Smart trainers are designed to be used with a cycling app such as Zwift. But these apps generally require a monthly subscription, which can end up being quite costly. You probably wonder if it is possible to use a smart trainer such as the Wahoo Kickr without paying for a cycling app.
Wahoo Kickr smart trainer can be used without Zwift or any other smart cycling app. But it will become like a ‘dumb’ trainer and lose the benefits of ERG mode workouts. The best option to use the Kickr with ERG is to use a GPS bike computer, a compatible watch, or a free smart cycling app.
In the next paragraphs, we will see in detail how you can use your Wahoo Kickr. There are plenty of possibilities to make the most of your Kickr, even if you don’t want to use Zwift or any cycling app.
If you own a Tacx trainer, go check out this other article I wrote: Best free apps for Tacx Neo and Tacx Flux
What is an indoor cycling app & what does it do?
Indoor cycling apps are a piece of software used in combination with your smart trainer to give you a fully interactive indoor cycling experience. It can be run from a PC, a Mac, or a phone (Android or Apple) depending on the app chosen.
There are different types of cycling apps. The most known apps are Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, Rouvy, and RGT cycling.
You will find below a non-exhaustive list of what they can do:
- Show basic stats while riding:
– Heart Rate
- Can control your smart trainer’s resistance:
- via ERG mode: the trainer adjusts resistance to keep you at a power level set by the trainer app.
- via slope mode: the trainer adjusts the resistance to respond to simulated changes in slope in virtual worlds.
- Provide a wide range of pre-set workouts (structured training)
- Create your own workouts with wattage targets
- Share workout / indoor ride data with Strava, Training peaks etc.
- Allow to virtually ride with your friends
Reasons not to use your Kickr with a cycling app
The Wahoo Kickr is a smart trainer designed to be used to its full potential with a cycling app. So, why would you want to use it without a cycling app?
The main reasons are:
- The cost (most apps work with a monthly subscription around $15/month)
- Not owning a PC or Mac able to run one of these apps
- Not having a phone able to run one of these apps (+ if the phone screen is small the experience is not as interesting)
- Not having the internet in your pain cave
Many people have only heard about Zwift as a cycling app. Probably because it is very popular and highly advertised. Their general concern with Zwift is about its gaming aspect and associated cost.
Can you use Wahoo Kickr without Zwift?
You can use your Wahoo Kickr without Zwift. There are dozens of alternative cycling apps on the market like TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest. Most work with a paying subscription but there are some free apps such as GoldenCheetah and RGT cycling.
I will cover all these paid and free alternatives later in this article.
Can you use Wahoo Kickr without any app?
It is possible to use your Wahoo Kickr without running any app. You can just hop on your trainer and ride. In this case, you won’t have access to all the features, especially the ERG mode where the resistance of your bike is directly set up by the software to match a given value for your workout.
Without connecting the Kickr to an app, your trainer will be in resistance mode. It will provide a set resistance and you can adjust the gearing on your bike to make the pedaling torque more or less easy.
This is exactly like riding a dumb trainer.
If you wish to modify the set resistance, you have two options:
- using a Garmin or a Wahoo GPS bike computer connected to your smart trainer (I will detail this option a bit later in the article)
- using a Garmin watch to control your smart trainer
- using the Wahoo fitness app (free) on your phone while riding (it’s like +/- button you find on dumb trainers controllers)
Can you use Wahoo Kickr without paying for an app?
There are plenty of apps that can be used with your Wahoo Kickr to give you the best possible indoor experience. Most apps require some kind of subscription. But don’t worry there are several free apps you can use with your Wahoo Kickr.
If you are reading this article and you own a Tacx Neo or Tacx Flux smart trainer, go check this article I wrote:
First, let’s see the pricing of a wide variety of smart cycling apps (in no particular order). Then, in the following paragraphs, I will describe and compare the free apps.
List of smart trainer cycling apps and their price:
|Cycling App||Price||Free Trials|
|Zwift||$14.99/month||For PC/Mac: 7-day free trial |
For iOS/tvOS/Android: 25km + 7-days with unlimited distance once you select Join Now
|14 days free trial|
|No free trial|
|RGT Cycling||FREE version|
or premium at $9.99/month
|14 days free trial for premium|
|14 days free trial|
|Wahoo Fitness App||FREE||Always free|
|Fulgaz||$12.99/month||14 days free trial|
|Trainer Day||FREE version|
Or premium at $3.99/month
|Free version available|
or for life: 269.99€
|No free trial|
|Bkool||9.99€/month||No free trial|
Wahoo Fitness App
Wahoo Fitness app is an application developed by Wahoo for its smart trainers. It runs on Android and iOS and it is free.
This app allows you to register, update and calibrate your Wahoo Kickr.
It includes a dedicated workout screen for the Kickr with 4 modes: Resistance Levels, ERG Mode, Simulation Mode and Manual mode.
On the “+” and “-” buttons, you can adjust the power to a set value of your choice.
This app is more like a remote control for your smart trainer than a smart cycling app. I would definitely recommend using it if you are not interested in another app.
GoldenCheetah is a free and open-source software that can control your smart trainer and let you analyze your rides. It’s available for PC, Mac, and Linux.
