The ultimate Zwift guide for when winter weather prompts cycling indoors

Zwift is a popular indoor cycling (and running) app that blends the intensity of a cycling workout with the fun of gaming.

Since its release in 2014, Zwift has skyrocketed in popularity. As a member of the Zwift community, you’re welcomed into the virtual world of cycling with hundreds of routes, workouts, and other challenges just waiting to be completed.

As temperatures drop with the transition to fall and winter, many cyclists begin to recede to their garages on their indoor trainers. We’ve created a helpful Zwift guide to amplify your indoor cycling experience.

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What is Zwift?  

Zwift is an online, community-based, and interactive training and racing platform. Your avatar in the app is driven by your performance via a connected trainer. The harder you pedal, the faster you’ll go within the virtual course.

As a user, you become a part of the Zwift community that features thousands of other riders. Join a group ride, sign up for a race, or just tour the many virtual worlds with other cyclists at your side.

If you’re interested in training-specific workouts, there are also more structured options that can help you meet your fitness goals.

With a number of different indoor cycling apps on the market, Zwift outshines many others due to its feature-rich and overall fun platform. Indoor cycling no longer needs to be the boring snooze-fest that it once was.

Join Zwift and see for yourself how the indoor cycling experience has been completely transformed.

Zwift Membership

Using Zwift does require you to sign up and create an account. They offer a seven-day free trial, but once that period ends, it’ll cost you $14.99 per month.

A great feature with their membership, though, is that it is commitment-free. You can pause or cancel your account at any time.

I use this option to pause my account during the spring and summer months when I prefer to ride outside. When fall and winter return, I can activate my membership again and get back to riding indoors when the weather isn’t the greatest.

If cycling is your main form of exercise, the price tag is less than any typical gym membership. And for what you get with Zwift, I think it is well worth it.

What equipment do I need for Zwift?

In the simplest of terms, the basic list of equipment needed is:

  • A bike
  • A trainer (or set of rollers)
  • A Bluetooth or ANT+ compatible tool (e.g. a smart trainer, power meter, or speed/cadence sensor)
  • A smartphone, tablet, or computer with Bluetooth or ANT+ capabilities (or an ANT+ USB dongle)

how it works Zwift

Both basic and smart trainers are available and compatible with Zwift. Smart trainers have internal workings that will measure your power and transmit it directly to Zwift. This will be the most accurate option, but also the most spendy.

You can also use a basic trainer without internal “smart” capabilities by connecting some form of power meter or speed/cadence sensor. This is the set up I use with my CycleOps Saris Fluid 2 trainer and the Garmin Bike Speed Sensor 2.

Zwift will take the data from your paired sensor and use that to determine your game speed. One drawback with not using a smart trainer, is that you’ll miss out on the simulated gradients a smart trainer could provide (based on the virtual course) in order to give you the most realistic ride-feel.

If using a basic trainer, you can always manually adjust your gears if riding up or downhill to provide the closest simulation of the course. It’s not the most streamlined, but it works.

Connecting and Displaying Zwift

display set up for Zwift

Zwift is compatible with Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. You can also use Apple TV to see your rides on the big screen

If choosing to use a laptop or desktop for your rides, simply go to Zwift’s website and sign up there. If using a tablet or smartphone, head over to either the Apple App Store or Google Play, depending on your device (more on this later).

Many users have recommended that if you choose to ride with Zwift on a computer or Apple TV, you should also download The Companion App for Android or iOS. This will still give you the option to utilize many of the hands-on features that you would otherwise be missing if not using a tablet or smartphone.

Besides using Apple TV, there are a few other options on how to get the virtual world of Zwift up on the big screen. I get it – some users want that larger interface to maximize total immersion into the game.

Using the latest 4K version of Apple TV will undoubtedly give you the smoothest and most streamlined graphics. Go to the AppleTV App Store directly on your smart TV and download Zwift from there to get started.

You can also share or “mirror” your screen from a smartphone or tablet onto a connected smart TV. First, be sure that your smartphone and smart TV are on the same wireless network.

If you have an Android, swipe down on the home screen > select Cast or Wireless Projection > select your listed smart TV. You should now see the Zwift screen from your phone mirrored onto the TV.

If using an iOS device, swipe up from the home screen and tap on the overlapping rectangle icon. Under “Screen Mirroring” you should see your smart TV listed. Select that, and you’re all done.

screen mirroring on iPhone

On the off chance that you’d rather (or need to) use a wired connection, you can always connect your computer or laptop to your TV via HDMI cable. Just know that this may require additional cable adaptors depending on the type of plugins that you have.

