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Cheap Zwift Setup help

Old 01-05-21, 10:47 PM
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Question Cheap Zwift Setup help

Hi All,

I am new to the world of cycling and was looking for suggestions with a Zwift setup. I am a college student and have a 2018 Norco Indie 3 (I know it is not a road cycle, but the prices are too high to justify) and am looking to get a bike trainer that is compatible with Zwift (and as inexpensive as possible). I have a background in rowing and am familiar with some cardio training and think that Zwift sounds like it can be fun. I don't mind having to buy a separate sensor but would like suggestions.

From what I understand, I think a fluid trainer with various ANT+ sensors is what I will need. I was hoping some experienced cyclists could give their view on how to create a usable setup given my bike and suggestions for which products to buy (I am not someone who is looking to buy the $1000 TacX or a Peloton).

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Old 01-05-21, 11:13 PM
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I have a “dumb” trainer (Kinetic Road Machine) that estimates power and transmits via BT. It needs to be calibrated, but when it is, it’s very close to my power meter. Good and inexpensive especially if you can find one used. Also look at the “supported” list of trainers on the zwift website.
You may need to get a wheel speed sensor.
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Old 01-05-21, 11:55 PM
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I have a “dumb” trainer (Kinetic Road Machine), which is a fluid trainer, and an inexpensive Wahoo speed and cadence meter. Zwift does the rest. I got the trainer new for about $300 in 2013 after I broke an ankle. You might be able to find something similar, used.

The least expensive viable Zwift-compatable smart trainer is the Garmin Tacx Flow Smart Trainer, for about $370 new. I'm a bit covetous of this, but I pay through the nose to live in CA, so I'm going to ride outside if at all possible.

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Old 01-06-21, 12:27 AM
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i would say pop on over to youtube and look for China cycling , gp lama , or DC rainmaker , they review almost every product , from all over the world .

there is no real easy answer , you will have the direct drive trainers , then you will have virtualized trainers that use an algorithm and app to calculate , then you will have on bike sensors that can be used by zwift that could be a 1000 dollar power meter or a 30 dollar cadence/speed sensor .
so what ever your budget is will be VS what ever level of accuracy you really want .

i bought a virtualized magnetic trainer 2 years ago for 360 ish , and it could do zwift , but i have never really relied on its readings , and i have no interest in zwift , i just watch movies and rely more on the speed reading to keep a steady pace .

if you are looking to seriously train , then you might have to spend more to get an accurate trainer or a power meter on the bike with a speed cadence sensor , and then you can use any trainer and have accurate data .

if you want the most basic i would just get a heart rate monitor and call it a day , then you can see just where your limit is VS a power meter that will tell you how much energy you put out , BUT if you learn how to use your data you can see your ability to ride in specific situations , and how you use your energy , it can be as complicated or a simple as you make it

there is not going to be much racing in 2021 so what and why are you really investing in ,
do you just want to do zwift races or , virtually ride with friends , if you want that then its still going to cost at least a cadence and speed sensor , and you wont be able to take your data seriously .

if you want lab quality data you will need to spend
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Old 01-06-21, 01:36 AM
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Welcome to the forum. I moved your thread here from Electronics because it fits in better here.
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Old 01-06-21, 08:46 AM
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If you want to get the most out of virtual riding, you should get a smart trainer. Using a speed sensor on a dumb trainer to estimate power is not accurate...if you are ok with that then cool. Also there is no resistance control, you will have to adjust your own resistance....That experience is not far off from just spinning while watching a ride video and using your bike computer to record the data.
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Old 01-06-21, 08:59 AM
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Since you state your goal is riding on Zwift, I would strongly recommend getting an entry level wheel-on "smart trainer" that will automatically control the resistance and provide power numbers to the app. The Tacx Flow at $370 is (I think) the cheapest. Wahoo Kickr Snap ($500) is also an excellent choice. I'd also suggest getting a heart rate monitor, a big fan, a mat and desk or stool of some kind to set your laptop on so you can see the screen while riding.

