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It’s been four months since Zwift announced plans to dramatically scale back its hardware development, but today the virtual fitness giant unveiled its first real-world, hardware product in the form of a new direct drive trainer called Zwift Hub.
The Hub trainer is focused on lowering the barrier to entry to Zwift, both financially and technically. The price is low, purchase and setup are claimed to be simple, and it appears to check all the major tech boxes.
The Zwift Hub indeed boasts some impressive figures, not least of which is the price. Zwift’s first hardware offering is clearly designed to shake up the indoor trainer market. The direct drive trainer is just US$499 / £449 / €499. That’s right at the low end of the price spectrum.
Let’s have a look at the details.
Direct drive trainers have long held a secure position at the top of the market in terms of function. They work by replacing the rear wheel, eliminating the tire wear associated with wheel-contact trainer designs and, in general, allowing for a more realistic ride feel. The trainer takes the place of a bike’s hub, hence the Zwift Hub name, which is not to be confused with Zwift progress tracking online app ZwiftHub. Direct drive trainers have also historically sat at the top of the market in terms of price, with many options over $1000 USD, and the cheapest generally found in the $600 MSRP range.
For the $499 Zwift Hub price tag, Zwift is offering/claiming +/-2.5% accuracy, 1800watt/16% incline maximums, and both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity. All good numbers.
Other features include:
● ANT+ FE-C Controllable
● Bluetooth FTMS Controllable Trainer
● Broadcasts ANT+ Speed, Power, Cadence
● Can act as a BLE or ANT+ Heart Rate Monitor bridge via Bluetooth
● Spin Down Calibration in Zwift Game (Auto-Calibration coming soon)
● Over-the-air Firmware updates via Bluetooth using Zwift Companion App
Make it easy
“Getting set up on Zwift hasn’t been an easy process,” admitted Zwift co-founder Eric Min in the new trainer’s press release. He’s right. Though many longtime cyclists will find the nuances of cassette selection and hub adapters second nature, demanding that a customer understand why two blocks of 12 gears that look nearly identical are, in fact, entirely incompatible (as SRAM XDR and Shimano Micospline are) has severely limited Zwift’s uptake. The same goes for quick releases vs. thru-axles and boost vs. super boost vs. road boost vs. regular, sad non-boost.
The company knows where its new markets are. The average power output for a Zwift ride, for example, has dropped about 20 watts in the last few years, indicating an increase in newer cyclists on the platform. It needs to reach them, and they need to know how on earth to make their existing bike show up in a virtual Zwift world.
So what have they done? Some relatively simple things, actually.
First, all Zwift Hub trainers will ship with a cassette pre-installed, all the way from 8-speed up to 12-speed, at no extra cost. That brings the actual cost of the trainer down even further and decreases the likelihood that a customer orders the wrong cassette on their own, or installs it incorrectly, or gets everything together and then realizes a cassette locking tool wasn’t included in any of it. Customers just need to stipulate how many speeds they need (and, we assume, brand as well) and Hub will show up ready to go.
Second is something other trainer brands already employ – a thru-axle template. Zwift built little cards that can be stuck between the rear dropouts. Each width on the card has an axle size printed next to it (/130135 QR, 142, or 148). Whatever part of the template fits in between the dropouts is your axle type.
The announcement of the Zwift Hub is sure to stir up the broader trainer market. Zwift has built its success on the trainers of other companies, and even during the Hub’s official presentation to the media, the brand was careful to reiterate that it values those relationships and partnerships. Yet Zwift claims that nearly 80% of trainer sales across the whole industry are completed with the buyer intending to use their new device on Zwift, so controlling that onboarding process from end to end makes sense. They can sell a trainer far cheaper than most – the margins on Zwift Hub have to be tiny if not negative, particularly taking the cassette inclusion into account – because what they’re actually selling is a subscription.
Easy onboarding and setup are all well and good, but we’re intrigued to see if the trainer stacks up as an actual trainer. Is it too cheap? Or does it truly compete with options two or three times the price? We’ve got one heading our way and our Chief Going Nowhere Fast reporter Ronan Mc Laughlin will have a full review soon.