For cyclists looking to train indoors, whether it be to avoid bad weather, bad drivers, or some other reasons, there is a growing list of interactive options. Two of the more popular services are Zwift and Peloton, which already have huge followings.
While on the surface Zwift and Peloton have many similarities, once you dive in there are loads of differences in the two products. These differences include the product offering, the hardware needs, the people they cater to, subscription fees, and the goals they will help you achieve.
We cover many of the differences, and similarities, of Zwift vs. Peloton here to help you make the decision on which one might be right for you. Whether you are making the switch from one to the other or looking to start with one of the services everything you need to consider is included below.
Classes in Peloton vs Group Rides in Zwift
Right out of the gate the major difference with these two services is the primary training options they provide. Peloton is designed to replicate studio based spin classes, which generally appeal to all around fitness. Zwift is designed to replicate racing and training of outdoor cycling circuits. While both involve pushing pedals, the method of tracking and improving is very different.
For anyone who has already been involved in cycling, or even had an road bike on a trainer, Zwift is going to be the best option. If you are training for an outdoor cycling event, a triathlon, to participate in group rides with friends then Zwift if most appropriate to replicate the end goal. Zwift has group rides that are based on matching with riders of similar ability. The group rides also provide an opportunity to chat with others nearby, in addition to giving virtual thumbs ups (ride ons).
People looking to take part in exercise classes and have guided and encouraged trainers lead a workout will not have as good of an overlap with Zwift’s robo-pacers and group rides. Peloton will work best for someone who is accustomed to spin classes and the motivation an in class instructor provides. The interaction with others in the same class is more limited on Peloton.
With Peloton there are opportunities to give virtual high fives, but in terms of aligning to similar riders this is mostly done through tracking nearby riders on the class leader board. With huge swings in power output and no tracking of current power it is tough to tell when a neighboring rider on Peloton is going for a sprint and the leaderboard is less focused on competition.
Can You Use Peloton for Zwift
Sadly the primary Peloton bikes are locked down and run an operating system that is designed solely for interacting with Peloton classes. So No, you can not get Zwift on Peloton (at least not without voiding a warranty and jumping through useless hoops). This is a shame since the setup of them, with a large integrated screen that already is connected to the power meter of the bike, would be ideal for a gamified training situation.
Of course there is still a limitation in the accuracy of the Peloton Power meter, which is reported to be within 10% of actual. Compare that to the Zwift Hub which states the power meter is within 2.5% of accuracy. While this may not seem like a big difference, when you are trying to climb Alpe De Zwift you’ll want to accuractly record every bit of power you are pedaling out.
Peloton does offer a form of gaming, called Lane Break. Still this is not at all the same as the Zwift ability to ride in a virtual world. While it is possible this will one day be developed, for now there are no good ways to virtually ride on Peloton. Even the ‘Scenic Rides’ are unintegrated with the power meter so no mater how lightly you are pedaling the virtual tour will still proceed at the pre-recorded rate.
Some users have reported side loading Zwift onto Peloton. From a graphics and processing persepective the computer mounted at the front of a Peloton does have the specs to stream Zwift. Of course this not only voids any warranty of Peloton (which matters for things like the recent recall of Peloton due to faulty and unsafe seat posts), but also uses an unsupported setup so you never know when some component in the software setup will stop working.
Our recommendation, if you want to use a Peloton for Zwift, just sell the Peloton and get a used trainer and bike. The one caveat here is if there are multiple riders looking to integrate with Zwift and you prefer a direct drive trainer. A peloton is easier to adjust sizing on quickly, compared to most actual bikes, and it has a much wider range of positions that are stable to ride in.
Doing Structured Rides in Zwift or Peloton
Peloton has just ride options, but they are highly manual. The classes do offer things like Power Zone training, which focuses on power zones based off an FTP, but outside of the pre-planned classes the service is not designed to offer your own customization of rides.
We have covered before how it is possible to ride a structured ride on Peloton though. This is done through using Peloton Just Ride feature which we wrote about here. While it is possible to do specific interval rides or churn out 100 mile rides on Peloton it is simply not built for it. The user interface provides limited details about doing these custom rides and everything must be handled manually. For those training to match outdoor rides with a cycling computer this also makes it difficult to match the experience.
In contrast Zwift offers a number of custom workouts. While it is true that these often have similar structures to Peloton Power Zone classes, with repeating intervals at various output levels, the display in Zwift is focused on the on-going workout. Instead of having to stare just as a progression screen Zwift makes it possible to see what is upcoming.
Zwift also offers the ability to build your own workout, Peloton does not. This is one area where it is different from Peloton that may be the deciding factor on which to go with. For anyone looking to plug in a training plan or coaching guide to a workout they will find Zwift to be the more appropriate service.
Training Beyond Cycling
For both Zwift and Peloton there are options to do non-cycling activities. On Zwift this means hitting up a similarly paired treadmill and focuses on a run. On Peloton however the class options are much more extensive.
Peloton comes with a companion app that can be run on a smart phone or tablet. Within the app experience there are guided instruction on Yoga, Meditation, Strength training and a whole suite of other exercise activities. While the cost is higher for the subscription of Peloton, it can not be overlooked that it does offer these other services.
Still if you are training for an event, at the end of the day a Peloton does offer a good way to get in some pedaling. We used one to primarily train for an Olympic distance triathlon, logging more than 1000 virtual miles on it before upgrading the outdoor bike and eventually shifting to Zwift.
Comparing The Cost – Zwift vs Peloton
For both of these trainings services there are two varieties of cost to understand. The first is the monthly subscription fee and the second is the cost of associated gear and hardware.
In each case we look primarily at the cost of using the service primarily for cycling. While both Peloton and Zwift have running workouts, they each started as cycling focused. We have not been able to find hard numbers of where the users split for them, but anecdotally the cycling use case is still the primary reason people join.
On a monthly basis the Peloton membership is significantly more expensive than Zwift ($45.99 vs $14.99). Over the course of a single year this adds up. Even if you only spend 12 months on the service the difference is almost $400, plenty to buy some great gear or supplement with other services or classes.
Peloton does just require the machine, but it is far from the only cost. Many users find it necessary to get a mat to put the bike on. Of course getting shoes that match the Look pedals is also an added cost. Things like weights, or a screen swivel will also add up over time. There are second hand bikes available, but these come with questions about their existing maintenance, as repairing a roughly used Peloton is rarely worth it (especially compared to repairing a used bike which is easier with access to a local bike shop).
Still, when it comes to customizing a setup the entry cost of getting established on Zwift is slightly lower than Peloton, but can run much higher. A simplified Zwift setup, assuming you have a smart phone, can be done run $500 with a second hand smart trainer and bike. Getting a brand new setup though canrun in the tens of thousands. While it is true that putting a high end bike on a trainer can expose it to extra wear and tear, many cyclinst opt to put their primary bike on one espeically during poor weather months.
Once you add in the cost of a dedicated screen, dedicated computer or Apple TV, mat accessories, phone mounts, and all the bike upgrades you would want on an outdoor bike, a Zwift setup can easily surpass the $2500 cost of a new Peloton Bike+.
Personally we mounted our A2 SP triathlon bike (one of the lowest cost entry level tri bikes which we reviewed before), directly on a Zwift hub which retails for around $500, which brings the cost of a Zwift setup to over $3000. The upsideof this is that that same setup can be broken down and used for other things. While there is no way to ride a Peloton bike in a triathlon, the A2 easily helped lead us to a 30 minute PR in a local triathlon.