The at-home indoor cycling market has really exploded over the last few years. One of the reasons for this is the entry of interactive training options. There is a big difference in motivation between seeing a spinning instructor in front of you and seeing a series of red dots on the display showing an upcoming interval workout.
There are some very different options for picking an indoor cycling product. First, you can buy one from a fitness company like Peloton, Echelon, or NordicTrack. The other option is to use your own bike and smart trainer and connect to an app like Zwift to access interactive training options.
So between Peloton and Zwift – Which option is right for you? To make that decision, we will need to dig into what makes each platform unique and what the pros and cons are for each.
What is Peloton?
Peloton is a brand of bicycle and online training platform. They also produce a treadmill, and the training platform includes cycling, running/walking, strength, and flexibility training programs. The equipment is of high quality, and many users report that it seems to be built very well.
The training platform is set up to be interactive video courses. They hire instructors to do live and recorded spinning and other classes. The stats from the bicycle on cadence, speed and power output are then charged along with the targets on the bike's screen.
There is a component of gamification with a leaderboard for each class. You can also take classes with friends and compete head-to-head without needing to be in the same room.
The main competitive advantage of Peloton is that they have a world-class assortment of charismatic and encouraging trainers. In addition, there is a wide variety of styles of trainers and types of classes offered.
What is Zwift?
Zwift is an app that works with “smart trainers” or bicycle trainers that can connect over Bluetooth to a computer or phone to monitor output and adjust resistance. Instead of the Peloton, primarily a closed platform, you can use your own equipment. This is good because you can pick gear to match your needs and budget.
The app itself is a virtual world that simulates riding a bike through it. There is a diverse landscape and rotating maps with various features and landmarks. But, more important than the landscape, it is set up like an MMORPG where there are thousands of cyclists using the app at any one time, on various parts of the map doing their workouts.
Comparing The Costs of Peloton Vs Zwift
Because Zwift allows you to use your own hardware, the costs can vary dramatically. However, most users have fairly typical setups.
Cost of Peloton
At the time of publishing, the base Peloton is $1,495. The Peloton+ is $2,495.
The monthly pricing for access to the classes and content is $39. This includes users for everyone in your household.
Cost of Zwift
If you own a road bike and get a smart trainer, the Tacx Flow 2 is a great option for $370. If you do not own a bike, budget about $500-1,200 to buy one for use on a trainer.
The monthly pricing for Zwift is $14.99. This is an individual price, and if multiple users in your household want to ride, they each have to subscribe.
Comparing the Bikes
When choosing an exercise bike, the actual bike is important. Therefore, you will want to look into:
- The fit of the bike
- How comfortable it is for you
- Ease of making adjustments between riders
- Accuracy of performance metrics
- Build quality
The Peloton Bike
The Peloton bike is built well and built to last by most accounts. The fit is adjustable, and it is built for riders between 4'11” and 6'5″. The bike itself comes with a display to run the Peloton app and experience.
The machine has a belt drive, 38lbs of flywheel weight, and magnetic resistance. The large flywheel creates a lot of inertia, giving it a very nice feeling when doing a high-intensity workout.
One major difference between Peloton and Zwift is that the Peloton has a knob in the middle of the bike to adjust resistance. In Zwift, this is largely done automatically in ERG mode or by shifting gears on the bike on free ride mode.
Compared to the Peloton+, one drawback of the Peloton model compared to the Peloton+ is that it does not contain an ERG mode or accurate wattage meter. The wattage is calibrated based on cadence and resistance rather than actually metered. If you are using the bike to get some cardio in, it might not make much difference if the meter is accurate. However, the lack of direct measurements can be a problem if you are serious about cycling and using an indoor trainer to get in better shape for cycling.
The Zwift Bike
So there is not actually such a thing as a “Zwift bike.” Instead, you use your own bike, which can be a great advantage for Zwift.
But You don't have a Road Bike?
If you don't already have a road bike and are not interested in buying one, you will need to buy a stationary trainer compatible with Zwift. Like with a road bike, there are many options depending on your budget.
You can get a bike that changes resistance automatically or manually. A manually adjusting resistance trainer like the Concept 2 BikeErg works quite well and has incredible build quality. However, to take full advantage of the gamification in Zwift, you will want to get one that automatically adjusts resistance to mimic the hills you are going up and down in the game. For this, you really have two good options: the WAHOO Kickr Bike and the Tacx Neo Bike.
What Equipment is Required for Zwift?
