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What's your experience with zwift and smart trainers?

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What's your experience with zwift and smart trainers?

Old 09-13-23, 06:40 PM
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What's your experience with zwift and smart trainers?

Back in the day, when I used to race (20 or so years ago), I had a trainer in the house. Friction based from what I remember. I hated it. I'd strap my bike in, put it in front of a TV and try to take my mind off how much it sucked. I only used it in the winter when the weather was too bad to go outside, and never more than for an hour at a time. A fan probably would have helped, but the thought never occurred to me at the time. The moment I retired from racing, it went into a junk closet and my wife gave it to goodwill a few years after that. I'd prefer not to repeat that experience.

These days, I see all this enthusiasm for zwift and smart trainers. (by zwift, I also mean other applications that are similar, not just zwift) Have you done it? What has your experience been? Is it something you use on a regular basis? Do you think the interactive aspect of it is enough to make it tolerable? Is it something you see yourself still using in a year? What about 2?

FWIW - These days, my focus is primarily weight loss and general fitness, with an intent to be able to keep up with the A and B group rides.

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Old 09-13-23, 06:44 PM
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Yes makes it tolerable. Makes the trainer a video game you control with your legs. Itís not for everyone but I use it when the roads are too icy to ride in the winter.

Have been using it for 3 years and expect to continue.
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Old 09-13-23, 06:54 PM
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My historical experience with indoor trainers and rollers is much like yours. In fact I hated it so much I just bought cold weather and rain gear, and rode outdoors year round.

I bought a smart trainer recently, and used free trials of all the various services. Zwift was too video game like for me, and I subscribed to Sufferfest (now Wahoo). All I can say is, I hate it less than dumb trainer + TV, but I can still only handle about 60 minutes. In fact at the moment my trainer bike is out of commission because I've robbed parts for my fixie.

I'm seeing more and more friends on Zwift. Some are putting up huge miles that boggle my mind. I might give the gaming another try.
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Old 09-13-23, 07:01 PM
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Thanks guys, hearing your perspective does help.
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Old 09-13-23, 07:25 PM
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I have a Wahoo Kickr 5. Zwift is running on my fast desktop PC, with a 27 inch 4K monitor. Zwift has a 4K display setting that also includes more details and shading, that looks very nice.

I find the Kickr has a quite different feel than a road bike out on the road. The watts are pretty accurate, comparing to my Stages left crank power meter. But the pedal stroke has resistance all the way around the pedal stroke -- compared to the instant "micro coasting" within a pedal stroke outdoors. The Kickr seemed to tire me out at much lower wattages, but after a few weeks, I think my pedal stroke adapted and improved. This seems to translate to outdoor riding -- I'm stronger while staying seated than previously. Good!

I can stand up on the Kickr, but I don't really like to do it much. I stand up way more often outdoors.

The "spiral of death": at very low cadences, the trainer can start to increase the resistance, so the rider's cadence slows even more, until it's essentially impossible to turn the cranks. There's an easy fix: stop pedaling for a couple of seconds, then spin up from there.

Fans! I have a small pedestal fan and a box fan.

For Zwift in particular:
A side table -- with my phone and a second PC wireless keyboard -- Windows can have more than one mouse and/or keyboard active at the same time. My wireless mouse just moves from the desktop to the side table. There are controls for Zwift via the keyboard and mouse, very convenient.
USB power for the phone's Zwift app. Otherwise between the screen staying on and the app, it uses quite a lot of phone battery. Zwift works much nicer with the phone app along with the PC software.