You can use a "dumb trainer" to ride on Zwift (assuming it's one of the trainers approved by Zwift), and use speed/cadence sensors that allow the program to estimate your power output. This is a (slightly) cheaper alternative, but these setups do not let the game adjust resistance to simulate grade changes, and they do not provide very accurate power readings. It will work to get you riding on Zwift, but you'll be missing some of the most critical benefits of the program.

I used a dumb trainer for years, and occasionally played around with it on Zwift. I recently upgraded to a smart trainer and the difference is huge. If Zwift is your goal, it's worth spending a few extra bucks to get a smart trainer.
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Old 01-06-21, 09:17 AM
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Welcome newuser1 to BF.

Allow me to add my few remarks and also chime in support of what both caloso and wgscott have written. I also have a Kinetic Road Machine and use it on Zwift.

A tiny bit of background, I started riding bikes after a 25 year break in late fall 2018 but didn't do much riding until summer 2019. I was faced with losing all of the hard won physical gains (LOL!) that I had made in 2019 so I searched long and wide and purchased my Road Machine used on CL for about $50. Mine was sold as non-working but I was able to fix it without problems. I purchased the Kinetic InRide3 sensor ($46.00) which is made for that machine (note: a few other supported by Zwift dumb trainers also use a similar sensor). This sensor coupled with the supported Road Machine gives Zwift, as mentioned by other posters above, power meter numbers. This kind of set up is enough to use Zwift in a meaningful/useful way although you would probably want a heart rate monitor at some early point.

Anyway, without knowing anything about trainers and Zwift I forged ahead and set my trainer up and opened up an account n Zwift, my first ride was on Nov. 13, 2019. At that point I was in better than a total beginner physical shape wise but not setting any records in the bicycle world by any means. My wife has almost always had a stationary bike in the house, I've tried them but I find them boring and I hate using them. So I started using Zwift and my trainer as a skeptic and really didn't want to put any more money into this adventure than necessary. So for about $100 I was ready to train indoors. This turned out to be one of the best $100 I have ever spent.

By the 16th of November 2019 (3 days later) which by that time I had figured out how to operate everything, I was totally infected with indoor training. I rode my trainer/Zwift device over the winter and put on +5000 miles in 2020. This totally transformed my outside bike riding. So for me it was $100 well spent. But please note that these days it is difficult to find used $50 Road Machines. These trainers are "fluid trainers" meaning as you pedal the roller forces oil into a chamber which creates resistance. Zwift supports this trainer and sensor and only a few other dumb trainers but it gives accurate power readings which makes you work on the inclines. An inexpensive unsupported trainer with speed and cadence sensors will work on Zwift but it will not give the game accurate power readings so you will not get a realistic power curve on the hills. This may or may not matter to you but for me it is a big deal.

About a month ago I installed a Kinetic smart trainer upgrade on my trainer. As one that improved my riding many times over using a used Kinetic Road Machine stock and absolutely love the thing, I have to tell you that having a "smart trainer" is simply fantastic. I would say that if you can find a used supported fluid trainer on a budget that would be a viable way to start. However, a brand new Kinetic Road Machine or similar will cost almost as much money maybe even more than the lowest cost decent smart trainers. Spend some time on the links supplied above in particular dcrainmaker and check out zwiftinsider and get yourself up to speed. Ask questions here also. There are ways to get a lot out of indoor training on a budget.

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Old 01-06-21, 09:28 AM
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Great advice so far. Adjustable overbed tables make great holders for the drinks, snacks and remotes (I bought one for $60 on Amazon and then found one at Goodwill for $10, so check the thrift stores). You didn't ask about a computer to run Zwift on, but AppleTV is the cheapest route to go (the remote sux, and you may need a device to bridge ANT+ signals to BT, but if you also need a heart rate monitor 4iiii makes a HRM that can also bridge signals). I think "dumb" trainers are limited to 400W, which is plenty for the average cyclist. And, since you mentioned rowing it's currently hackable, but apparently Zwift is working on bringing actual support.
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