Zwift is made to work with a whole variety of configurations of equipment. That being said, there are certainly better setups than others. An ideal setup would have a smart trainer, decently sized display, and a heart-rate monitor.
Having a bike with road bike handlebars can be nice, so you can change positions as you ride to relieve stress in your upper body. “Fluid” trainers are significantly quieter than “mag” trainers, can be quite noisy.
Comparing the Platforms Peloton Vs Zwift
The interactive experience is more important than the exercise bike itself in many ways. Otherwise, you could buy a much cheaper non-interactive piece of equipment and call it a day. There are plenty of exercise bikes on the Facebook marketplace for less than $100, and basic spin bikes are not much more.
That isn't what this is all about, though. The gamification, interacting with others, hacking the dopamine system encourage you to exercise. That is why we are all here.
The Peloton Platform
The core focus of the Peloton platform is virtual spinning classes. Trying to get you to feel like you are in a room, competing with others, listening to music, and getting your exercise on.
You can choose between participating in live classes or the pre-recorded on-demand classes. Peloton's biggest advantage over other platforms is its vast library of workout styles, instructors, and playlists. This makes it, so it's harder to get bored of doing the same thing over and over again.
The Screen Layout
The setup of the screen on the Peloton is that along the top, and there is a bar that shows the progress of time through the class. Then, on the bottom are all your metrics:
- output in Watts
- Calories burned
The leaderboard is on the right side. It can be displayed as the all-time leaderboard or just participants doing the class currently.
The scenic rides option might be the most direct comparison of the Peloton experience to the Zwift platform. These contain video of riding outdoors as opposed to being recorded in a studio environment and have a few modes:
- Guided Sessions
- Distance based
- Time based
The Distance-based is the closest related to Zwift, in that as you speed up or slow down, the pace you are traveling through the environment speeds up or slows down. However, they are slightly different in that no other riders are riding through the map with you.
The Zwift Platform
Zwift has four primary ways you can explore its world:
- Free ride
You can choose between routes or free roam in the free ride mode. Most users tend to follow a pre-made route. Many of the routes have segments that keep track of top speeds and display them on a leaderboard as your ride. On these segments, you compete with both other riders in the world and previous rides you have made yourself. This helps keep the motivation high even though it is a free ride.
There is also a leaderboard on the side showing the other users on the specific trail you are on and how far ahead, and how many watts they are exerting/kg. This can create a quasi competition/race as you interact with other riders during your workout.
Workouts have a set duration and specified time periods for activities. Most of them use ERG mode (Ergometer), which is a mode that automatically adjusts the resistance to keep your power output at a certain level for a specific time period. ERG mode essentially does not allow you to slack off during that portion of the workout because if you slow down your cadence, the resistance will go up to match it.
There is a large selection of workouts to improve various aspects of your ride. For example, there is interval training, the training made to increase power, and training to increase torque.
Beyond individual training, there are workout plans. These are weekly workouts with a weekly progression of workouts to do. Each workout plan has a goal, such as increasing your FTP (Functional Threshold Power), keeping you in shape on the off-season, or getting you ready for racing.
Events are made to bring more interaction with other users. Sure, in free ride, you compete with other riders on the segments you ride, but the events option formalizes this. When choosing events, there are three different types of events to choose from:
- Group Rides – Unstructured events, much like a free ride. Everyone is riding a certain course at a specified start time.
- Group Workout – Doing a pre-set workout in a group. It has a “rubber band” mode where Zwift normalizes everyones speed to keep everyone grouped together.
- Group Race – Competitive events where there is a start and end and it is timed and ranked.
The events system is meant to foster communities and connections on the platform. However, there seems to be room for improvement on the social aspect of the app, where planning to meet up with friends would require planning outside the app.
So Which Should I Get? Peloton or Zwift?
Hopefully, if you made it this far, you now have a good idea of whether the Peloton or Zwift is better for your home gym. But, I have to say, it is not a one size fits all kind of scenario.
If you already have a road bike that fits you and wants to work out on it indoors, I recommend getting a smart trainer and getting Zwift, especially if you are a cyclist looking to get better off-season and poor weather days.
If you really love group spinning classes and want to get the same energy and experience but from the comfort of your own home. Peloton really has that market covered.
Most likely, you are somewhere in between. Where you would need to buy the equipment for either. In which case, Peloton offers some simplicity of being a single exercise bike and app. The Peloton will even assemble and install the exercise machine in your house. On the other hand, Zwift has many options to fit any budget. Both Zwift and Peloton can help most people reach their fitness goals. In most cases here, I recommend Zwift.