How to set up your Zwift pain cave
Pain caves are as much a part of a modern cyclist’s identity as are their bikes and achievements
This piece has been made in association with Zwift.
To get the best out of Zwift, it's not just power and improving your watts per kilo figures that are important.
Just as crucial is a good pain cave. The place where all the suffering is thrashed out, a place where the energy is released, and a place where virtual dreams become a reality.
It might just be your spare bedroom or the garage, and the humidity levels might better represent South East Asia as opposed to south east England, but pain caves are as much a part of a modern cyclist’s identity as are their bikes and achievements.
So what should every Zwifter have in their pain cave?
First and foremost, don’t fret about potentially not having the space in your house. Gavin Dempster, one of Britain’s leading figures since the inception of online e-racing, had to adapt whatever tiny bit of space he had to set up his pain cave.
(Image by Alessandra Bucci)
“I’ve not got a huge house so I have my turbo permanently set up in the downstairs bathroom!” he laughs. “It’s basically half in the toilet. It’s part small bathroom, part utility room.
“It’s actually the best and most useful set-up I could have wished for as I can refill my bottles at the sink straight from the bike. And that becomes really handy in races over three hours.”
Read more: A beginner's guide to Zwift
Dempster’s mini dungeon will be a lot more cramped than many, but he has prioritised the essentials: “I have two fans in there at all times and I can squeeze in a third if needed,” he adds.
Cue the discussion of fans, the most imperative piece of equipment for any Zwifter setting up their own pain cave. Don’t skimp on a fan, whatever you do.
Training indoors is a hot affair, and without the natural coolness offered from a ride outside, the room becomes ever more humid, sweatier and stickier, and a fan is necessary to regulate the core body temperature.
(Image by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
“It’s absolutely essential,” says successful off-road rider and coach Ben Thomas. “I have some athletes who have recorded a temperature of between 20 and 25 degrees inside and that’s too warm as your heart rate spikes and your power levels decrease.
“You can train outside in those temperatures as there’s cool air flow, but you can’t ride indoors in those conditions without a fan for sustained periods. Around 15 degrees with some air flow is the optimal condition.
“You need to keep the temperature down and the way to do that is having a fan to propel the cooler air over you, as well as keeping doors and windows open.”
There are other must-haves for any Zwifter: towels are deemed crucial to help mop up all that falling sweat (it’s even possible to buy specifically-adapted frame towels), as is a rubber mat to sit under the bike to stop things moving around. Similarly, make sure that the WiFi connection is stable and isn’t prone to dropping out as there’s nothing worse than a stuttering feed.
Back in Dempster’s downstairs toilet he doubles up his washing machine’s usage. “I’ve got my laptop and a second monitor on top of it so I’ve got plenty of interaction to look at.”
How many monitors a Zwifter needs is personal choice, but generally it’s accepted that one reasonably sized screen is appropriate. Rouleur have, however, heard tales of riders using up to four monitors - because, as many a Zwifter will attest to, they crave all that simulation.
(Image by Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)
Regardless of how many screens you have, using a stable counter (including a washing machine) should be prioritised. Italian-based coach Ian Jenner says: “If you’re using Zwift with a TV, you need to make sure it’s easily viewable.
“You can be clever with your set-up – you don’t need to buy a specific table, for example. I have athletes who put their tablet on a music stand. But there’s no point trying to balance a tablet where you can’t reach it or where you will knock it off. Make it practical.”
A useful table or counter will also have space for water, food, perhaps even a gaming keyboard for those who want to up their socialising game, and a speaker “although that depends on your relationship with your neighbours,” laughs Thomas, who adds “headphones are just as good but music definitely helps.”
Read more: Why Zwift is a byword for socialising
One final thing to add to your pain cave’s shopping list: “On Zwift you’ll be spending more time in the saddle as you don’t get out of it as much as you do on the road,” Jenner says.
“So having really good cycling shorts with a better chamois pad in them will be really beneficial. As will a base layer that will help wick the sweat away quicker, and comfortable shoes. Try to be as comfortable as possible and you’ll enjoy it more.”