Zwift's New Hub, a Direct Drive Smart Trainer for $499

The news of the demise of Zwift's smart trainer hardware was greatly exaggerated. Whiplash!

Introducing the Zwift Hub. I guess I’m not breaking any confidences when I say this is nothing like the trainer Zwift had originally intended to bring to market. The more ambitious project was a Zwift design start to finish, with both a smart trainer and smart bike option.

The Hub is a more modest project but in its own way potentially more powerful, because of the market segment at which it's aimed. Zwift didn’t make this smart trainer. It partnered with JetBlack, an Australian maker of highly regarded smart trainers and if this looks like the JetBlack Volt that’s because, well, it is. Mostly so. As I write about the specs they’re identical to the JetBlack Volt and the major technical difference is a change Zwift commissioned in the hub area to make the unit slightly more compatible with certain disc brake frame designs. (Zwift has tested more than 500 bikes with the Hub and they all fit, from road to gravel to tri to CX to MTB.)

Notable about the Hub is the presentation, which starts right outa the box. Zwift has done an Apple thing by making a smokestacky-type industrial product seem like a Silicon Valley product. But let’s back up a bit, as this is Zwift’s whole idea behind the Hub. It’s a catalyst to get you Zwifting. The pusher is selling you your first few mainlines for cheap. Cheap because the Zwift Hub sells for $499.

Zwift’s thesis is this: Four out of every five people who buy a smart trainer have Zwifting in mind when they buy it. As I noted last week, Zwift’s appeal is broadening. The community is getting just that wee bit slower. Why? Because a lot of people are joining Zwift who aren’t riding at the pointy end of the peloton. Zwift sees the handwriting on the wall, and wants to stoke the habit by lowering the financial barrier to entry.

Let’s get back to the presentation with this in mind: those buying the Hub are new Zwifters who aren’t yet Level 50, Level 25 or Level Anything. They probably aren’t professional racers or club racers. This is why there are now 11 new Pace Partner speeds. Zwift was too hard for a lot of folks and Zwift needed to make the trainer purchase easier, and to optimize the experience of those who pedal easier. So, when you open the box there’s a lot of how-to aids that you might find unnecessary, but remember this new Zwift audience.

As an example, the alternate quick release and thru axle caps are slotted into color coded cards, and the cards have measuring aids built into them, to help the user know whether his or her dropouts are spaced at 142mm, 148mm (thru axle) or 130mm or 135mm (QR). It’s pretty easy to follow the directions on those cards.

One thing that might confuse the uninitiate is that the included 17mm open end wrench can’t grab the flats on the drive side QR cap (that one must remove for a disc brake bike). You don’t really need the tool, because Zwift doesn’t tighten down that threaded cap. You can reach in with nimble fingers, unthread it, and thread on the thru axle cap.

But if you want your caps tight then you’ll need some purchase on those flats, and I had to take off the cassette with a spline tool and cog pliers, tighten, reaffix cassette. About that cassette: it’s included. It’s Shimano style, and 12 speed.

There’s an included spacer if you want to put a 10sp cassette on there and you can put a 8 thru 12 speed cassette on that driver body. No, there is not yet an XDR driver for the Hub. But I would guess you could put your SRAM eTap AXS bike right on there and it’ll shift okay. You just won’t have that really high gear, as you’ll be missing your 10t cog. The Hub comes with 3 cords, depending on your power convention.

There is an included manual but honestly there’s no need to crack the spine of it. From opening the box to fully set up I might’ve been 30 minutes into it. I never consulted the manual. In fact, if you look at that pic higher up of that box inside of the box, you'll see a bar code. Point your camera it and, of course, the how-to comes up on your handheld's browser.

Next was to pair the device to Zwift and it would have been epic fail had that not happened, of course. But no issues.

To recap: The Hub is packed very well, is newbie-proof, and the pieces to assemble are color coded and even have designs so that those who’re colorblind know which crossbraces go where. No need for an electrical adapter, It pairs as it should, and we’re ready to ride. So… how does it ride?

First, some specs on this unit. Max watts are 1800 and max elevation is 16%. That solves it for the great majority of us. Note that the max power is higher on higher-end direct drive trainers. But this isn’t that trainer.

The flywheel weighs a tick over 10 pounds and that compares to 16 pounds for the Wahoo KICKR, which has a max grade simulation of 20 percent. The Wahoo KICKR also has its AXIS feet, that give the KICKR a bit more road feel.

The Zwift Hub rides well, is silent, and is most of what a smart direct drive trainer needs to be. It will not replace $1,200 to $1,600 trainers. A Tacx NEO 2T weighs almost half again what the Hub weighs. The pricier units we’re used to using handle 2,200 watts, and have +/- 1 percent accuracy, as opposed to the +/- 2.5 percent of the Hub. But the Hub does have some unique features of its own, such as, if your HR broadcasting device pairs with the Hub, the Hub delivers it all using a single BLE connection.

But the Hub may kill the $800 trainer market. At $499 US, same price in Euros, and at 449 British pounds it’s a steal.

For my friends who want to Zwift; who have very limited budgets for hardware; who are new to online training; who’re coming off of a speed and cadence sensor and who stretched to afford that; this is a unit I’ll recommend to them. I don’t think Zwift’s ambitions for the Hub are greater than that, because this is the customer the Hub appears designed to attract. Remember, Zwift makes its real money $14.99 at a time, which is what you and I pay every month for our memberships. The point of the Hub is to break down that barrier to Zwift entry.

This isn’t just a license or private label deal. Zwift has a team of 55 people, based in its London office, devoted to this hardware project. These include industrial designers, mechanical engineers, UX designers and a manufacturing team.

Customers can purchase their Zwift Hub beginning October 3rd.