You can use this software to ride indoors. It can connect your Kickr via ANT+. An ANT+ dongle is required on your laptop to receive the signal. But after that, you are set up!
RGT Cycling (free version)
RGT Cycling is a smart cycling app that includes a free version. It requires the use of a phone for the stats & smart trainer connection (works on iOS or Android) and a separate screen for the virtual environment (iPad, Android Tablet, PC, Mac or Apple TV)
For the free version: you can ride in a virtual environment, get access to several structured workouts and you can join races and group rides.
Trainer Day is a cycling app that allows you to do workouts indoors using your smart trainer. The free version contains 20 cycling training workouts. If you want more prepared structured workouts, the subscription is $3.99/month.
Trainer Day is very similar to Wahoo Fitness app, but it comes with a free workout editor where you can create your own workouts.
Free Apps comparison
We have seen 4 apps (Wahoo fitness, Golden Cheetah, RGT Cycling & Trainer Day) that are free to use with your Wahoo Kickr. But which one should you use?
Wahoo Fitness app
First, if you own a Wahoo Kickr, just try the Wahoo Fitness app. You will have to download it anyway to keep your trainer up to date and calibrated. You can do some workouts from this app and control your smart trainer. So it includes all the basic features you need to ride indoors.
If you wish to create your own workouts, you will need another app or to create the workout elsewhere and load it with Wahoo Fitness app. A solution for this is to try out Trainer Day app which includes freely this feature.
Golden Cheetah, compared to Wahoo Fitness and Trainer Day, runs on a laptop so you will have a bigger screen to read your workout. It includes way more features than just allowing you to ride your smart trainer. One of its main features is having comprehensive tools to analyze your rides: plot curves, transform data by applying formulas, tracking metrics over time, etc. It’s really a “Forensic Ride Analysis” as they like to call it.
Golden Cheetah can also help you plan your training, create workouts, etc. In short, it has a lot to offer, but it is not very user-friendly and can be quite difficult to get used to it. There is a very long guide online to help you understand all of its features. So feel free to have a go.
RGT Cycling is an app similar to Zwift, with the added benefit to include a free version. It’s not just about doing workouts in ERG mode with your smart trainer. It allows you to ride within a virtual environment with other riders. You can join group rides, socialize, and structured workouts also. It is worth trying or trying the free 7-day trial in Zwift to get an idea of how these virtual worlds will make your rides way more enjoyable. In my opinion, the only drawback about RGT Cycling is that you need 2 devices to run 2 separate apps in parallel for the game to work.
Can you use Wahoo Kickr with your Garmin?
If you already own a Garmin watch or a Garmin cycling computer, you can use it to control your Wahoo Kickr.
The following Garmin models can connect to your Wahoo Kickr:
- Edge 130 Plus
- Edge 520
- Edge 520 Plus
- Edge 530
- Edge 830
- Edge 1030
- Edge 1030 Plus
- Forerunner 745
- Forerunner 945 (minimum software version 5.00)
- Forerunner 945 LTE
- Fenix 6 series (minimum software version 11.00)
- MARQ Collection (minimum software version 11.00)
- Tactix Delta series (minimum software version 11.00)
Once you have paired your Kickr, you can use your Garmin to control it. You have 3 options:
- Use the Garmin as a remote control to select a set resistance and ride it. Of course, you can modify the resistance while riding.
- Use the Garmin to ride an existing workout indoor. It will show you a virtual partner and use ERG mode to control the resistance throughout the ride.
- Use the Garmin to ride a prepared structured workout. You can create these workouts in Garmin connect and export them to your Garmin devices.
You can find a complete guide on how to use your Wahoo smart trainer with Garmin devices in my article below:
Can you use Wahoo Kickr with your Wahoo Elemnt?
If you already own a Wahoo Elemnt bike computer or GPS watch, you can use it to control your Wahoo Kickr. Your Elemnt can directly control your Kickr via a set resistance, structured workouts, or simulating a course.
Best option to ride your Kickr without a paying subscription
The Wahoo Kickr is designed to be used to its full potential with a smart cycling app. Apps like Zwift, The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad… require a monthly subscription which can be expensive. If that’s not the reason you are not interested, don’t hesitate to use their trial period to get a feel of what these apps can bring you. You might change your mind about them.
If you are really short on money, or you really only care about doing interval sessions, then you have the option to ride your smart trainer with a free app. In this case, the easiest option is to use the Wahoo Fitness app as a remote control. You can also try other apps to find one that works best for you. Ideally, focus on an easy app to launch and set up. You don’t want to spend 15min preparing your workouts each time you feel like having a ride.
Another really good solution is to control your Kickr with a GPS bike computer or GPS watch (if you are lucky to have one compatible).
In my opinion, paid cycling apps will give you an experience that will keep you longer on your trainer and make you want to come back. The social side of some of these apps allows you to ride with your friends and do your boring interval training sessions with them. It will boost your motivation and help you reach your goals.
Furthermore, the number of structure training plans they include will make your life easier: just hop on the bike, select the training plan, and for the next weeks: just follow the workout plan!
If you own a Wahoo Kickr, here are articles that you may be interested in: