Can a turbo trainer damage a carbon frame? How to look after your bike when riding indoors

It's not just hard on you, using the turbo trainer can hurt your bike too

Cycling indoors in a garage on a smart trainer and Zwift

If you’ve taken to indoor training in recent years, you’re not alone. More and more riders are moving indoors for quality training time on a smart trainer, lured by the lack of traffic to contend with, better quality equipment, immersive training apps such as Zwift, RGT Cycling and Rouvy – and better weather conditions.

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There are numerous benefits to indoor cycling and your bike won’t get as dirty either – but it will still be subjected to wear and tear. “In the same way going out on the road carries risks, using your bike on a turbo carries a different set of risks more focused on your bike,” says Will Smith, a mechanic at Havebike, which offers a collect and return bike repair service.

Here are four reasons why you need to look after your bike, even if you’re riding indoors.

1. Sweat isn’t good for your bike

Can a turbo trainer damage a carbon frame?
Riding on the turbo is sweaty business. Place a towel over your handlebar and top tube to collect sweat.
Justin Tallis / Getty Images

Even in a cold garage and with a gale-force fan blowing on you during a session, or with your windows wide open, you’ll get hot and sweaty.

That sweat can find its way into expensive parts and the salt that it contains can corrode them over time.

Havebike’s Smith points out that it’s very easy for sweat to find its way into headset bearings, shift levers and bar tape, and it can also cause metal cable guides to seize to the frame.

“We’ve seen a few examples recently where levers and bars have corroded to such an extent, they needed totally replacing,” he says.

He advocates placing a towel over your bars to collect the sweat; you can also buy “bike bras” to cover the top of the bike, and frame protector sprays, but there’s still a risk to bar tape and shifters.

As with riding outside, you still need to keep your bike clean and dry.

“In an ideal world you would wash your bike after every session, but this isn’t practical for many so if you can do it after every third session, this should stop the build-up,” says Smith.

2. A turbo could damage your frame

Can a turbo trainer damage a carbon frame?
Full-gas efforts could be putting unexpected stress on your frame. If you’re concerned, check your bike manufacturer’s warranty.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

When you’re putting in a big effort, particularly out of the saddle, it’s natural to swing your weight from side to side.

Some trainers, like the Kurt Kinetic and the latest Wahoo Kickr, allow a bit of side-to-side motion, but if your bike is held rigidly in the trainer, you’re putting side loads on your frame, bottom bracket, seatstays and chainstays that they weren’t necessarily designed for.

“Depending on the trainer type and use, it may potentially apply unusual forces on your bicycle, wear parts and/or weaken or damage your bicycle,” reads an addendum to Specialized’s owner’s manual on trainer use.

“This is especially true for composite or carbon fibre bicycles rigidly attached to the trainer.”

Smith says normal seated efforts shouldn’t be a problem, but issues a word of caution over more vigorous efforts. “Out of the saddle, the bike won’t move from side-to-side as it does on the road, so that energy has got to go somewhere.”

Turbo trainer platforms, including the MP1 from Saris, can help the bike rock in a similar manner to riding on the road, Smith adds.

Regardless, it’s worth checking whether your bike brand’s guarantee will cover damage specifically caused by using your bike on an indoor trainer.

“Until recently some of the very big brands said in their T&Cs that warranties were invalidated if you were using your bike on a turbo or any type of mounting,” says Smith.

Can a turbo trainer damage a carbon frame?
Indoor training is more popular than ever – it’s still important to consider any wear and tear to your bike.
Robert Cianflone / Getty Images

With the massive increase in the number of riders taking to the indoor trainer, that position has started to change, with some bike makers now building and testing their frames so that they can cope with use in a turbo trainer.

Specialized has tested and certified all model year 2020 (and onwards) road bikes for trainer use, though the brand’s other bikes, and those road bikes prior to MY2020, are “used on trainers at your own risk”.

The brand does, however, suggest riders “consider using an old bike with a metal frame and components you are not using on the road”.

Meanwhile, since 2019, Canyon has provided a list of models approved for use on turbo trainers – as well as those models that are explicitly not compatible with specific turbo trainers.

The brand has also issued guidelines for trainer use. For example, only non-motorised models are approved for use and Canyon bikes with thru-axles are only approved for use with direct-drive trainers.

The bottom line, however, is to check any brand guidelines and your warranty before you clamp your £10,000 bike to your trainer for a flat-out interval training session.

3. You can damage your components

Can a turbo trainer damage a carbon frame?
If you use a direct-drive smart trainer, use a cassette with the same ratios as your regular rear wheel.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

If you mount your bike using a skewer, make sure you use the one that’s specific to your trainer; a skewer from a wheel may not hold your bike securely.

“Worst case scenario could result in the bike slipping and falling out of the turbo,” says Smith.

Take particular care when mounting your bike on a trainer, to ensure the frame is securely and flushly attached via the quick-release or thru-axle, and that no other part of the trainer and bike are in contact with one another.

“Also, be careful to avoid clamping the bike too tightly,” he continues. “It’s human nature to tighten it up as much as possible but this can result in crushed bearings, a damaged freehub or ultimately a damaged or even cracked frame.”

If you’re riding a direct-drive trainer, Smith also advises using a cassette with the same ratios as on your regular wheel, so the different setup doesn’t damage your rear mech.

Smith is less concerned with damage to the front wheel from it sitting static on the floor or in a riser block.

He advises keeping your tyres pumped up and rotating the front wheel occasionally, so the pressure isn’t always in one place. It’s a good idea to check that riding in one spot hasn’t affected spoke tension and wheel truing as well.

4. You still need to check for wear

Can a turbo trainer damage a carbon frame?
A trainer-specific tyre helps keep noise to a minimum and protects your precious race tyres.
Tacx

Keep your drivetrain clean and lubricated. Sweat may end up on your chain and you may also be putting high loads through it during high-intensity workouts.

Smith also points out that you’re not coasting or freewheeling on a descent much on a turbo, so your gears are turning for longer than on a comparable length ride – great for your fitness, but possibly leading to more wear and tear than you think.

“You may see some higher-than-normal wear rates on the drivetrain, so check chains and cassettes for wear,” he says.

And if you’re using a wheel-on trainer, rather than a direct-drive smart trainer, fit a turbo trainer tyre at the rear. Turbo-specific tyres are made from a tougher compound capable of standing up to more wear and tear.

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“Otherwise, your nice new fast rubber will be a squared-off mess with a polished surface in no time,” he says. “That outdoor ride you’ve been training for could be a disappointment as the rear wheel slips from under you on every corner or you puncture more easily.”