The Do’s and Don’ts of Clamping a Carbon Fiber Bicycle into a Shop Stand or a Bike Rack: How NOT To Wreck Your $4,000 Frame
Before I begin this post, one major point needs to be made so this post doesn’t promote… misunderstanding. Carbon fiber frames are stronger than steel frames. You read that right, stronger than steel. Steel bends and twists over time where carbon fiber holds its shape. A well cared for carbon fiber frame will typically outlast its steel and alloy brethren by decades and won’t ever have to be bent back into shape.
Don’t buy into the hype that a carbon fiber bike frame is weak when used in the manner for which it intended. It’s not.
The problem is that carbon fiber is manipulated to be strong in holding the frame together with a rider atop the saddle. Certain places on the frame are, by nature, not as stiff as others to promote comfort in the ride and weight savings. This means, if you clamp onto these areas, or suspend the bicycle from them, say on a car rack, you’re asking for trouble. Typically big, expensive trouble.
This is why we own a bike rack that supports our bikes at the wheels rather than the top tube. There are better racks out there, but this one is good enough for government work and didn’t put us in the poor house. Hitch mounted bike racks can be exceedingly expensive, especially racks that hold four bikes.
Clamping a standard bike into a stand is quite simple (especially one with a compact frame so you’ve got lots of seat post to clamp to:
If you look at our gravel bikes, mountain bikes, or my wife’s road bike as examples, they all have round seatposts that can be clamped easily into a stand. My Trek 5200 is a little tricky in that there isn’t enough seatpost exposed to leave the saddle bag on whilst clamping the seat post in – I have to raise the saddle far enough that I’ve got room to clamp it in (a little inconvenient, but not terrible – I use my Garmin Varia mount to gauge the saddle height… if I fit a 10-mm allen key between the seatpost clamp and the Varia mount, I’m exactly at my perfect saddle height).
My Venge is an entirely different story. The seat post is a foil and there’s no clamping that seatpost into a stand:
I’ve got a friend who, because he didn’t have enough exposed seat post to clamp to, would clamp his top tube to get his bike mounted onto a shop stand. At some point, he cracked the top tube clamping it into his stand. Put simply, a carbon fiber frame’s top tube is not as strong as a seat post – there isn’t the need for that tube to be exceedingly strong except where it forms to the seat tube. Thankfully, they were able to repair the frame, but there was tension for several weeks, between wondering if a fix was possible, and whether or not it would hold.
You’ll find some on the interwebz who claim you can, indeed clamp a top tube “if you’re careful”. I won’t even join the debate. You may be able to. I won’t. My Venge is worth too much to me with all of the carbon fiber parts whole and complete. I don’t think “careful” has a lot to do with it, but that’s just me. If clamping the top tube truly was no big deal, you’d see pro mechanics doing it. And you don’t. Ever.
What other options are there?
Pro mechanics use a stand that holds the bike up by setting the bottom bracket shell on a rubber stop and securing the fork in a clamp (after removing the front wheel). These range in price from $100 to $300+. This is the Tacx option at $125:
If, however, you can service your whole fleet with the exception of one bike, is it necessary to go that far? I don’t think so. There are other options available with your normal stand or even an old trainer. First, open the stand clamp and lift the rear end of the bike off the ground so the saddle nose rests in the open clamp jaws. This is a bit precarious and quite dangerous but will do in a pinch and for drivetrain cleaning or simple shifting adjustments. The second option is simply operating on the bike on the floor, right side up, or rubber up. I’ve done this for years, but it’s getting old now that I’m 50. The final option is to clamp the bike into an old trainer. With the flywheel retracted so it doesn’t touch the tire, an old trainer is quite the placeholder and you can do everything you would on a normal stand. I used this frequently before I had a stand to work on my bikes and still use it for working on the Venge.
There are plenty of options available for wrenching on your 🚴… without resorting to clamping to your top tube. You could, if you so choose. But now that the Venge is no more, I’d have lost my marbles to do such a thing.