What is Zwift & How to Get Started?

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What Is Zwift?

Zwift is an online training platform that allows riders and runners to ride or run in a virtual world that features real-life courses from all around the globe. Zwift was designed to eliminate the unbearable boredom of riding a trainer for hours on end and staring at the wall. 

Since 2014 when Zwift burst onto the indoor cycling scene, it has exploded in popularity and is now by far and away the most used cycling app on the planet. Even the pro teams in the peloton use ]

Zwift to help them track the progress of their riders during the off-season and leading up to grand tours like the Tour de France.

There are some reports out stating that Zwift has well over half a million riders subscribed to the platform, and the number is growing. eRacing has grown in popularity, with many races sporting enormous paychecks for the winner; that’s right, eRacing is a serious business.

The number of courses that are available to riders and runners on Zwift is vast, with more and more being added all the time. The amazing thing is the courses are lifelike and feature the same roads, scenery, and even gradients found in real-life.

Some of the courses available at the moment are:

  • Watopia
  • France
  • London
  • New York
  • Richmond

You can ride in groups, which I love doing, and some of the group rides can be up to 200-300 riders big; it’s an excellent way to work out and meet new friends; even if it is virtually. Zwift has nine different worlds, and each world has its own different courses to choose from.

You can ride some epic climbs like the Alpe du Huez found on the Tour de France or attack a time-trial course if that’s your thing. Whatever workout you feel like doing, Zwift has got you covered. 

How Does The Zwift App Work?

The way Zwift works is really quite simple; the faster you pedal, the further you go, but for that to happen, you need to be connected to a smart trainer first. Zwift is so realistic that you even get the benefit of drafting other riders during races and group rides; it’s really quite remarkable. 

You can also choose from a bunch of different workouts, which have been designed by some of the best cycling coaches in the world. These training programs are perfect for those of us riders in the Northern Hemisphere who have to endure long winter months. 

There is an app that you can purchase for Apple TV, which many people are now using because the experience of streaming a massive TV makes the workout a lot more fun, engaging and realistic. You feel like you’re immersed in the game. 

Zwift works by using the ride data taken from your bike, either via Bluetooth or ANT+, which I’ll get to later in more detail. You can purchase sensors from Wahoo to track data and metrics like speed, power, and cadence. Zwift then uses that information to adjust the difficulty that you feel from the smart trainer. If you’re right up a 12% incline, the smart trainer will kick in, and you’ll definitely have to get out of the saddle and start climbing.

Zwift software also takes into account other metrics like gradient, whether you’re drafting or not, and your power which is calculated in watts. You can stream using a tablet, your PC, a laptop, or even your cell phone; it’s super easy too, but we’ll get to that next.

How Much Does Zwift Cost?

After reading all the benefits of Zwift and how amazing it is, you probably think it will cost you an arm and a leg, but guess what; Zwift is affordable for everyone.

According to the Zwift website, you can “try Zwift with our 7-day free trial, beginning with your first ride. Then it’s just $14.99/month + tax.” Now let me tell you that’s affordable in anyone’s language. I’ve been using Zwift with ZERO problems now for five years, and you don’t even notice the monthly $14.99 from your bank account. 

If you’re spending hundreds of dollars for a wheel-on smart trainer or thousands for a direct-drive one, then you would be mad not to pay the extra $14.99 monthly to take advantage of everything Zwift offers. 

What Do I Need To Use Zwift?

Okay, so here’s where setting up Zwift can get a bit daunting for many cyclists, especially those who are new to indoor cycling. You do need some essential pieces of equipment before you can start enjoying everything Zwift has to offer.

Here are the basics of what you’ll need:

  • First and foremost, you need a bike 
  • A direct-drive or wheel-on smart trainer
  • A cadence sensor, a speed sensor, and a smart trainer with BlueTooth or ANT+
  • A computer, laptop, PC, smartphone, or a Smart TV

Optional pieces of equipment are:

  • Towels
  • Mats to soften and deaden the sound
  • Fans to stay cool
  • Bluetooth speakers 
  • A desk or stand to help hold drinks and devices

You can use Zwift with either an iOS or Android device, which means it’s pretty much accessible for everyone unless you’re like my dad, who still refuses to buy a cell phone. The key piece of equipment you need to ensure is high-quality is your Bluetooth and ANT+ connection because this is how Zwift picks up your ride data. So if your connection isn’t great, then your power readings will be intermittent and out of whack.

zwift laptop

The best option is to buy a good quality smart trainer to ensure your ride is not only fun but also accurate and challenging. Zwift can seamlessly pull your ride data from the smart trainer, meaning your workout will never miss a beat. Power meters are an option too, but they are super expensive and don’t come with the added advantages of a smart trainer.

That being said, smart trainers aren’t cheap, so do your research before spending your hard-earned money. However, one significant advantage though of a power meter is that you don’t need to buy an expensive smart trainer if you don’t want one; a simple set of rollers can do the job just fine. 

The downside is that without the smart trainer, you won’t get any access to the simulated gradients you can expect from a smart trainer. 

The Zwift app even comes with a companion app meaning you can control everything through your cellphone just like a remote control. You can change your avatar and camera angle; my favorite is that it allows you to chat with other riders as you work out. The chat feature is perfect, especially on longer group rides that are over 60 miles long. 

My Zwift Setup with the KICKR Snap

Is Getting Started On Zwift Easy?

The first thing you need to do is sign up for a Zwift account which is very quick and straightforward. Okay, so now you’re ready to sign up, it’s as easy as following these simple steps.

  1. Navigate over to Zwift
  2. Select “try for free.”
  3. When the “Create an Account” screen loads, finish the following:
  4. Edit each area with the requested data.
  5. The Email and Password fields can sometimes auto-populate.
  6. Choose the right check-box to show if you’re at least 16 years old.
  7. If you aren’t at least 16 years old, you’ll need to sign up for a children’s account.
  8. Select the relevant check-box to show you agree to the terms and conditions. 
  9. Select “create an account.”
  10. On the next screen, select your country from the drop-down.
  11. Select your preferred payment method from the options available.
  12. Enter your appropriate payment info.
  13. You’re all set; Your seven-day free trial starts on your first ride.
zwift setup for a non smart trainer

Apart from this, you’ll obviously need to have already purchased your smart trainer along with your cadence, speed, and power sensors plus your device, whether it be a smart TV, a laptop, PC, or smartphone; it doesn’t matter.

I would also highly recommend downloading the Zwift Companion app, which is free of charge. The companion app allows you to chat with other users plus do some pretty cool stuff like changing the difficulty of the trainer at the touch of a button. 

Editorial Team

IF-FIT Editorial Team consists of experienced fitness writers and cyclists. Every article has been deeply researched to educate every bike lover.

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