Zwift has today launched a new £449 smart trainer, the Zwift Hub, which is available for pre-order now and will go on sale on 3rd October. We’ve got all the facts and figures about the new trainer, and also a unit for review: we’ll be posting our full review when the Hub is available for sale.
If you've been following Zwift news this year, then you might be thinking, “Hang on a minute! Didn't they announce a Tron bike and then bury it a few months later? I thought they weren't making trainers anymore?” Well you're half right: that did happen. But in the background there was always another smart trainer project going on and the Zwift Hub trainer is the culmination of that.
To fully understand why Zwift has come to market with this particular trainer we have to dive into what happens when people sign up to Zwift.
Talking to the folks at Zwift, it's clear that the biggest obstacle to getting up and running is the hardware that you need. There's a lot of choice, and often a certain level of technical knowledge is also assumed, like pulling a cassette off your bike and getting it on the trainer. A lot of people won’t have the tools for that, or, frankly, the desire. Every month there are, apparently, a huge number of people who sign up for the Zwift training app and never actually log a ride. The hub trainer is designed to be as easy to set up as possible so that anyone with any bike can get onto the platform simply and cheaply. Relatively speaking, anyway.
Zwift isn’t concentrating on the numbers for this launch: it’s more about the simplicity. But since we like numbers, and Zwift supplied them with the launch material, it's worth diving into a few stats about the Hub trainer.
For your £449, you're getting a genuine direct drive smart trainer with acclaimed accuracy of +/-2.5%. It has a maximum resistance of 1800W and can simulate a gradient of 16%. For the money, those are very good numbers. It's got a 4.7kg flywheel and is ANT+ FEC and Bluetooth FTMS controllable so it will work with pretty much anything you can run Zwift on.
On top of that, it can also act as a Bluetooth or ANT+ heart rate monitor bridge so that you can transmit your heart rate data via the trainer and save a Bluetooth channel if you're running Zwift on your Apple TV. Because it's a Zwift product, the calibration, firmware updates and heart rate bridge functionality will all be available through the Zwift apps. At the moment you have to do a spin-down calibration for the Hub trainer but Zwift says it’s working on making it calibration-free in a later update.
If you're a smart trainer aficionado then you might be thinking that this new Zwift Hub Trainer looks a lot like JetBlack’s Volt smart trainer, and you'd be right: Zwift has been working with JetBlack to develop this unit and a lot of the hardware is shared. JetBlack had some frame compatibility issues with the Volt trainer, and Zwift was really keen to make sure that the hub fitted as many bikes as possible. To that end, they've had prototype hub trainers with bike mechanics over the past year and each bike that has come in for service has been offered up to the trainer. Zwift is really confident that the Hub trainer will fit pretty much any bike that you'll throw at it: they've had it working with over 500 bikes from 70 brands and frame sizes from 45cm to 64cm.
The Hub trainer comes with a cassette pre-installed. That’s not uncommon, but what is unique here is that at the checkout you can choose anything from an 8-speed to a 12 speed cassette. So once your trainer arrives in its box, it's basically ready to go once you bolt it together. But Zwift has done a lot of thinking around the setup process and there are quite a few nice little touches once you crack open your carton to make the process as straightforward as possible.
Firstly, there's a QR code on the side and that takes you to a page where you can access a whole load of videos about the different aspects of the setup. So if there's anything that you don't understand, you should be able to get help there. The trainer comes in three main parts and the legs are colour-coded with the base so that you can make sure you get everything in the right place. You can follow the steps in the instructional video, and for nearly everyone it's going to be a fairly simple job.
One of the main issues with getting a bike on a trainer is axle standards, and Zwift has produced some clever axle end cards that are also colour coded. They have a ruler section you can use to check the distance between your dropouts so that you can make sure you're running the right bits, the right way round. Again, if you're unsure of what you're doing then the instructional videos that Zwift has produced will set you right.
We’ve already put some miles into the Zwift Hub trainer, but unfortunately we're still waiting for a firmware upgrade that will fix a slight issue with the power readings: at the moment the trainer is reading slightly under, although by the time the trainer is on sale in October, these teething problems should have been ironed out and we'll have a full review on road.cc for you to read on the day the trainer goes on sale.
In terms of ride feel, however, the trainer is really good. At £449 you're getting a really capable direct drive smart trainer with a comparable feel to units that in many cases cost quite a bit more. The trainer is quick to react to changes in gradient, and the flywheel is heavy enough to keep your pedal action smooth as the resistance alters over the terrain. It's a very quiet trainer too.
If you’re into working out then ERG mode works very well. The hub trainer reacts well to the interval changes and ramps up power quickly, but not too quickly; it’s about right. Holding a steady power was no trouble at all. If you’re into racing then the hub trainer is certainly capable of dealing with the cut and thrust of a bunch sprint; it's not especially heavy, but it feels very stable when you're out of the saddle. Heavier riders might find that the maximum resistance is a little lacking on the flat in a dash for the line, but overall it's a very competent trainer.
Is it the easiest trainer to get set up on Zwift with? Well, there's no doubt that Zwift has put a lot of time and effort into making things as straightforward as possible. And the fact that you can spec the correct cassette for your bike at the point of purchase means there's one less thing to worry about when it lands on your doorstep. Also, the fact that the trainer’s functionality will be baked into the Zwift environment means that you're likely to have a more seamless experience. I really like what zwift has done with the end caps and the measuring cards too, that will make a tricky job for less technically savvy people a lot easier. There's a bit of spannering to do, but really anyone should be able to get this trainer up and running in about 15 minutes, and that won’t really change much if you’re on a 12-speed, through-axle, disc brake gravel bike or an old 9-speed racer.
It’s too early to give a proper verdict on the Zwift Hub at this point: we need more miles on it, and we’re waiting for the firmware updates to tweak the power readings. We’ll get some serious miles in over the next month or so. Stay tuned for a full review...
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.