Winter training feature – smart Zwift ‘ing’ on a budget

Winter is here and the outside world becomes an awful lot less cyclist friendly!

Now, I know that the rules of the Velominati state that you should HTFU (!) and mostly I do, but as well as the warmer and drier conditions of the ‘pain cave’ there are also real performance benefits of turbo trainer use. This article is not designed to go in depth into trainer use – the internet is full of those.
My aim here is to share my experiences in the pursuit of joining the online cycling Zwift community with a fully functioning smart turbo trainer, for as little money as possible.

Again, there are articles all over the internet about Zwift and to be fair, you don’t ‘need’ a smart trainer to use it. It will work very well with almost any turbo trainer. The addition of a smart trainer means that the software controls the load / resistance that you are feeling and matches it to the terrain on the display.

I actually started this project last winter, when I bought a smart trainer. I chose the Tacx Flow (fortis) with a smart upgrade.

The trainer came with Tacx’s trainer software and the previous owner also included some ‘real ride’ dvd routes too which made the package very versatile.
All set up and calibrated I was able to ride in the dry and test myself using the Tacx built in training programme and the virtual reality riding and racing.

It was at this point that I realised that I should have done a lot more research into smart trainers before spending my money, as it is very much the case that not all smart trainers are equal. Although the early Tacx trainers really are smart and controlled by the Tacx software, they are not compatible with online based training software like Zwift, Trainer road or FullGaz . All of these packages require your trainer to have a wireless output via ANT+ or Bluetooth.
Having resigned myself to having to only use the Tacx software with my trainer, the weather cheered up and I stayed away from the turbo for most of last spring.

As this winter arrived so quickly and temperatures fell and stayed low, my mind turned back to the turbo.
A timely email reminder about membership from Zwift, lead me back to their website. I decided to troll the Q&A section to see if support had been added for the older trainers.
My spirits lifted after I found a post about the very issue. It would appear that Tacx were not willing to share information with Zwift to enable communication with the older trainers.
As the thread of discussion about the issue goes on, a couple of clever individuals start discussing ANT+ and Bluetooth programming. This chat eventually leads to Antifier .

Antifier takes the USB input from the early Tacx trainers and converts it to an ANT+ wireless signal with allows your trainer to be fully controlled as if it were an modern ANT+ smart trainer.

So, in true Blue Peter style, here are the things that you require, and to be honest, if you don’t have some of the major parts of this already, you’ll be better off buying a new smart trainer!

Obviously, you’ll need a bicycle, fitted with home trainer tyre
An early edition Tacx trainer  –  Running a T1932 or T1942 head unit ( Handle bar mounted controller)
A PC / Laptop capable of running software and with at least three free USB ports
2 ANT+ USB sticks – yes 2!
Antifier software – Download here 

…. and it just works! The download package includes a readme instruction set, but it does gloss over one or two important points…….

1)If installed, I would recommend removing Garmin connect software from your computer. The Garmin software can restrict the computers use of ANT+
2) Before you follow the instructions on changing the driver for your VR interface (Tacx) make sure that the Tacx software is loaded, installed and running. My T1932 controller has a green LED with is illuminated when connected – this must be on. I also found that I needed to tick the box to remove the software (driver) associated to the Tacx VR interface.
3)You may need to plug/unplug the ANT+ sticks to get everything talking correctly after all of the setup to get Zwift to see your trainer for the first time.

As I said earlier in the article, this really only helps you if you already have an early Tacx trainer or have the opportunity to pick one up on the cheap 🙂