Beginner Equipment Questions

I’m brand new to Zwift AND indoor cycling so I’m starting off with some equipment questions.
Basically I need to know what features I will need to get into the complete Zwift experience.
I’m thinking of getting a spin bike and hook that up to my PC.
1 - I assume that I will need the bike to have a cadence meter or that I will have to attach one if I get a bike without a built in one. Will that be enough to enable me to race on courses against AI or real opponents?
2 - Do Zwift courses include hills or are the flat? If they do have hills what features will I need to sense the increased resistance? (Frankly I don’t know the difference between a cadence meter, a power meter or a speed meter so I could use some help there.)

I guess the basic question is - what are the necessary features for a spin bike to get the full Zwift experience?

Thanks for any answers.

so how much money are you thinking of spending? to get the full Zwift experience you need a smart trainer plus bike or a bike smart trainer which is what I think you mean by a spin bike. Either will provide cadence, speed and power. Heart rate can also be added with a HRM. either will take care of the terrain in Zwift (going uphill, downhill, dirt roads etc.) If you never want to ride outside then the bike smart trainer will be likely be the cheapest choice - both wahoo and Tacx offer one, maybe others.

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With a regular spin bike the best way to experience Zwift is to add a power meter (pedals are the most popular method and Assioma is a popular brand), however a spin bike will never allow you to fully experience Zwift with a sense of hills (grade changes), resistance and ERG for workouts. For that you will need either a direct drive trainer plus a regular 8 to 11 speed bike or stand alone smart bike trainer.

That said, if you already own the spin bike and aren’t sure how much you would like Zwift starting with power meter pedals is not a bad way to go especially if you have a regular bike that you can use them with outdoors as well.

Edit: Just reread your post and realize that you don’t already own a spin bike. If that is the case I would recommend starting with a direct drive trainer (like a Wahoo Kickr Core $750 or regular Wahoo Kickr $1,000) if you already own a bike or can find a cheap bike ($200 - $400) in your area just for use on the trainer. You can get a direct drive trainer used or refurbished for even less. In contrast a Wahoo smart bike is $3,000.

Here are some articles that give a good overview of the options and price points:


Do not get a spin bike.

Repeat - Do not get a spin bike.


Steve I don’t even know the difference between a spin bike and just a regular indoor bike. I’m going to have to look through all of these articles and do some learning before I make any decision. What is the disadvantage of a spin bike and what are my other options? Looks like I might be headed for a real outdoor bike hooked up to a device to allow me to ride in indoors and also interface fully with Zwift, Be happy to hear any recommendations along these lines.


Read here:

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A spin bike looks like this and has the little red knob on the frame that you twist to add resistance, some might say they are compatible with Zwift but that is somewhat misleading.

A “smart bike” is much more expensive, a few manufacturers like Wahoo, tacx, and wattbike do work well with zwift.

If you have a decent bike in the garage, it might work with a smart trainer, best option is a direct drive trainer where you remove the rear wheel.


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An outdoor bike with a smart trainer will give you a proper Zwift experience.

There are two main problems with spin bikes. Firstly, they won’t automatically adjust the resistance to make you have to pedal harder going uphill, unlike a smart trainer (or a smart bike, but those are pretty pricey). Secondly it’s typically very hard to make them give you a realistic speed in Zwift (to match your effort) unless you go to the considerable expense of adding power meter pedals to the spin bike.

It’s great that you’ve come in here to ask questions first. Much better than the people who come here with a terrible setup that they’ve already bought, and then they want to know why it sucks so much with Zwift.


I am amazed and thankful for all of your helpful suggestions. I’ve decided to get this Tacx Flow Smart Trainer. This will allow me to also own a bike that I can ride outside. Now for the REALLY dumb question. What kind of bike should I buy? (I’m 70 years old and have not ridden a bike in many years! Can I assume that a cruiser of some sort will work. Maybe I need to stop in to a bike shop for this step. Is there a restriction of any kind as far as number of gears are concerned? I’m going to go for a fairly cheap first bike since my main purpose is to use it indoors. I can always step up if I end up becoming addicted to biking and want something better for outdoors. Again - many thanks to you all!


i would definately go to a decent bike store and discuss your needs with them. Getting the right size frame for you is important and yes you will need gears as most likely you will be climbing some hills. Since you havent ridden in a while a set up with easier gears would likely be a better choice - discuss with your bike shop. Probably 8 to10 gears will be enough on a double chainring. There is other stuff you will also need - a good fan being one of them. You may like Zwift so much you never want to ride outside.


i see Zwift has just announced that thay are putting out a well priced direct drive trainer which would be worth checking out. There is information available on it on this site and in cycling mags too.

I’d say get a used hybrid or mountain bike (in decent condition, of course) to start with. I think most direct drive trainers work with an 8-speed (minimum) cassette. Then when you know that you’re going to stick with it and figure out what kind of riding you like, you can upgrade to a better bike.

I’m constantly learning the lingo of bikes here. A direct drive trainer means that both wheels stay on when I am using my smart trainer? Also you are hinting here that I should check the smart trainer I have chosen to see if there are restrictions on how many gears my smart trainer will require (min and max). Is that correct?

no, on a direct drive trainer the rear wheel is removed and the bike connects directly to the trainer - the cassett is on the trainer (there is an article on cyclingweekly - Wheel-on vs direct drive turbo trainers: which is best for you - it was Oct. 2621) check it out.
I think the number of gears being suggested relates to your needs on Zwift not what your trainer can handle.

Direct drive is as Chris explained above. A smart trainer is one that can communicate with Zwift (or whichever app) and adjust the resistance to match the terrain or the power targets in a structured workout. A “dumb” trainer might transmit power and cadence data, but it doesn’t adjust the resistance for you.

I think most direct drive trainers can accommodate cassettes 8- through 12-speed, and any decent bike from this century should fall somewhere in that range. Also keep in mind when we say “10-speed” or whatever, we’re just talking about the cassette (rear gears). My road bike has 20 speeds (double chainring + 10-speed cassette), but we refer to it as a 10-speed. (Not to be confused with “10-speed” road bikes from back in the day that had 10 speeds total. Nowadays we’d call that a 5-speed.)

So I hope this is my last question before I buy a bike. I’m going to buy a new hybrid bike and I see them listed on Amazon from 7 to 21 gears. Do you guys think this trainer will work with anything in that range? A lot to learn. Thanks for all your help. I can’t wait to get in there with Zwift but just have to do the research first so I don’t waste tine or money,

Ok I think I figured it out. Depending on whether I’m in resistance mode or training mode I may or may not shift gears. So I can buy any bike that will work for me outside and it should work on my smart trainer. Shout out if I got that right and I’ll stop harassing you guys.

well… depends on the smart trainer… is it a direct drive (remove the rear wheel) or Wheel-on? The Tacx Flow Smart is a wheel on trainer, so most all adult size bikes will work with it.

I’m assuming that this bike either comes with a single chain ring (the one towards the front of the bike where the pedals are attached) or a triple chain ring paired with a 7 speed cassette in the rear. This would give the 7 to 21 gears. Do you have a link you can share so we can check it out. Sounds like it will work for the wheel on trainer.

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This forum does not allow links but this is the description from Amazon . . .

Schwinn Network Adult Hybrid Bike, 700c Wheels, 21-Speed Drivetrain, Linear Pull Brakes