First of all, we fully understand you don't need a specific bike for indoor cycling, but there are certainly arguments to suggest it's a worthy consideration. We've all heard the horror stories of brands voiding the warranty on a frame due to indoor turbo trainer use. In recent years some of the brands that previously took a hardline stance against their bikes being used in indoor trainers have changed tack - take Canyon, for instance. Other brands, such as Cannondale, recommend using an old frame for indoor riding/training.
The likelihood of damaging your frame in the indoor trainer is pretty low. We've been riding carbon frames in all types of turbo trainers for years, and never had an issue, however, having a cheap 'trainer bike' has its merits. Plus you can usually buy both a bike and a top-end direct-drive smart trainer, for less than the best smart bikes will set you back.
Read on for our picks for the best bikes for cycling indoors, or you can jump to the bottom, where we'll make our case for having a second bike for use inside.
Best bikes for cycling indoors
High-end alloy frameset with easy to service components
Gears: 2x8 | Rear axle: Quick Release | Sizes available: XS-XXL
Coming from Vitus, the Wiggle/Chain Reaction Cycles in-house brand, the Razor is an entry-level alloy road racer. The frame is made from 6061 double-butted aluminium, and all the cables are externally routed, meaning when you snap one downshifting to match an attack on Zwift or RGT Cycling, you won't need to spend hours trying to feed a replacement through your frame.
For under £1,000 the frame is quality but, at this entry-level price point, it's no surprise to see an 8-speed Claris groupset, complete with a 50/31T chainset and 11-28T rear cluster.
The Vitus Razor and a Tacx Neo 2T as a package is still less than what the Neo Bike costs, and you then have a bike that can also be ridden outdoors.
Cube Attain Race
Upright geometry to keep you comfortable on a long Zwift ride
Gears: 2x10 | Rear axle: Thru-axle | Sizes available: 50-60cm
Adding a couple of gears at the rear, Cube's Attain road bike has a full Shimano Tiagra groupset with 50/34T chainrings at the front and an 11-34T cassette. The frame is based around Cube's Road Comfort geometry, meaning as you slog through a long structured workout, the relaxed position will temper some of the non-aerobic discomfort.
With the bike being a disc-equipped roadie, the rear hub spacing is 142x12, so when you mate it with your direct-drive smart trainer, make sure you have the right adaptors. If you're running a wheel-on trainer, you will also need to get a trainer axle like the Kinetic Traxle, Tacx E-Thru-Axle or Robert Axle Project trainer axle.
Cannondale CAAD Optimo 105
Alloy frame with deep racing routes and a price that won't bust your budget
Gears: 2x11 | Rear axle: Quick-release | Sizes available: 44-60cm
Cannondale's CAAD is probably one of the most universally loved race-ready, aluminium road bikes, and the Optimo borrows most of its design cues from past models of the frame. Compared to the CAAD13, it has a slightly shorter reach and taller stack, meaning it won't push your flexibility to its limit after 90 minutes of riding.
This particular version of the CAAD Optimo comes with Shimano's 105 groupsets with an 11-speed 11-30T cassette paired to an FSA Gossamer Alloy 50/34 crankset.
Giant Contend SL 1
High-quality frame with a comfortable geometry and 2x11 gearing
Gears: 2x11 | Rear axle: Quick-release | Sizes available: XS-XL
Giant's Contend is the brand's entry-level road offering, the frame is made using ALUXX SL aluminium and sees plenty of design elements borrowed from the Defy — so don't expect it to flex under power. At the same time, the allrounder geometry provides a comfortable position for hours of riding on the smart trainer.
The Content SL 1 sees a 2x11 Shimano 105 groupset bolted on, so the shifting will be crisp and accurate, yet, the chains, clusters and chainrings won't break the bank when they do eventually wear out over time. It's also specced with Giant’s Contact Forward Saddle, which looks extraordinarily narrow but is surprisingly comfortable.
Cannondale Synapse Tiagra
Endurance frame that will help you through your Zwifting epics
Gears: 2x10 | Rear axle: Quick-release | Sizes available: 44-60cm
Cannondale's Synapse has won over the Belgian cobbles and is a favourite among sportive riders for its comfort and performance. While it will be pushed for a different type of performance mounted to your indoor trainer, the Smart Form C2 Alloy frame is plenty rigid enough for even the most vicious sprint intervals.
While Tiagra sits quite low in the hierarchy of Shimano components, it still shifts smoothly and offers 10 cogs (11-34T) at the back and a 50/34T FSA Omega Alloy crankset upfront. The frame uses quick-release skewers, meaning you won't need a special axle or adaptors to mount it on your smart trainer.
Octane One Gridd
And adventure bike perfect for the indoor trainer
Gears: 1x11 | Rear axle: Thru-axle | Sizes available: S, M, L
While a gravel bike might not be your first port of call when looking for an indoor-specific bike, we think it's a great option, especially if you're using training software such as TrainerRoad or the Sufferfest with ERG mode. By allowing the trainer to dictate the resistance; there is little or no need to shift, and even less reason for a front derailleur.
If you're riding Sim Mode in Zwift, the Apex 1x11 drivetrain with an 11-42T cassette and 32T chainring provides plenty of range, and fewer moving parts also means less maintenance. The Gridd's frame is 6061 aluminium and the cables are routed externally, so when it does come time to replace the shift cable it won't take too long. Plus the more upright gravel geometry will add comfort over the course of an extended session.
