Does Your Bike Trainer Smell Like Burning Rubber? Try One of These 5 Solutions

Detail on a wheel-on bike trainer with a mounted bike - tire pressing against the cylinder.

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Did you just stop pedaling on your bike training because of the smell of burnt rubber?

It’s not the trainer that smells. It’s most likely the tire that is set against the cylinder.

This smell is normal on wheel-on trainers. However, it shouldn’t be excessive.

Do you also see some tire debris under the trainer? Again, there will be some, but it should not be much of them.

Below, I share 5 possible solutions to excessive smell and tire debris.

Burnt Rubber Smell: When Should You Panic?

When I used a wheel-on trainer, I honestly never smelled burnt rubber or saw a concerning volume of tire debris.

This could be because of the tire/tire pressure/cylinder combination, my low weight, etc.

Something is wrong if the smell is strong enough to concern you. Also, if you see much debris under the trainer after every ride, you should try one of the solutions below.

TIP: Never use your rear brake when using a wheel-on trainer!

Many people report that this issue happens when they start climbing in apps like Zwift.

Trainers like Tacx Flow, Tacx Vortex, etc., can adjust the resistance based on the gradient. When you start climbing, the resistance and the demand for good grip increase.

If the tire slips, it basically destroys itself. Therefore, try the following solution.

Solution #1: Check the Tire Pressure and How Tight Is the Tire Set Against the Cylinder

I used Elite Novo Force Elastogel in the past. It has a cylinder made of elastogel that reduces tire wear and noise.

Many cheap wheel-on trainers use metal cylinders. Unfortunately, those are often slippery and noisy.

I recommend checking how hard the tire presses against the cylinder and what is your tire pressure.

The chance is that it presses too hard or the tire pressure is too high (or vice versa).

Detail on the cylinder not pressing too hard on the tire.
Cylinder not pressing too hard on the tire
Detail on the cylinder pressing hard on the tire.
Cylinder pressing hard on the tire.

The best combination I found was to inflate the tire* about half the pressure I ride outside (e.g., 3 bar [43 PSI]) and set it relatively snugly against the cylinder.

*25mm road bike tire

This combination provides enough friction and avoids tire slippage. However, it depends on what trainer and tire you use.

That’s why I recommend you experiment with different tire pressures and levels of tightening the tire against the cylinder.

If this solution doesn’t work, try the next one.

Solution #2: Use Trainer Tire

Instead of destroying your expensive bike tires, I recommend using dedicated bike trainer tires.

This especially applies to those who train indoors on their mountain bike. The smoother the tire, the better.

Knobby mountain bike tires are noisy and don’t provide sufficient grip.

Invest in bike trainer tires instead.

Continental Hometrainer tire on a road bike wheel
Example of a trainer tire

They are smooth, quieter, and provide better grip because they are made of different materials than standard tires. And most importantly, they don’t smell.

If you don’t want to invest in them, use your old tires and keep the new ones for riding outside.

Solution #3: Clean the Tire and the Cylinder with Alcohol (Not Tested)

There is a chance that oils, dust, and dirt contaminate your tire and the trainer’s cylinder.

I found a tip from one rider who recommends cleaning the tire and the cylinder with alcohol.

Dirty road bike tire detail
Dirty tire
Cleaned road bike tire detail
Cleaned tire
Cleaning Elastogel cylinder with an alcohol.
Cleaning cylinder

He also suggests you rub the trainer’s cylinder with 600 grit sandpaper. In theory, this improves the friction between the tire and the cylinder and reduces slippage.

I admit that I haven’t tried this, but it’s one of the possible solutions.

Solution #4: Check That the Tyre Is Not Rubbing Against Something It Shouldn’t

Sometimes, we get things wrong and use the wrong bike on the wrong trainer or set them incorrectly. (Read my article on how to set up a bike trainer to avoid this.)

Double-check if the tire doesn’t interfere with another part of the bike trainer. It should only touch the cylinder, not the front part of the trainer, etc.

Otherwise, the friction with that part can cause a burnt rubber smell.

Solution #5: Buy a Direct-Drive Trainer (Extreme Solution)

The best way to avoid the smell of burnt rubber on a trainer is to use a different trainer type.

Instead of using a wheel-on trainer, invest in a direct-drive trainer. They don’t leverage the friction between the tire and the cylinder, so it removes the possible source of the smell.

Saris H3 on a wooden floor rear right side
Saris H3 direct-drive trainer

Yes, direct-drive trainers are not cheap. But, most of them are ‘smart,’ so you can use them with indoor cycling apps and experience a whole new level of indoor training.

Burnt Rubber Smell on Bike Trainers FAQ

Conclusion

You can try multiple solutions to avoid the smell of burnt rubber when using a bike trainer. These include:

  1. Experiment with the tire pressure and how hard the tire is set against the cylinder.
  2. Use a dedicated trainer tire.
  3. Clean the tire and the cylinder using alcohol.
  4. Make sure the tire is not rubbing against the bike trainer frame.
  5. Buy a direct-drive trainer.

I hope these tips will help you solve this problem.

Do you know better solutions? Feel free to share them in the comments.

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