cycling · Sat with Nat · Zwift

So you want to zwift? Let’s talk money

Recommended soundtrack: You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive

This post is co-written with my beloved. These facts may help you either: win the argument to invest in zwifting or defend your budget against lifestyle creep.

What is zwift?

It’s an online virtual cycling game with different worlds, group rides and races. Sam has written a lot about her adventures. If you click on Zwift at the top of the post you can see all the great posts.

Why would I want to do this?

Its a great way to train on your bicycle, regardless of weather, daylight, traffic or other safety concerns. With additional concerns around COVID 19 calling a friend to be your sag wagon or riding alone may not be appealing options.

So how much is this going to cost me?

Well. That depends. One fixed cost, regardless of setup, is the monthly subscription fee of $15 USD. You’ll need a smart phone, TV, tablet or laptop to run the software. You will need clip-less pedals & shoes and I highly recommend a fan. So let’s look at the options to make a set up.

The Ultimate Zwift Setup

If money is no object, a top of the range direct drive trainer or dedicated smart indoor training bike is the ultimate Zwift set up. Easy to set up, provides accurate power, speed and cadence metrics with simulated climbing, descent and terrain.

A fully kitted out smart indoor training bike blurs the line between indoor and outdoor experiences. You can even get variable fans that give you wind and the sights and sounds of an awesome trip.

These set ups cost anywhere from $3,000-5,000 USD. At first glance this is shockingly high. However, if you don’t have a road bike and you miss your regular spin classes, this may be a frugal option. All the other set-ups assume you have an existing ride. Both mine and my partner’s bikes were in the $2,000 USD range. So it’s more like spread out cost than truly being cheaper. One benefit is these high price point options are readily available since not many folks new to indoor cycling will go with this option first.

The full bike:

Smart trainers:

Middle of the Road

Instead of a direct drive trainer you are looking for a wheel on smart trainer for $500-750 USD. This uses your existing bike and a trainer tire. The tire can run you $60-120 USD. You will need a front wheel riser block for better stability. Those are fairly cheap, around $20 USD.

The challenge for this option is finding one. With COVID 19 supply chain interruptions it can be difficult to get your hands on this range of equipment.

Bargain Basement Set-up

The most basic setup can be cobbled together from kit many cyclists already own. A bike, a wheel on dumb trainer/rollers ($80-120 USD), trainer tire ($60-120), cadence/speed sensor $100 USD, and an ANT+ Bluetooth measurement tool $20 USD. These supplies are mostly available when you need them.

Speed & Cadence Sensors

If you aren’t sure indoor spinning is for you skip the trainer tire. It’s optional if you, like me, spin for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week.


Depending on your existing resources it is not cheap to get into Zwift. It could offer variety, interest and social connection if you are missing those this year.

I decided I can happily spin without Zwift on my dumb trainer. I’m not performance driven for my spinning. It’s simply my high intensity cardio in my fitness plan . My beloved has a more structured approach and targets he wants to hit next spring. We were able to get him set up with sensors, trainer tire and our existing dumb trainer.

Our two bicycles clipped into trainers are in our dining room with a fan. We are using a music stand for the laptop and handlebar mounts for our phones.

If you are using Zwift what set-up are you using? Was cost a consideration? Please share your gear in the comments below and any winning arguments to either invest or be frugal. Have I captured the range? Is there a must have folks should know about?

8 thoughts on “So you want to zwift? Let’s talk money

  1. We’re in the middle of the road group here with a wheel on wahoo kickr snap. We bought it from the Bike Shed where we used to go and ride on Zwift. I had a monthly membership, $100 a month for unlimited riding. But when covid-19 hit, they had to close. I asked about borrowing a trainer and eventually bought it when the length of the Pandemic started to dawn on me. We run Zwift on an iPad which we hook up to a giant TV. Other expenses? A giant honking fan! The downside of our set up is we can’t ride and race at the same time. I’d love a direct drive set up except it’s a lot more work swapping bikes. Right now this is a pretty good set up for us and the trainer is used most days for a couple of hours a day between Sarah and me. We leave everything set up and ready to go.

  2. You can also use your partner’s Zwift account and just not save your ride if you want to not mess with his stats. Shhh! You didn’t hear that from me. Also, you can see what it’s like, ie how much it easier it is to climb hills, as someone his size.

  3. And two more thoughts. Sorry. The downside of the basic set up is the lack of integration with Zwift. The smart trainers mimic the feel of hills and you need to shift. It gets easier, by feel, when you’re drafting. Also, other expense, if you don’t already have this from outdoor cycling is heart rate monitor and way of connecting that to the app. Some of this isn’t necessary for riding on Zwift but it is for racing.

    1. Those are great points! It’s definitely the case of “you get what you pay for”. I think the upfront costs are steep for a first year cyclist. I think experienced folks who have spun indoors can more easily see the cost benefit analysis because there’s little risk of not using it. If it’s all new, it may be hard to spring for the more enhanced set ups.

  4. I went with a Tacx NEO. It’s top of their range of smart trainers (with only the NEO Smart Bike being more) but I do a lot of riding on the trainer across a number of apps, so I wanted something that would give me the best experience. I also have a dedicated space and a spare bike that’s permanently bolted to the trainer.

    I’d love a KICKR Bike, but that’s a whole other level of expensive!!

  5. I got the bowflex C6 when I felt winter calling and knew I could not go to the gym in the near future. The Zwift subcription is cheaper than my monthly gym pass and really Spin class was the main reason I was going to the gym anyway. The Bowflex connects nicely and since I live in one of the flattest cities on the Prairies I don’t know what a hill work out would be like (the closest I guess would be the times I’ve ended up against wind on the way home). The bowflex is affordable and sooo quiet. I’m not a professional so I have no idea what the downsides are so I would say this is a win for me. I do like the zwift world and the saved stats to show improvement. I also like have people near me in this time of isolation.

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