1 If you already know your way around trainers and have an awareness of Zwift, you might skip ahead to the Quick and Easy Solution
2 Don’t wait until you have the ideal solution. You can chop and change quite easily and improve your set up as you go. If you have the minimum requirements, you should start now and build up acquiring the gear you need as you go.
3 Zwift online resources will be best to help you set up. The purpose of this guide is to cover acquiring the right trainer for junior riders. Particularly where the adults in the family don’t already have an existing trainer set-up -If you already have a trainer, use the one you have where possible.
Setup – Zwift Account
Adult – 1 week free trial then $14.99 USD per month.
Junior – Free from ages 5 to 16. Sign up juniors here.
Sign-up juniors before reading any further because the process takes a few days at their end to approve. At your end it is a simple form to complete. -You don’t need an adult Zwift account to apply.
Setup – Trainer
A trainer is a device that converts your existing bike into an exercise bike. They are often referred to as wind trainers, fluid trainers, mag trainers, indoor trainers etc.
There are three broad levels of trainer. We will refer to them as;
- Dumb Trainer
- Smart Trainer
- Smart Interactive Trainer
Dumb Trainer ~$150
Shops describe them as “classic” or “traditional”. The power exerted by the rider is calculated based on power curves provided by the manufacturer to Zwift.
- you may already have one
- if you don’t have one they are cheap at around $150.
- You will need a speed/cadence sensor. ($100)
- If you already have an older style speed/cadence sensor you might need to buy an ANT+ dongle. ($11 noname, $40-60 brand name) See Communications Protocol below.
Starting with a dumb trainer is a reasonable option. If you already have it, you’ll just need a couple of cheap add-ons to make it work.
Check the Zwift Hardware Compatibility List to see if yours is listed. If it is not listed you might find a more modern model that has the same roller unit, but an older style frame.
WARNING #1 – If you don’t own any type of trainer, be sure to buy one that is on the Zwift Hardware Compatibility List to make life simpler.
WARNING #2 – You will need to have a cadence and speed sensor for your bike. -If you don’t, it might be more cost effective to simply jump up to a Semi-Smart Trainer.
Smart Trainer ~$300-$500
It will look similar to a dumb trainer as the electronics are hardly noticeable.
A smart trainer is basically a dumb trainer with sufficient electronics that outputs the power (watts) exerted by the rider.
- it is reasonably affordable at $300-$500.
- it provides reasonable functionality.
- Lacks the resistance applied as the rider climbs a hill.
- The rider has a less realistic experience.
Smart Interactive Trainer ~$680+
A true smart trainer provides the most immersive experience.
Like a smart trainer, a smart interactive trainer will output the power exerted by the rider, however the main difference is that the trainer will vary the resistance applied to the bike depending on;
- Hill gradient. -When a rider is climbing a hill in Zwift, the trainer will apply more resistance load to the rider.
- Drafting. -When a rider is drafting in Zwift, the trainer will lessen the resistance load to the rider.
Physically, they typically look like a dumb trainer with a larger unit where the wheel makes contact with the roller. Alternatively, they might be a wheel off version where the whole bicycle wheel has to be removed before using it.
- Near real world experience
- Less useful warming up on tour (post-corona)
- Needs a power outlet.
Non-Interactive Vs Interactive trainers
Non-Interactive have a different ride style Vs Smart Interactive ride styles differ.
Interactive trainer (smart interactive) – The rider on an interactive trainer will have a more realistic hill stance. The rider can dance on the pedals in a middle gear or sit and spin a lower gear.
Non-Interactive trainer (dumb & smart) – The rider on a non-interactive trainer still need to produce the same amount a power, but will take more of a sprinters stance to produce the power on the same hill.
Range of Bikes
If you plan to share your trainer between juniors and/or parents on different sized bikes, you should consider the following:
Wheel-off – Wheel off models may not be compatible with the gearing on other bikes. Eg 7 speed cassette Vs 12 speed cassette.
Wheel on A-Frame – These are the most common style. Their ability to switch between different wheel sizes, ranges from fiddly to very fiddly. Some require tools and replacement parts.
Wheel-on clam-shell – These are the most flexible trainers and will typically accept 20, 24, 650, 700 wheels without modification. Some might need a once off modification to accept the smallest of wheels.
A clam-shell trainer looks the letter “V” on its side. Elite have been making them for years.
Setup – Bike
Most “wheel-on” classic trainers come with a skewer to give the rear wheel a better fit to the trainer. If you are switching bikes for multiple riders in your family, you should consider buying additional skewers for each bike.
Setup – Display Device
Tablet / Phone
Laptop / PC
Chromecast / Airplay to TV
Big is beautiful. Try and use the biggest screen you can.
For an even better experience, consider casting to your TV via Chromecast or Airplay.
A tablet is better than a phone.
A laptop screen is better than tablet screen.
A TV screen is better than everything.
You can connect to a TV in many ways, including Chromecast, Airplay or physical cable. -Any geeky friend or relative can help you with this. -Its not Zwift specific so I’ll leave it there.
The communication protocol can be thought of as the language that a device speaks. It will either be ANT+, Bluetooth, or both.
Used on most sport tech equipment such as bike computers, power meters etc. This was the first widely used protocol which most older and modern devices support.
If you have an older style cadence/speed sensor it will most likely be ANT+ only. You’re laptop will most likely be Bluetooth only. To make your laptop work with an older sensor, you’ll need a USB ANT+ dongle. A genuine Garmin one will set you back $40-$60, a generic one is around $11 on ebay.
The ANT+ signal is known to not always reach the device you’re connecting to, so it is best to pick up a USB extension lead to allow you to place the dongle closer to the sensor.
Bluetooth is more common on non sporting devices such as phones and laptops. More modern sport tech will typically support ANT+ for backward compatibility as well as Bluetooth.
A modern cadence/speed sensor is more likely to have ANT+ & Bluetooth which means it would work on your phone/tablet or laptop without the need to purchase an ANT+ dongle.
Quick and Easy Solution
If you already have a brand name trainer and a recent brand name mobile or tablet you can be up and running in minutes.
|Trainer||Check to see if yours is listed here:https://zwift.com/hardware|
– iPhones/iPads IOS 9.0 or higher.
– Android phones/tablets 7.0 or higher.
or comprehensive Android list here:
Be sure to download the main Zwift app to your device (mobile, tablet or PC / laptop…
… AND …
…the Zwift Companion app to your mobile (even if you plan to use a PC/laptop.
For a better experience a large screen is preferred. For many people that means Apple Air Play or Google Chromecast mobile/tablet to their TV. -Its not absolutely essential, so I’ll leave this for one of your techy friends to help you with.
Another good option is running the app on your Apple or Windows laptop to utilise its screen. See display/device link above for suitable laptops.