It’s a question I see asked quite often on Facebook, chat boards, and other places on the Internet that cater to cyclists. Folks want to know which is a better indoor cycling platform: Zwift or Peloton? Since I’ve had lots of experience with both, I figured I might be able to shed some light on the great “Zwift vs. Peloton” debate.
First, my credentials in this area. As I wrote about previously, I bought a Peloton bike the same week I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I rode it regularly for more than two years, exceeding 300 total rides. I did all kinds of rides with many different instructors.
I have much less time with Zwift, but still not an insignificant amount. Since last Fall, I’ve put about 600 miles on the platform, representing about 34 hours of riding. I’ve done group rides, races, structured workouts, and even my first-ever Century ride (that’s a ride of 100 miles). So I feel like I’m pretty knowledgeable about Zwift, too.
Let me start off the comparison by saying this: it’s like comparing Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia to Haagen-Dazs Dulce De Leche—you can’t go wrong with either. I love ‘em both. But they are quite distinct products, and they’ll appeal to different audiences. I’ll compare them in a number of categories, and then declare a winner.
To get the full Peloton experience, you’ll need the bike. The cheaper one is now $1,895, while the more expensive will set you back $2,495. The subscription, which is what gets you the online classes with instructors, is $39/month. And, at least when I joined, you had to pay for a full year of the service at once, adding nearly another $500 to the total tab.
Zwift, on the other hand, requires a bike with some sort of cadence and speed sensor at a minimum. Since most of you reading this have a bike, no cost there.
You’ll need some kind of trainer to hook the bike up to, like rollers, wheel-on trainers, or a smart trainer. The prices for these vary wildly, from less than $100 for a simple trainer to more than $1,500 for the Tacx Neo 2T smart trainer. You also need a way to connect to the Zwift app via Bluetooth. I use the Saris H3, which has worked great (a review of that is in the works).
The Zwift subscription, which lets you ride in its virtual world via a phone, tablet, laptop or other computer, or a connected TV (I use Apple TV), is $15/month.
Thus, while you pretty much have to shell out a serious amount to get the full Peloton experience, you can Zwift for significantly less. Like, a lot less. You can spend a ton on Zwift as well, but it’s likely to be less than Peloton overall, including the much lower monthly subscription fee.
Round Winner: Zwift.
For Peloton, it’s simple: it gets delivered and set up, you connect it to your wifi, set up an account on Peloton, and start pedaling.
Zwift is more DIY. You supply the bike, trainer, and the app. And for those using a TV, like me, it involves downloading the app and setting that up on the TV.
Depending on your trainer, setup can be somewhat more complicated. If it’s a “wheel-on” trainer, it’s usually not a problem. Smart trainers may involve a bit more—or significantly more—setup. Since I’m a mechanical illiterate, I had friends at the LBS (Local Bike Shop) put a cassette on the trainer, to which I hooked my bike. If I had tried to do it myself, the results wouldn’t have been pretty.
Setting up Zwift is also more complicated—it’s not as plug n’ play as Peloton. This is not to say it’s terribly difficult, but it’s definitely more involved.
Round Winner: Peloton
Here’s how each service works, in terms of the end user.
In its beating heart, Peloton is a spin class. They’ve added a lot of extra types of classes, like strength, stretching, and yoga, but those are side dishes—the entrée is the spin classes. These are taught by well-trained, entertaining instructors.
The instructors all have their own personalities and focuses, which adds nice variety to the workouts. Those workouts can be highly challenging, but there are also easier recovery-style rides, and everything in between—you can take interval training classes, Tabata classes (in which the ratio of hard pedaling to easy spinning is 2:1, so if you hammer for two minutes, you rest for one minute), general workouts with a variety of goals, and so on.
You’re watching the instructor the whole time, just like a spin class, and you listen to the playlist that’s typically been chosen by the instructor for the class. You can compete with other cyclists taking the class via the Leaderboard, which shows you where you rank among everyone else (this is for live classes. Once a class is finished, it becomes part of the huge archive of classes available on demand). You can also filter classes by instructor, length, type of workout, style of music, and other categories.
The downsides for me:
- I got a bit tired of just looking at the instructor the whole time. Not a lot of visual variety there. And I’m not the type that gets motivated by inspirational, cat poster-style cheers. You know ‘em: “You got this!!!” “The only person that can stop you is YOU!!!!!!” Now, if that kind of thing does motivate you, then you can stop reading right now, because Peloton is your thing.
- The music is important to me for a workout, and I didn’t like almost any of it. This is a very subjective item, of course. I like classic rock from the 60s-70s for workouts, and there just isn’t much of that available. There’s some, but it tended more toward more modern artists and lots of hip-hop. No judgement here—I just don’t like it, and mostly couldn’t avoid it. I’m an older guy, and like what I like. And don’t forget to get off my lawn.
