• Beginner's guide to Zwift and FulGaz by an absolute beginner (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Ever thought about venturing into the virtual world of Zwift or FulGaz cycling but didn't really know where to start? Fresh from her first ever trials of both apps, Rachel de Bear gives you as much info as you need to start riding there.
Rachel de Bear

2 May 2020 - 4:29 PM  UPDATED 19 May 2020 - 2:17 PM

No idea and without all the gear. This 'guide' does what it says on the tin - an absolute beginner's guide, from an absolute beginner to get you up and trying out Zwift or FulGaz. 

Or, like me, try both!

1. You don't REALLY need all the fancy gear to get started on Zwift / FulGaz

You've probably seen the pain caves of all the pro riders or some of your mates in the last couple of months and noticed all the gear they use to hook up to their favoured virtual platform. 

You can get on the virtual road in Zwift and FulGaz with just a speed sensor (shipped for just under $70) and a wheel-on resistance trainer (AKA UNsmart trainer) starting around $150 (but you could probably find them somewhere for less). 

With the speed sensor option, Zwift and FulGaz estimate your power output - which is how they measure your speed - based on the data they pick up from the sensor communicated via Bluetooth. (*Scroll to the bottom for a brief explanation on power/speed in Zwift and FulGaz and smart trainers/power meters).

I'm driven solely by budget right now so while they're way more accurate, neither a smart trainer or power meter are an option for me.

But I did look into a smart trainer. 

They are like toilet paper in Australia. There's a waiting list until at least the end of May. At the time of publishing, it looks like you might even have a wait for UNsmart trainers!   

But we had one lying around the house. The speed sensor arrived in just two days after ordering but you could be up and riding sooner if your local bike shop stocks them and you can source a wheel-on trainer. 

I'm set up with my road bike but you can technically put on whatever bike fits if you can find the wheel size in Zwift. 

So you're ready! All that's left to do is download the apps (Zwift everywhere, FulGaz is not yet available for Android but is via iOS or Windows 10). If you want to see it on your big TV, get it there via casting, Apple TV or a HDMI cable (and relevant lightning connector for the latest iPhones/Apple devices). 

The rest of the set-up steps are fairly intuitive. But you might find yourself thinking "where do I find the ride I just did?" after finishing. 

If you're not connected to Strava (which you can do with both Zwift and FulGaz to see all your rides) you can find a record of your rides in their  Zwift companion app where you can also follow people, see your personal records, power ups and level ups etc. In the FulGaz app, go into settings and select Ride History. 

Zwift offers a seven-day free trial (after that a $21.99 per month subscription) and FulGaz 14 days (after that a $18.99 per month subscription). FulGaz also offers a get-one-family-member-for-free discount on its subscriptions.  

2. Make sure the front wheel is at least level with the back 

This sounds like a no-brainer but in a coronavirus pandemic self isolation haze I forgot and google tells me some other people do too.

My body also told me. I was drastically over-reaching and leaning forward. If your trainer comes with a front wheel block, use it. I was still struggling a little so I raised it a little higher than level with a book which seemed to sort that issue. 

3. It feels like you're always making adjustments but you'll get through it

This goes on from point number 2. You'll experience a number of niggles and things on your first few goes. But they're mostly all resolvable. If you can't find an answer online, I gulped, took a breath and asked some friends ad Twitter/Facebook.

You may feel like a total noob or like the cycling world is judging your low-fi set-up, don't worry, you will find at least one person who has been through it. 

While FulGaz and Zwift estimate your power output via your speed sensor so accuracy will be an issue, there are a few other things that can affect the numbers with a wheel-on trainer option. 

For example, if you feel like your power numbers are off even for an estimate and lack of virtual world fitness, tinker with the tension on the back tyre to see if that makes a difference. Also ensure your back tyre is always pumped up to the recommended pressure (which you should find somewhere on your tyre in psi). 

4. You're going to experience some discomfort in the nether regions but don't put up with an excruciating level, find a solution 

My road bike is the same set-up as I use for the real world. But I am experiencing a painful amount of...ahem flap mash that I do not riding outdoors. It's the same for some men and their nether regions.  

SOME discomfort is OK if it can be resolved with a few adjustments, for example, to the level of the front of your bike, the saddle height or tilt, or getting up out of the saddle every few minutes or even step off for a quick break and get back on. That's how I've mostly made it through the last two weeks.

Many riders also find they can put up with or overcome this issue after regularly riding. 

But I haven't. I was in tears after just a 60 minute ride, two days ago. 

My local bike shop says a new saddle should do it. 

5. It is REALLY hard work on Zwift / FulGaz...and you sweat a lot 

I didn't think it was going to be a picnic, but I was surprised at how hard my first few rides were and how much I had to work for every watt. 

If this is your first time in such a world or even riding that hard for certain durations, be kind to yourself. The temptation is to go out way too hard especially at the start of a ride. Don't worry too much about the numbers or your speed. Focus instead on staying longer and longer on the bike. 

Then when you're finding you can sustain a higher number of watts for good chunks of time, then look for the training plans both worlds offer. 

The hard work is worth it. 

And with the sweat - maybe invest in some kind of fan and be careful of where it pools and drops. Bike-part corrosion via indoor training is real, and ghastly. 

5. FulGaz vs. Zwift?

I didn't really know just the speed sensor/UNsmart trainer option was possible to get up and riding in Zwift (and now FulGaz). Or later, I would allow my fear of not having the right gear to stop me from taking the leap. 

But I wish I did and I wish I had long before this. I'm hooked. 

Put simply? I like Zwift for the gamification and some time in my future, group rides and racing. I'm not going to get into the gamification here - that's for you to discover and which others explain better than this newbie. In my limited knowledge though, it's FUN - and already addictive. 

I like FulGaz for the high-res beauty and what at least FEELS sometimes like a little easier 'just ride' experience, even if you're still working as hard. 

I tried out Zwift because there is no denying it is the market leader and after using it, I can see why.

I also checked out FulGaz because SBS is supporting Rupert Guinness' Virtual Race Across America (VRAAM) in June and my goal is to do The 60 - one hour rides over the 12 days of VRAAM. 

This was never intended to be more than a starter's guide from the perspective of an absolute beginner. If you want more information there's plenty of places to go, like:

Zwift forums  Zwift Insider   Zwift YouTube channel   FulGaz Knowledge Base   FulGaz YouTube

Plus excellent reviewers Shane Miller and DC Rainmaker 

* Why power is so important in Zwift and Fulgaz 

There's a good reason why people spend money on quality products. 

Your speed in Zwift and FulGaz is controlled by your power number measured in watts (w).

Zwift goes even further by categorising group rides and races - but please note, you can just ride in Zwift without riding in a group or in a race - using your power to weight ratio measured by watts per kilogram (w/kg).

So the watts you're pushing out, Zwift will convert (yes, you have to type your weight into your profile when you're setting it up, and in FulGaz too) to w/kg which is calculated by dividing watts (power output) by your weight. So if you're pushing out 100w and you're 70kgs, your power to weight ratio for that power output is 1.4 w/kg.

A smart (or direct drive) trainer or a power meter (pedal-based, crank-based, and hub based) will measure your power output, although the accuracy will vary across brands, types and ranges.

Smart trainers start from around $700 and power meters around $550 both venturing into the thousands.