Smart trainer and bike maintenance for smooth Zwift experience

Some background first. I started with indoor cycling training about 4 years ago with a simple “dumb” wheel-on trainer from Tacx. My first indoor winter training season felt boring so I upgraded to smart trainer from Bkool pro. That trainer came with a virtual training simulator app which opened up a new way of training for me. By the end of the second indoor season, I was still missing something more. Coincidently Bkool trainer broke so I was again shopping for new smart trainers. I switched back to Tacx, this time a smart wheel-on trainer. Also, I started to use the Zwift platform. That worked great for a year however getting more serious with training it became clear that I need to move on to direct drive trainer. Staying loyal to brand I went for the ultimate trainer at that time Tacx Neo. You can learn more about trainer differences here.

This was the moment when I started to take more care of the whole equipment maintenance aspect. After all, why lose hard-earned legs power (watts) on a poorly maintained equipment.

However, there are some differences between outdoor and indoor cycling maintenance. The rest of the article focuses on maintaining components for worry-free efficient indoor cycling.

Tools

Before changing or maintaining your equipment you will need some basic set of tools. Multitool, chain checker, chain tool, bottom bracket extraction and install tools, a basic set of wrenches and pliers. For most components regreasing I am using Shimano Premium Grease. My set of bike specific tools can be seen in the header picture. Altogether the cost of these tools is under 100€. 

Resources

Before every procedure, I advise researching the steps needed. There are many video guides available online. Also, Shimano has a good source of technical manuals here.

Chain

One of the most important mechanical parts in cycling is the chain. After all, it transfers your power to the trainer. Chain requires regular cleaning and lubrication. I lubricate the chain on my indoor bike almost weekly with Finish Line Ceramic Wax lubricant. It is ideal for indoor dry conditions and doesn’t leave much residue with use.

With each lubrication, I suggest to check the chain wear. I use Park Tool Chain Checker cc-3.2 to check the wear. If your chain is over 0.5% tolerance it is better to change it to avoid damage on cassette or chairing. Depending on riding distance and power, the chain can last up to 5.000km.

Here is an example of chain overuse where links stretched over acceptable tolerance. Side effect was noisy drive and potential damage to cassette.

Bottom bracket

With regular chain change, I suggest checking the way cranks turn. Pay attention to lateral and horizontal play. When you turn the cranks without chain there needs to be smooth motion without any grind. If you feel any play or it doesn’t turn smooth it’s time to change the bottom bracket.

BB on my carbon bike is press-fit type which requires precise extraction and reinstall. Here is an example of the press-fit BB change procedure. 

Pedals

About a month ago I realized my Dura-ace pedals were not spinning smoothly as they should. I took them apart, cleaned all internals and regreased. It is a bit tricky procedure to get them back together on the exact level of smoothness but with some trial and error, they were back in action the same day back with smooth worry-free rotation. An example of how the pedals look inside is here.

Cassette

With regular cleaning and lubrication cassette should last about 3-4 chain changes. Inspect the cogs carefully when you change the chain. One example video of how to check the cassette can be found here.

Shifter cables

Another potential failure that can happen is a broken shifter cable. In most cases, it simply snaps from being worn out. It is common for the older type of Ultegra shifter levers. Unfortunately, it happened to me once during racing on Zwift so it wasn’t easy to continue with race in the highest gear.

When you feel that gear indexing is slowly changing and you need to play with rear mech setting, it’s probably time to check the shifter cable as well. This is how the used cable snapped on my bike.

Handlebar

Remember about cooling from the previous article? A lot of increased sweat from indoor training ends up on the bikes handlebar. If you are riding many hours indoor change the tape at least once a year if not even sooner. When changing bar tape pay attention to potential corrosion. Sweat is aggressive enough to corrode your aluminum handlebar. If you take the same bike to an outdoor ride this can lead to dangerous situations. Learn more about how to change the tape and inspect the handlebar here.

Wheel-on smart trainer specific maintenance

On this type of trainer, you need to take care of accurate contact between the tire and the rolling part of the trainer. Use trainer recommended tire and inflation pressure. Don’t use the usual road tire because you are losing value contact. Trainer tension needs to be checked before every ride. Also, do a regular calibration with the trainer manufacturer app. More about the calibration procedure can be found in this blog article

Direct drive smart trainer specific maintenance

Half-year in using Tacx Neo trainer I decided to maintain the hub. It’s a simple procedure. With only one nut removal you gain access to the inner parts of the hub. No need to remove cassette here. After careful cleaning of old grease, I applied a new layer of Shimano Dura-ace grease and reassembled. Some visual examples of Tacx Neo hub maintenance can be found here.

I hope this advice helps you maintain your indoor equipment for the best possible cycling experience. There are other bicycle components that you need to consider maintaining the same as for outdoor riding. Besides all mentioned follow manufacturer’s user manual and service recommendations.