News of the disappearance of Zwift’s smart workout hardware has been 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 originally planned to release. The most ambitious project was a Zwift design from start to finish, with both a smart trainer and a smart bike option.

The Hub is a more modest project but in its own way potentially more powerful, due to the market segment it addresses. Zwift did not create this smart trainer. It’s teamed up with JetBlack, a highly regarded Australian smart trainer manufacturer and if it sounds like the JetBlack Volt, that’s because, well, it is. Above all. As I write the specs they are identical to the JetBlack Volt and the main technical difference is a Zwift commissioned change to the hub area to make the unit slightly more compatible with certain disc brake frame designs . (Zwift has tested over 500 bikes with the Hub and they all fit, from road and gravel to triathlon, CX and MTB.)

The presentation, which begins right out of the box, is remarkable about the Hub. Zwift did an Apple thing by making a fireplace-like industrial product look like a Silicon Valley product. But let’s back up a bit, because that’s the whole Zwift idea behind the Hub. It’s a catalyst to make you Zwifter. The pusher sells you your first main lines at a low price. Cheap as the Zwift Hub sells for $499.

Zwift’s thesis is this: four out of five people who buy a smart trainer have Zwifting in mind when they buy it. As I noted last week, Zwift’s appeal is widening. The community is just getting a little bit slower. Why? Because a lot of people join Zwift who aren’t riding at the front of the pack. Zwift sees the writing on the wall and wants to fuel the habit by lowering the financial barrier to entry.

Let’s go back to the presentation with this in mind: those who buy the Hub are new Zwifters who are not yet Level 50, Level 25 or Level Anything. They are probably not professional racers or club racers. That’s why there are now 11 new Pace Partner gears. Zwift was too difficult for many people and Zwift needed to make it easier to buy the trainer and optimize the experience for those who pedal easier. So when you open the box, there are plenty of handy helpers that you might find unnecessary, but remember this new Zwift audience.

For example, the alternate quick-release and thru-axle dropouts are inserted into color-coded cards, and the cards have built-in measuring aids, to help the user know if their dropouts are spaced 142mm, 148 mm (thru axle) or 130mm or 135mm (QR). It is quite easy to follow the instructions on these cards.

One thing that might confuse the uninitiated is that the included 17mm open-end wrench cannot grip the flats of the drive-side QR cap (which one must remove for a disc-brake bike). You don’t really need the tool, because Zwift doesn’t tighten this threaded cap. You can reach with nimble fingers, unscrew it and slip on the thru-axle cap.

But if you want your caps tight, you’ll need a purchase on these flats, and I had to remove the cassette with a spline tool and toothed pliers, tighten, reattach the cassette. About this tape: It is included. It’s Shimano style and 12 speed.

There is a spacer included if you want to put a 10sp cassette on it and you can put an 8-12 speed cassette on this rider body. No there is not Again an XDR driver for the Hub. But I guess you could put your SRAM eTap AXS bike on it and you’d be fine. You just won’t get that really high gear, because you’ll be missing your 10t sprocket. The Hub comes with 3 cords, depending on your power supply convention.

There is a manual included but honestly there is no need to break the spine of this one. From opening the box to fully installing it, I spent maybe 30 minutes. I never consulted the manual. In fact, if you look at that photo above of that box inside the box, you’ll see a barcode. Point your camera at it and, of course, instructions will appear on your handheld’s browser.

Then you had to pair the device to Zwift and it would have been an epic failure if that hadn’t happened, of course. But no problems.

To recap: the Hub is very well packaged, beginner proof, and the parts to be assembled are color coded and even have patterns so those who are color blind know which braces go where. No need for a power adapter, it couples as it should and we’re ready to roll. So… how does it roll?

First, some specs on this device. Maximum watts are 1800 and maximum lift is 16%. This solves the problem for the vast majority of us. Note that the maximum power is higher on high-end direct-drive trainers. But it’s not that coach.

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

The Zwift Hub rides well, is quiet, and is basically what a direct-drive smart trainer should be. It will not replace $1200-$1600 trainers. A Tacx NEO 2T weighs almost half of what the Hub weighs. The most expensive units we’re used to using handle 2,200 watts and have +/- 1% accuracy, as opposed to the Hub’s +/- 2.5%. But the Hub has its own unique features, such as, if your HR streaming device pairs with the Hub, the Hub delivers it using a single BLE connection.

But the Hub can kill the trainer market at $800. At US$499, same price in euros, and at £449, it’s a bargain.

For my friends who want Zwifter; who have very limited hardware budgets; who discover online training; that come out of a speed and cadence sensor and stretched to afford it; it is a unit that I will recommend to them. I don’t think Zwift’s ambitions for the Hub get any bigger than that, because that’s the customer the Hub seems destined to appeal to. Remember, Zwift earns $14.99 in real money at a time, which is what you and I pay each month for our subscriptions. The purpose of the Hub is to break down this barrier to entry into Zwift.

This is not just a licensing or private label agreement. Zwift has a team of 55 people, based in its London office, dedicated to this hardware project. These include industrial designers, mechanical engineers, UX designers and a manufacturing team.

Customers can purchase their Zwift Hub starting October 3.

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