"Trainer difficulty" setting: This is a slider that essentially lowers the bike's gearing on hills -- I can spin up hills instead of grinding at a low cadence. It's the same watts either way, good.

~~~

What I've used it for, mostly in colder weather:

It's interesting that a 45 minute or 90 minute session is plenty for me. Outdoors, it's usually 3-4 hours of moving time, but there's a lot of downhill coasting, easy flatland sections, etc. On Zwift, unless I'm free riding solo, I'm continuously pedaling and working.

Free riding: I like the scenery in the different worlds, and can set my own pace.

group rides: My outdoor cycling people have done Zwift group rides: One person sets a time or distance for the ride, and the route to ride, then it's an easy invite to the other riders. We do the group rides set to "keep everyone together". as long as a rider keeps pedaling, they will be pulled back to the group if they fall behind, and the strong riders still get a good workout. We used a Discord setup for a group voice chat during the ride. I liked it.

Workouts: there are lots of very elaborate workouts to choose. But my favorite is a custom one: Zone 2 riding. A 5 minute warmup, then a steady "Erg Mode" at my current Zone 2 wattage. I edited the workout to be 8 minutes at zone 2, then 30 seconds free ride, and repeat. I need the break to stand up and/or stretch on the bike, mostly just to get off the saddle! With Erg Mode, no matter what cadence or gearing, the trainer reacts and readjusts to keep the watts steady. It works best with a fairly steady cadence.

Hill climbs: I like these, there's a definite goal. There are big and small hills and mountains. And new this year, there's also a "portal" to a simplified view of some real mountain climbs, with accurate turns and grades along the way, just an abstract ramp view, no scenery. This way, Zwift can add these quite easily -- no scenery designers needed. I like them.

Bot group rides! There's a range of continuous group rides at different effort levels, from really easy to race pace. There's a "bot pacer" that holds the correct watts per kilogram. Just join the group anytime and you are dropped into the peloton. These rides are good motivation to work a little harder to not get dropped.

Races, at 4 levels. I don't do these, but some riders really like them.

There's probably other types of usage I haven't explored yet.

Last edited by rm -rf; 09-13-23 at 07:29 PM.
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Old 09-13-23, 10:16 PM
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Similar experience with legacy trainers, have recently picked up a smart trainer, but never tried Zwift. With the smart trainer I either use my head unit or the Wahoo companion app to do simple workouts. I can only tolerate about 30-40 minutes per session and I typically just ride in Erg mode (set to a specific power) or do free riding and look at my HR and cadence. I don't train for anything but when work or weather interferes with outdoor riding I might jump on the trainer.
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Old 09-13-23, 10:40 PM
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I have 48,000 km on Zwift in 6 years. Started with a Kickr and now the Kickr bike. I do Zwift group rides, free ride the big climbs, and the occasional race. It has been 30 years since I raced outside. Seldom do workouts since I ride for exercise and not any specific goal. With winters in Canada it is the only way I can maintain any fitness to ride outside come springtime. I used to play hockey in winter to keep active but can't take the contact any more. Needless to say I don't find it boring, I couldn't do more than 30 minutes on the trainer or treadmill while watching TV. Now our recreational club has a group on Zwift and we ride together in the winter.
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Old 09-13-23, 11:00 PM
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a dedicated fitness room, with ample HVAC, & picking an ecosystem of tech that works seamlessly with each other might bring a positive experience.
The investment to do the above is not going to be small change.
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Old 09-14-23, 03:21 AM
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Smart trainers, Zwift, Rouvy etc were a game-changer for me. Like you I hated indoor bike trainers previously.

Iím all in now with a Kickr Bike and I flip between various Apps for variety. But if I had to pick just one App it would be Zwift. But Rouvy is great for realistic scenic rides and Wahoo SYSTM is great for structured workouts.

Entry level Smart trainers are not too expensive. I started with an Elite Direto X for under £500 and the new Zwift trainer is very good value. There are even cheaper options if you go for a wheel-on Smart trainer. You donít need much computing power either. Chances are you will already have suitable tech to run it.
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Old 09-14-23, 08:28 AM
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One other consideration, keeping with the gamification of the experience, a bunch of my club-mates do weekend social rides (when winter weather prevents outdoor rides) and we have voice chat on Discord. It makes the experience more fun for social/recovery rides. I have done several 2 hour rides like this, and NFW I could do that on a dumb trainer.

