step one: Bike on the Trainer
The first thing you need to do is get your bike on the trainer in a safe space and plug the power in. Once you have set it up, ensure it is sturdy and nothing rattles or is loose. Try to keep the bike out of the way of children and animals.
Step two: Download the applications
Now you will need to download the Zwift application on your primary device, laptop, tablet, or apple tv. Then once downloaded, let it install, and then it will update itself. You will also need the Zwift companion app for your mobile phone. Get these up and running.
Step three: Connected all the devices
Before the Zwift software lets you ride, it will start to connect all your devices. Make sure you connect the turbo trainer and your heart rate monitor up, ready for your indoor cycling workout. It’s a straightforward process as they will all appear on the screen. With the companion app, you will open it, and providing you’re on the same wifi network as the device running Zwift, it will link in.
Step four: Pick a Workout
- Free Riding
If you just hit go, Zwift will automatically put in into the world on what we call a free ride. When you get to a hill, the resistance will tighten up, and you will be riding as you would be outside. You will be able to draft other players in a group ride and will need to be using those gears a lot, especially on hilly routes.
You will have a lot of options when it comes to selecting a workout. Firstly click on the workouts tab, and you will have all the standard Zwift training plans there. You will also have the option to create your own Zwift workout if you pick a custom workout.
- FTP Test
We recommend starting with the FTP test workout. This is so Zwift can set you FTP (Functional Threshold Power). Once it knows this, each workout will be tailored to your ability, making the experience much more fun and challenging.
What is better than group rides? A race, yes, not only can you ride your heart out on your indoor trainer, you can race others all over the world. You can select races in your Zwift companion application, and then 10 minutes before, you will get a notification to join.
Step five: Ride On
Now you are up and riding on Zwift, and there are a million things to see on the screen. Don’t worry. We’re going to run through the important stuff now. So you are on your first ride and trying to understand everything on the screen while on the Zwift app. Let’s run through what you need to know.
- Power Output
Most smart trainers have a power meter, and this is the output you are currently producing.
- RPM (Cadence)
This is your revolutions per minute and how fast you are turning the pedals
- HR (Heart Rate)
This is your heart rate. Providing you are wearing a monitor, the application will tell you.
- ERG Mode
ERG mode is where if you are in a workout, it will automatically change the turbo trainers resistance to suit the training you are doing. For example, if you are doing intervals, you will not need to change gear automatically. The turbo will create resistance for you to optimize your training.
- Zwift Avatar
The Zwift avatar will be the person you are in the virtual world. You can change the way you look and your bike and equipment through the main menu. It’s nice to stand out in those group training sessions.
Nearly over a decade has Zwift been going on, and it has been a fantastic tool for not just a solo indoor workout but indoor group workouts. I know many cycling clubs who turn to Zwift for winter now and don’t meet outside. Having the option to ride Zwift will do so much for your training when it’s not possible to go outside or you lack some form of training structure. We highly recommend it and hope to see you in some group rides online soon.
Zwift Indoor Cycling FAQs
Yeah, nearly all do, they are vital for Zwift and make the experience much better for the user. Power meter are amazing for structured training and Zwift Racing.
Of course, you can pretty much use any bike will go into a smart trainer. Some of the best zwift setups are made for mountain bikes.
When set up correctly, most group rides will bunch you altogether no matter what your ability. They will speed up the slower people and slow down the faster people, so you ride together at a certain speed no matter what power directly is going in.
Technically any spin bike, cheap or high-end can be used with Zwift but only higher-end spin bikes are the ones that integrate fully with Zwift application.
For spin bikes that don’t come with Bluetooth and Zwift compatibility, you would need a set of RPM and/or speed sensors to connect the bike to the application. But if your spin bike is Zwift compatible out of the box, then you follow the instructions provided by Zwift.