It also provides an alternative outdoor riding option, in case you decide to return to the great outdoors, but want to avoid the busy roads.
Merida Cyclocross 100
Swiss army knife of bikes is perfect for riding inside
Gears: 1x11 | Rear axle: Quick release | Sizes available: XS-XL
While the Cyclocross 100 serves as Merida's entry-level cyclo-cross bike, the brand calls it the ‘Swiss Army Knife of bikes,’ and it will be much more useful on the trainer than those tiny fold-out scissors. The frame is triple-butted 6066 aluminium, and although the internal cabling makes for a clean aesthetic, it will also make servicing a little more involved.
The Cyclocross 100 is running an SRAM Apex 1x11 groupset and an 11-42T cassette. Given this bike is geared for CX racing, the 40T chainring at the front will provide an excellent range if you're not using ERG mode, while not having a front derailleur means one less part you need to service and adjust. The more upright CX position will also put a but less stress on your back neck and shoulders during your session.
Then at the end of the year, when you've built up all that race fitness, you can make use of it by tackling some 'cross racing.
Ribble Endurance AL
Bike builder lets you spend money where you want to, and skimp where you don't
Gears: 2x11 | Rear axle: Quick Release | Sizes available: XS-XL
Direct-to-consumer Ribble's bikes are usually found pretty close to the top spot in 'bike of the year' roundups which says a lot about the quality the UK outfit is producing and also the performance-to-value ratio.
What's nifty about Ribble, especially if you are looking for a bike for the indoor trainer, is you can utilise its bike builder to hand-pick almost every component. This allows you to prioritise drivetrain components while opting for the cheapest available components everywhere else where they won’t have a major effect on your ride.
We were able to build up an Ultegra Spec Endurance AL for a hair over a £1000.
Anything second hand or your old bike
It may already be in your garage
Gears: N/A | Rear axle: N/A | Sizes available: N/A
The other option is to look for something second hand or to use an old frame. Buying a bike second hand, you never really know what it has been through or if/how many times it has been crashed, so there is some degree of risk. That said if it's only going into the trainer, equipment failure has a much lower consequence than something you'll be riding outdoors.
The advantage of using an old bike is you know it fits, you know its history and it probably already has your preferred touchpoints installed. That said, some of the parts may already be worn and this will be further exacerbated the more you ride indoors.
- 10 hacks for indoor cycling: tips for the novice when starting out on Zwift or any other app
- The indoor revolution: how training inside went from being universally hated to one of the fastest-growing sectors
Why consider a bike for cycling indoors
When you're chasing attacks on Zwift or pushing through a VO2 max interval, there is a lot of force going through the frame. When you're out on the road, the bike can move around underneath you, and some of that energy can dissipate through this movement. When riding indoors, however - unless you've bought one of those Gucci, Saris MP1 Infinity trainer platforms, or built a DIY rocker plate - every bit of that force will be absorbed by your bike. Next time you're on the trainer have a look at how much your bottom bracket flexes when you are in the middle of an interval.
These forces won't break your frame, but they will introduce additional fatigue over time, not only to the tubing but also bearings like bottom brackets.
While we've never seen a frame break that has been properly installed into a trainer, we have seen handlebars snap due to salt-corrosion. While most aluminium bars are anodised to stave off corrosion, scratches or imperfections can allow the nasty salty bits inside.
You are going to get exceptionally sweaty when riding indoors and that sweat is going to drip off you and makes its way onto your bike, stem bolts, bearings and whatever else.
This can be avoided with a sweat net or a beach towel but there will still likely be a bit that finds its way through.
Sweat + carbon = battery
Aluminium and carbon are on the opposite ends of the galvanic scale, and when you connect them with an electrolyte, like sweat, it can speed up the corrosive process.
When you're riding inside, there is no such thing as just spinning along, and the majority of your time on the trainer will be high-intensity intervals and plenty of watts. Whether you're using a smart trainer or a dumb trainer or even rollers, we tend to stick to only a few gears on the rear cluster — if you're using ERG mode, there is no need to shift at all.
All of this can prematurely wear out drivetrain components, especially when you forget to clean and lube your drivetrain because "you've only been on the trainer."
Make sure you're using the correct skewer
Regardless of what bike you're using, we cannot stress the importance of using a steel skewer rather than the lightweight titanium one you're using with your nice wheels for riding outside. The skewer is taking on far more force than it would riding outside, and needs to be more stout to prevent damage.
Additionally, lightweight skewers don't always interface well with wheel-on indoor trainers and can be damaged or even pop out. While we've never seen frames damaged because of significant efforts on the trainer, we have seen broken frames as a result of people falling out of trainers because their skewers weren't mounted correctly in the trainer itself.
You don't have to spend much
Most of the things that we bang on about such as weight, compliance and handling characteristics don't come into play with a bike that is going to be used indoors, because you're not actually going anywhere. With that, the most important factors are really bottom bracket stiffness and geometry that fits.
Obviously the drivetrain is important as well, and this will weigh heavy on the price based on how many gears you want at the back. If you're only going to be riding in ERG mode, you don't really ever need to shift so you don't need 12 cogs at the back but if you're competing in Zwift rides and races, you may want to opt for more gears.
Beyond the reasons listed above, we think one of the best reasons to consider a second bike for indoor use is the convenience factor. There is no messing around with swapping wheels or tyres, faffing with skewers or anything like that, and you can leave the bike attached to the trainer.
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