I am still surprised that Zwift does not have a voice chat feature.

If you have friends or clubmates you can explore the "meetup" feature to have private group rides. I highly encourage it.
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Old 09-14-23, 08:43 AM
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Even though I really cannot stand riding indoors I've been thinking about looking into getting a smart trainer for the rainy days here. My biggest concern is that it looks like the cost of entry into an indoor smart trainer is just a little too high and I'd hate to find out after investing $1k that it's something that's really not for me.
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Old 09-14-23, 08:57 AM
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I prefer Rouvy over Zwift. I have been able to do rides in France that I actually did in real life which I find quite interesting.
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Old 09-14-23, 09:31 AM
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More of the same for me. Picked up a Kickr Snap on Clist for cheap couple of years ago. Put a backup bike on it exclusively for indoors. I made a stand for laptop and other stuff. Can actually do some work/conf calls while riding. I dropped Zwift during outdoor months then restarted and it picked up where I left off. Get a fan, mats or padded foam for flooring. Gaming is ok but seem to get stuck with similar routes despite getting past level 20. Now I mainly do group rides, training rides and some challenges. Will start back up in later fall.
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Old 09-14-23, 09:31 AM
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I have an on-bike power meter, a dumb trainer and a set of rollers. Pre-COVID, I rarely used the trainer or rollers -- they were leftover from when I used to live in a less hospitable climate. I'd use them, distastefully, when I absolutely needed to ride indoors, but I hated it. Movies, music, TV, racing videos -- none of them helped. I consider those things the "distraction" approach.

I spent part of the early times of COVID in a small apartment in Paris, where there was a lockdown that kept me within 1 km of our place. I signed up for Zwift and used my power-meter-equipped bike on a dumb trainer. This is what I'd consider the "immersive" approach. For me, the immersion worked much much better than distraction.

I've also tried, briefly, Zwift on a friend's smart trainer. That was definitely more fun than Zwift on a dumb trainer, but not 10x more fun; I'd say it wasn't even twice as much fun. I already had an on-bike power meter and a dumb trainer, so if you have or can get a cheap power meter that transmits in BT, you can get power both indoors and out. Depending on the power meter, it can be quite a bit cheaper than a smart trainer.

[Edited to add:] Oh, I forgot to mention what my "training" results were. Because I was forced to stay indoors a lot, I ended up riding about as many hours during a week in the spring as I normally do in the summer. My baseline fitness improved up to about where I'd be in the summer but I lost some "top end" sprinting.

My wife was very happy when I could leave the apartment.

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Old 09-14-23, 09:51 AM
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Another adamant Zwift fan here. From November till May, it's the only way I can stand to maintain 4-5 hours a week. Avatars of live people, the breadth of worlds and routes, and some very nasty er, challenging climbs. Even a dinosaur. Worth every penny in my book.
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Old 09-14-23, 10:38 AM
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I simply ride my cyclops fluid trainer with a speed sensor and heart rate monitor. The heart rate is really the power meter without buying one and I never use zwift or anything. I get on the bike an ride and during winter on bad days tend to go 90 minutes or 2 hours but I am retired. I try to ride outside year around but with snow and ice you cannot some days.
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Old 09-14-23, 10:40 AM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime
Even though I really cannot stand riding indoors I've been thinking about looking into getting a smart trainer for the rainy days here. My biggest concern is that it looks like the cost of entry into an indoor smart trainer is just a little too high and I'd hate to find out after investing $1k that it's something that's really not for me.
Zwift hub is a good choice. I use a Wahoo KICKR snap which may be had even cheaper. Maybe you can borrow a friend's to test it out? Agree the cost to entry is not low.
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Old 09-14-23, 10:45 AM
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I alternate between Zwift and FulGaz and use a Kickr Bike. I use it regularly during inclement weather year-round and can easily spend an hour or 2 on it without boredom. In the past, I have used rollers and so-called dumb trainers and agree it was a boring and dull experience. Smart trainers are a fantastic way to get a quick, convenient workout.
