With the recent influx of smart bike trainers, a number of indoor cycling training apps surfaced with the goal of making indoor cycling more enjoyable and effective.
Trainer Road started with the idea of converting your traditional dumb bike trainer into a smart trainer, with the introduction of virtual power. Basically, all you need is a supported bike trainer and a speed sensor. TrainerRoad put the two together and converted your speed into a virtual power based on your specific trainer power curve. This gave athletes a metric to measure their training while making indoor training enjoyable.
A few years later, Zwift came into the market with its video game-like approach to cycling and it quickly turned into an instant hit and developed a big fan base.
While both apps have similar functions and the goal of making your indoor training more enjoyable, there are some differences between the two.
First, let me cover some of the basics on how both apps work and what is needed to get you started.
TrainerRoad and Zwift are compatible with both Windows PC and Mac. Both require you to download their software on your PC and create a connection to your smart bike trainer, heart rate monitor, power meter, speed and cadence sensors. You can connect to all these sensors but if you don’t have all, don’t worry. At a minimum, you need a compatible speed sensor like the one here.
The connection is usually made using ANT+ protocol via ANT+ dongle which you can find here.
TrainerRoad is also available for iOS and Android, while Zwift is only available on iOS and AppleTV. An Android version is in the works.
TrainerRoad offers a huge library of power based cycling workouts. Once you are setup and running with TrainerRoad, you will need to set your FTP (Functional Threshold Power). Then you can browse through hundreds of workouts or create your own via TrainerRoad Workout Creator. You can also follow one of their structured training plans to properly prepare for a cycling or triathlon event.
TrainerRoad offers training plans for road racers, triathletes, off-road, and cycling enthusiast and they come in low, mid, and high volume.
TrainerRoad can work with a regular trainer with a speed sensor only, or heart rate monitor. It will communicate with your sensors via ANT+ or Bluetooth. If you have a smart bike trainer, then you can take advantage of the ERG mode to help you maintain certain power for each interval.
All TrainerRoad workouts and structured training plans are designed by Coach Chad Timmerman, a Level 1 USAC certified coach. If you are a self-coached athlete, TrainerRoad is a perfect tool for you and will make you a better cyclist.
There is no time wasted with TrainerRoad. The workouts are structured and there is no soft-pedaling. Many athletes who followed their plans improved their cycling tremendously.
TrainerRoad cost $12/month or $99/year.
The idea behind Zwift was to immerse you into this virtual world. With the introduction of Watopia, a fictional island in the pacific, Zwift aimed to bring the outdoor world experience into your pain cave.
While you can run Zwift with a regular trainer with only a speed sensor, a smart bike trainer will allow you to take advantage of all the features in Zwift. With the Tacx NEO, you will even feel the road surface with its road surface simulation and will also simulate descents.
With Zwift, you can join a group ride, race, group workout, a challenge, connect with other riders, or just ride and enjoy the virtual experience. You can also create your own workout or follow some of their workouts. They currently offer a very limited number of workouts and plans in their library.
Zwift costs $15/month
WHICH ONE IS BETTER?
When I get asked this question, my answer usually depends on needs, goals, and experience. Zwift is fun, and can be used to just ride alone, ride with friends, join a group ride, do a race, or pick a structured workout. You can also create your own workout with their workout creator.
TrainerRoad is more structured and has a big library of workouts. You can also use their workout creator to build your own library of workouts. If you don’t have a coach or know what you are doing in term of structured cycling workouts, TrainerRoad might be what you need. You can just follow one of their plans and your cycling will improve tremendously.
If you can afford to get both, then that would be the ideal situation and will keep your indoor training a lot more fun. You can also try running Zwift and TrainerRoad side by side.
Both offer a risk-free trial period.