Zwifting with Wahoo KICKR Core
Zwifting with Wahoo KICKR Core, Domane AL 5 (attached); Domane AL 4 (wall rack)

During the winter months, it’s unpleasant to ride my bicycle outdoors. 38 degrees and raining is non-fun, despite having outdoor cycling gear. To maintain the fitness gains I’ve made over the summer, I recently set up a Wahoo KICKR Core smart trainer and a Zwift account. This allows me to ride my own bike (Trek Domane AL 5), which has been custom fitted to me, in the comfort of my own home and out of the weather.

I used to have a spin bike but sold that on craigslist. It worked, but wasn’t fitted, wasn’t very adjustable, and was just an unpleasant experience.

This new system is very slick and seems to efficiently mimic the workout I get riding outside with some added benefits. It is more intense than the Springwater Trail (an old railroad grade converted into a paved walking and cycling path) but not quite as intense as the local hills (everywhere you go in my town is uphill both ways).

The system works like this:

  1. Remove your back wheel and place the frame on the Wahoo KICKR Core, draping the chain over the sprocket cassette (sold separately).
  2. Load the Zwift app on a laptop and connect it to a TV for larger viewing.
  3. Turn on a fan, select a route, and start pedaling.

The Wahoo dynamically changes the resistance based on the simulated riding conditions in Zwift. If I’m climbing up a hill in Zwift’s virtual world, the Wahoo is harder to pedal. Going downhill, it gets easier … you get the point. Since I’m using my own bike, the ergonomics is 100% fitted to my body and parameters.

When starting Zwift, you can choose which route you want to ride. These give you a huge variety of challenge levels, based on distance and elevation change. Once the ride starts, you can dynamically choose to take different routes as you pedal along. It’s very slick.

Many other people from around the world are pedaling in your virtual Zwift world (called ‘Watopia’) with you. I have found that I am pedaling harder because of a weird sense of competition and of being watched. If someone is pedaling behind me, Zwift tells me how many meters and seconds they are trailing behind. I can see that gap close, and it makes me want to ride faster — I don’t want someone passing me.

Apparently you can organize group rides with friends and ride together within Watopia.

I like this competitive aspect of Zwift and feel that I am getting a better cycling workout because of it. I also like the route variety, as it sends me up and down hills that I don’t experience when riding the trail. That variety keeps it from getting boring, too.

The hills near my home are somewhat brutal. They aren’t overly long but they are very steep, some well above 10% grade, and there is no shoulder. In Zwift, I’m not going to get sent to the ICU by a soccer mom checking her Facebook status on her smart phone as she plows into me at 45 mph. That’s a huge benefit.

The downside?

None, if you own one bike or all your bikes use the same speed rear cassette. But, my wife has a bike, too (Domane AL 4), and unfortunately the rear cassette on her bike (10 speed) is different than mine (11 speed). This means every time one of us wants to ride on Zwift, we have to change sprocket cassettes on the Wahoo. This is not a quick process. It takes about 8-10 minutes to do a full swap out (remove one cassette and install another). Once the correct cassette is on the Wahoo, it only takes about 60 seconds to mount the bike and cinch it down (we already have the back wheels removed and set aside).

Granted, this takes less time than to put the rack on the back of our car, mount the bikes to the rack, and drive to the trailhead for an outdoor ride.

When we asked the bike shop people what they recommended to overcome this hassle, they all said, “Get a second Wahoo.”

We were able to purchase our Wahoo KICKR Core at our local Trek bike shop ($899) and the two sprocket cassettes, one for each bike. Those kind of components are in short supply right now, however, so you may have to shop around and get one on the internet. Zwift costs $14.99 per month per person.

And, of course, you need a decent laptop. I tried to run Zwift on a 2015 Macbook Air with an i5 processor and 4 GB of RAM. Nope. I had to use my 2016 Macbook Pro with an i7 and 16 GB of RAM (you can use Windows if that’s your thing). Oh, and you need a stand of some kind for the laptop to put it within reach as you pedal. I got one that looks similar to a music stand from Amazon for about $35.

Oh, and don’t forget a powerful fan. You’ll sweat. A lot.