I was biking in Innsbruck recently and a guy in a bright yellow shirt kept passing me on the path. It’s annoying, and not just because he was riding what looked like a stripped down entry-level Trek model. I’m not exactly about to win any cycling races at my age and weight, and the not-so-flat streets of Innsbruck, Austria are not exactly ideal for a casual rider like myself.
I pushed myself harder until I emerged out of the town and up an 8% grade toward the Austrian Alps, standing up to ride and making sure I was leading the pack.
I knew that exact incline of 8% not because I was in the actual Austrian town. I was using an Apple iMac running a virtual cycling app called Zwift while riding a real bike made by Vitus. (It is the Zenium, which is amazing — I will do a full review of the bike soon. As a carbon fiber road bike, the Zenium was perfectly balanced, light, and powerful for training indoors.) My effort was real, of course, and the guy on the other bike was probably riding somewhere in Iowa or Texas for all I knew. I still wanted to stay ahead of him, knowing he was probably also on a bike trainer. Eventually, I managed to push up my speed and dashed off around a bend while “Mr. Iowa” veered off in another direction. “See you later, hope you don’t get a flat,” I said out loud.
To make it all possible, I was using the new Zwift Hub, a bike trainer that costs only $499. I say “only” because most of the trainers I’ve tested and reviewed from companies like Wahoo and others cost around $800 or more, especially for the kind that connect to the rear axle and can adjust tension automatically as you ride and allow you to shift gears easily.
I’m a major fan of the Hub now after using it for several weeks on multiple rides using the Zwift app. There’s a massive virtual map called Watopia that I used quite often, although alternate maps in places like Innsbruck and London would pop-up occasionally as well.
Setting up the trainer was not as hard as I imagined. Essentially, you are using the Hub as your rear wheel, so once you connect it and plug in the device, you then use the trainer to control your speed and resistance. You can shift as you normally do on your bike, and when you go uphill or downhill in the Zwift app, the Hub changes the resistance accordingly.
I loved how easy this was and never had any trouble with the device, although the one minor issue is that sometimes when I would shift there would be a little grinding. I know there’s a way to make adjustments to the axle and the bike to minimize this, but I wasn’t actually that annoyed by it — I figured all trainers like this have a little grinding and even the bike itself might need an adjustment for that. My solution was just to find a different gear.
The bike was exceptionally stable, thanks to the weight of the Hub itself. A few times, I would need to move the trainer over from my stand-up desk where I was using the Apple iMac, but that was also easy once I learned the best method — which is to lift from the rear.
In the Zwift app, I noticed how the trainer would also report on my speed and watts. Watts is a measure of power output and is a better gauge than calories burned. Using watts you can get a better idea on how consistent you are maintaining speed and resistance. I use a watch to measure my heart rate so I didn’t need to hook up an extra accessory to track that.
Overall, the Zwift Hub is a capable machine. It was easy to setup and I loved how the Zwift app connects and works with the Hub so seamlessly.