- Short classes. Most classes are 60 minutes or less, although a few are 90 minutes. I like longer rides, and have had to string multiple classes together to get really long ones in.
- It’s a spin bike, and feels like a spin bike. It’s a fantastic piece of equipment that worked flawlessly, never giving me a moment’s trouble. That said, it doesn’t feel—at all—like being on a bike outside. That’s just the nature of a spin bike. Once I bought outdoors bikes and started riding them, I liked the feel of the Peloton bike less and less.
Zwift is a video game. In reality, though, it’s a virtual cycling world. You create an avatar and he or she becomes your presence in the world.
Zwift tracks your speed, cadence, heart rate, and power output, subject to your equipment (I don’t wear a heart rate monitor, for instance, so it doesn’t track that for me). You ride through various environments, including real-world settings like London and New York (Central Park), or Zwift’s own created world of Watopia.
As mentioned before, you can ride with groups, or race other riders, or ride solo, or… pretty much whatever you want to do. Your rides can be epic, like my Century, or criteriums (fast races over short courses) or structured workouts with defined goals.
I love the virtual worlds, especially because I watch them on my curved, 32-inch monitor, which gives a nice sense of realism. Watopia has all sorts of interesting things to see, including volcanoes, dinosaurs, underwater tunnels, and bears climbing tress to get honey. It’s an amazing world. One drawback would be if I had to use my iPhone or a tablet or laptop as the viewing device. That would seriously harm the immersive nature of Zwift.
Since I’m on a real road bike (an old steel Le Monde I bought 15 years ago, which became my beater bike), I also get a much greater feeling of, well… cycling. I’m on a bike, shifting on the hills (a smart trainer, which I use, actually makes it harder to pedal uphill, and easier to pedal downhill, adjusting for the steepness of the incline), and even drafting behind other riders. Yep—you can draft in Zwift, and when you’re doing that, it helps you maintain speed with less power, just like real riding.
I find it a lot more motivating to be on a road (even if it’s virtual), competing against other riders, than the Peloton, where your competition is just names on a list. For me, anyway, it’s a killer feature.
You can also listen to your own music! I crank up one of my various Spotify playlists and let ‘er rip. I don’t do that on the road, but in the basement, it’s essential for me.
- It’s much more like real cycling, but you’re still indoors, and that can get old. Of course, that downside also applies to the Peloton.
- You don’t get instruction. Yes, there are structured workouts, but no one’s telling you to do this or that, as you get with the Peloton instructors. Those instructors give lots of good advice on form, breathing, why you’re doing various exercises at that moment, and so on. You can chat with other riders on Zwift, but that involves typing on your phone, which I have no interest in doing while I’m riding. So in that way, Zwift is more isolating than Peloton.
- You have to have a bike. If you don’t already have one, and have to buy one, then the price difference isn’t as great compared to Peloton.
Round Winner: Zwift
As I said earlier, I never had a problem with my Peloton. It was rock-solid, heavy and extremely well built.
So far, so good with Zwift (and my entire setup, which I’ll detail in future posts). No problems with the app connecting or running. I have strong wifi in my house, which helps in both cases, since both Peloton and Apple TV (which has strong integration with Zwift) rely on it.
Round Winner: Draw.
Both platforms will get you fit, there’s no doubt about it. The question is whether one will inherently get you fitter. My answer is no.
Working out for longer is much easier, in my opinion, on Zwift. And doing group rides, racing others, and the huge variety of structured workouts are points in its favor.
And Zwift encourages me to do longer workouts than Peloton. This is more of a subjective opinion, but it’s true for me.
Peloton, on the other hand, has instructors guiding you along, which will be a bigger benefit for many. Peloton also offers the aforementioned strength training, yoga, and other types of workouts that offer more of a whole-body fitness regimen.
Round Winner: Draw
And the Winner Is…
As you can see, there’s a ton to like about both systems, and they’ll both get you in shape if you commit to the workouts. Still, there is a winner for me, and…
I like seeing the road ahead of me, competing against other virtual riders, and exploring the world of Zwift (which is always expanding.)
There’s a reason Zwift has taken over the cycling world, especially during this horrific pandemic: it simulates real, actual cycling the best. Amateurs and pros alike have been using Zwift to train in isolation indoors, because training with Zwift is the closest approximation to training outdoors.
To those who ask, I typically explain what I see as the main differences between the platforms this way: Peloton is for people who want to get in shape. Zwift is for cyclists.
How much do I like Zwift? So much so that I sold my Peloton at the end of 2020. That’s no knock on Peloton, which is a wonderful product with a great group of instructors and highly supportive community.
Zwift, however, just scratches my cycling itch. I’ve fallen in love, and made my choice. Yours may be different.
Vive la différence!