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Old 09-14-23, 11:58 AM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime
Even though I really cannot stand riding indoors I've been thinking about looking into getting a smart trainer for the rainy days here. My biggest concern is that it looks like the cost of entry into an indoor smart trainer is just a little too high and I'd hate to find out after investing $1k that it's something that's really not for me.
Ditto. And after you get the trainer you realize you can't really do much without also subscribing to some app/platform. But I got my Wahoo Kickr used and I just use the free apps and I'm sure it's not the same as group rides on Zwift it's better than nothing and a significant step above analog trainers. Still not as fun as riding rollers but you get to control your workout very precisely.
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Old 09-14-23, 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime
Even though I really cannot stand riding indoors I've been thinking about looking into getting a smart trainer for the rainy days here. My biggest concern is that it looks like the cost of entry into an indoor smart trainer is just a little too high and I'd hate to find out after investing $1k that it's something that's really not for me.
I donít think you need to invest $1k for entry. A Zwift hub is half that cost (and itís a decent direct drive trainer). There are cheaper options too, especially if you go for a wheel-on trainer or something used.
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Old 09-14-23, 12:41 PM
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I'll provide another anecdote from a Zwift proponent. I've been training and racing regularly for 15 years and have put some hard sessions in on an old-school dumb trainer - man that sucked.

A modern direct drive smart trainer is a huge game changed in leg feel, and the game-like experience in zwift makes it enjoyable for me. I'm about 30 - 50% indoors now (depending on time of year) and I live in San Diego. I routinely do zone2 rides of 3-3.5 hrs without thinking twice about it. Much more than that can be difficult, but I can spin that hamster wheel for a few hours no problem. Doing group rides and races helps makes things more enjoyable.
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Old 09-14-23, 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime
Even though I really cannot stand riding indoors I've been thinking about looking into getting a smart trainer for the rainy days here. My biggest concern is that it looks like the cost of entry into an indoor smart trainer is just a little too high and I'd hate to find out after investing $1k that it's something that's really not for me.
The Kickr Snap smart trainer I use is $300. It's wheel-on, but you can get direct drive smart trainers for $500. And you can also buy used ones on Craigs List, Ebay, or Facebook Marketplace for even less.
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Old 09-14-23, 01:19 PM
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Iím also an ex-racer 20-ish years past his racing days. I also spent 15 years completely off the bike. At the end of 2019, I made the decision to get riding again. It started with short sessions on my old wind trainer, listening to music, and throwing in a few short efforts in order to break up the monotony. It was lousy, but I was determined. Eventually, I got back on the road, and started riding with some of the group recovery rides used by my old riding buddies who never stopped riding. Those rides were a real test for my fitness, at that point.

Not long later, I got a smart trainer and a Zwift account. I went from struggling through 30-40min of boredom to enjoying 1hr+ sessions with other riders in real time, and I enjoyed seeing my improvement. As someone who was trying to fit cycling in between family and kidís sports demands, Zwift became critical for me being able to continue building my fitness. There were/are times when I preferred a Zwift group ride to riding solo on the road. Zwift also allows me to do targeted efforts without the interruptions of the real world (lights, stop signs, etc.).

A few years down the road, now, my fitness is to a point where Iím truly at the level of my cycling friends, and am back to riding with the fast-guys/gals group rides. Zwift continues to be an important part of my training/fitness program, particularly during the cold/dark/wet months.
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Old 09-14-23, 05:41 PM
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Riding a trainer indoors sucks. Riding a smart trainer with Zwift sucks slightly less.
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Old 09-14-23, 07:25 PM
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I have done about two seasons with Zwift, but with a non-smart trainer. Its good when I do shorter sessions, an hour or less, maybe 45 minutes. Any more is pulling teeth. A nice large screen tv helps immerse yourself into the game. I may consider it this winter but need another PC. Maybe broadcast the phone to the tv would work.
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