Signing up and getting Started

I am setting up an account from my iPad, but I imagine the steps are very similar if using the webpage version. Zwift is such a fun and user-friendly interface, that you really can’t go wrong with their clear prompts.

Once you’ve downloaded the app, simply open it and create an account with your email. You then have the option to choose your sport (runner, cyclist, both, triathlete).

setting up cyclist

Next, scroll through the list of trainers and select the one you are using. Zwift has dozens of the most popular trainers listed in its database, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding your match.

Continue to inputting your height and weight in order to help Zwift more accurately calculate your metrics. Lastly, select your avatar and bike model.

You’re ready to ride!

Zwift screen display basics

I’ll briefly cover some of the basics of what you can expect to see on your screen once you are done pairing your devices. The home page for Zwift will look something like this:

homepage for Zwift

The smaller, far left box will display any active challenges that you can sign up for, or any current challenges that you are enrolled in. This can change from day to day depending what challenge Zwift is offering for that time period.

The center box is where you can choose which of Zwift’s worlds you will ride in. You can then select what actual ride or route within that world you want to participate in.

Watopia is Zwift’s original world that is always available. It’s the most popular and has the most features.

Next to it you will see other guest “worlds” that are often rotated through. For example, I could choose to ride virtually in London or Richmond today. Tap on Routes to browse through what is available in that world.

The calendar in the bottom right corner provides you with a schedule of what guest worlds will be available and when. Right above the calendar, you’re also bevable to monitor for upcoming Zwift events.

How to connect Zwift to Strava

If it isn’t logged on Strava, then did it really happen? Joking aside, Strava is undoubtedly one of the most widely used apps for tracking your riding or running routes. It makes total sense to connect your workouts on Zwift to Strava.

To do this on Zwift’s website:

  • Login to your account > Click Settings in the top left corner > Connections > Connect under the Strava logo. You will then be prompted to log into your Strava account.

To do this via Zwift’s mobile app:

  • Tap on More in the bottom right corner > Settings > Connections > Tap “+” next to the Strava logo where you will be prompted to log into your Strava account

zwift to sträva

That’s it! Zwift will now automatically share its information with Strava.

Additional tips for Zwift

Be social

Zwift is a social workout platform that allows you to ride alongside cyclists from all over the world. Try joining a Zwift team to help you make friends and find a group to ride with on common routes.

If you’ve found yourself riding with several others for some time, consider sending them a wave to show your comradery. Zwift is known to be a civil and friendly environment.

Sign up for missions

Every now and then you’ll see a mission box appear at the left of the Zwift homepage  when you first log on. These missions may give you the chance to win prizes – in both the virtual and real world – for meeting certain challenges in a set time frame.

What have you got to lose?

Ride flat ground courses to level up faster

Us Zwift riders are always on the hunt to earn new riding kits and accessories for our avatar. Reaching higher levels means more gear becoming available to you.

Seek our flat courses to earn these rewards at a faster pace. You’ll cover significantly more distance in a shorter period of time.

Search for event descriptions

Zwift hosts a variety of different events within its virtual world. You can join these events directly on Zwift, but you often won’t get much information about them.

To get a full description and other details before you commit, look up the event on the Zwift Events page online or on the Zwift Companion mobile app.

Explore all your options

Especially if you’re new to Zwift, everything that is available can seem a bit overwhelming. If you’re not sure what to do, try it all!

Try riding casually in Watopia. Then try competing in one of the listed races. Join a group workout or dive into a power-based training session.

You might be surprised at what you come to enjoy.

Final thoughts

Zwift is an excellent virtual platform that uniquely combines working out with gaming. As someone who watches the Tour de France every year, it brings me great joy knowing that I can virtually ride the Champs-Élysées in Paris just as the professional cyclists do on the final stage of the tour.

rider on Zwift

Zwift is an excellent choice for those of us who prefer to cycle inside during the winter, so now is the perfect time to sign up as we move into the end of the year. You won’t be disappointed that you did!

I am an occupational therapist and kinesiologist with a long history in the health and fitness industry. Plus, I'm also an avid cyclist with a passion for writing and travel that have helped shape my interest in the fitness tech world. You can catch me in a nearby cat café planning for my next road route or bucket list destination!

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