New Zwift Hub! The Story Behind the $499 Smart Trainer

Zwift just shook up the indoor cycling world with the introduction of a $499 direct-drive smart trainer called the Hub. This is super exciting, for a number of reasons. To appreciate how disruptive this is, I thought I'd share my 20 year perspective on the long, winding road we have taken to get to this point: where interactive, power-based indoor riding, training, and racing can be achieved for $500.  

Zwift Hub smart trainer

Rewind 12 years...

In 2010, I opened a state-of-the-art performance center here in Boulder, Colorado. In our 1,500-square-foot retail space we had 3D bike fitting with lasers, $25,000 metabolic carts, lactate analyzers, and, what was at the time the most innovative indoor cycling center in the U.S. as we had 15 power-based indoor training set-ups. 

We were using PowerTap PowerBeams that measure power output from the rear wheel. Athletes used a bluetooth wireless computer to view their power output in real time. As many riders didn't have a power meter at this time, this was a gamechanger. 

The PowerBeam computer also controlled the trainer so we could lead our class attendees through power-based structured workouts. Athletes would manually use a joystick on the computer to increase or decrease their wattages based on their zones. 

FasCat Performance Center with PowerBeams

We literally printed out individual zones for each rider and laminated them on lanyards for them to have around their neck during the class. 

We did not invest in CompuTrainers, primarily because they had meters upon meters of wires. Also, they felt like you were pedaling in sand. 

Despite arguably starting the indoor, power-based category, CompuTrainer went out of business in 2017 going from owning the connected indoor trainer market to failing to innovate. 

PowerTap didn't sink CompuTrainer, as the PowerBeams were widely inaccurate, by up to +/- 10 percent because they measured at the rear wheel where tires, air pressure, friction heat and more would affect measurement. 

We would do roll-down calibration after roll-down calibration during the classes. Athlete would raise their hand when their power readout dropped or was wildly high or low. 

Speaking of dropouts, we shared a wall with a Subway sandwich shop, whose microwave would often disrupt the PowerBeam's bluetooth signal. Suffice it to say, our indoor classes at lunchtime or dinnertime did not go well.  

I know all this because PowerTap sent engineers and technicians, who all scratched their heads. They brought Bluetooth antennas and sensors to measure the signal and blamed Subway's microwave 🤷‍♂️

To fix the connectivity issues, we bought 20 PowerTap wheels in 2011, a reliable power meter that measured at the hub.  Athletes would bring their bikes in, remove the rear wheels and replace with one of our PowerTaps in a $299 ‘dumb trainer’. They would record their data on a PowerTap CPU. (Do you remember those yellow computers?)

PowerTap wheel in trainer in FasCat Performance Center

After the classes our coaches would upload the data manually via a wired download cradle to each class members' TrainingPeaks account. Users could check their class data in their TrainingPeaks account that we provided at no extra cost as part of the indoor cycling class. 

Athletes still had to take verbal and visual cues during the classes to raise or lower their power output based on the workout and interval for that class. 

In 2013, we invested in two pallets of Wahoo Kickr smart trainers. It was an $18,00 dollar investment, and it paid off, big time.

The wireless Wahoo Kickr put the wired CompuTrainer out of business. They retailed for about $1,800 and we sold quite a few to class attendees who liked them so much that they wanted to use them at home. 

Speaking of home, it was clear that putting your bike on top of your car and driving to an indoor cycling classes in the freezing cold and dark was not exactly desirable.  Still, athletes loved the group training atmosphere and came back for that reason. 

Even still, in the fall of 2014 after four years of growth, I saw our class numbers plateau. Why? These classes were awesome and an incredible value.  Athletes would test their threshold at the beginning and end of the multi-week sessions nearly everyone increasing their threshold power.

So what happened? In a word, Zwift.

In 2014, we coaches and many of our athletes began using this cool online solution. Zwift was compatible with the Kickr and it made indoor cycling way better than watching TV. There were stats and metrics and cool animations. You could see yourself riding in Watopia and log miles virtually with anyone in the world. I would text my brother in North Carolina and we would ride 'together' on Zwift. 

After that, I sold the brick and mortar performance center and took FasCat virtual. With cloud-based technologies, we were coaching the athletes in Boulder the exact same way were were coaching athletes all over the world. There was no need for a performance center. 

Reliable, power-based training had made field testing a viable method for coaching and eliminated the need for laboratory-grade VO2 and lactate testing.  Bike fitting was going mainstream in bike shops. And power meter sales of SRM and Quarq were disrupted by the more affordable Stages power meter.  FasCat was the #2 North American power meter dealer for Stages for two years in a row. Instead of riders paying $3,000 to train with power, now they could get in the game for around $500.

We gave away a month of coaching with all power meter sales to teach athletes how to train with power and that became one of our main ways of signing up one-on-one coached athletes. 

Long story short, we are at an inflection point with the $499 Zwift Hub.  Now you have an affordable solution that works just as well as the higher priced competitors to open up the world of indoor cycling to more and more athletes.  Just like the Kickr did to Computrainer, and just like Stages did to SRM, the Hub will now do to all other smart trainers. For bike riders who want to train at home, this is a big win.  

Here's FasCat's own Ben Delaney explaining the new Hub smart trainer after a visit to Zwift's headquarters in Long Beach, California.

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About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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