Have you ever caught yourself wondering, “Does bike size matter on a trainer?” If you’ve posed this question, you’re not alone. As mountain biking gains popularity, more riders are bringing their training indoors, especially when weather conditions are less than ideal.

Your bike size is more than just a numerical figure—it’s a crucial element that affects the compatibility, effectiveness, and safety of your indoor training setup. Ignoring this aspect can lead to a subpar training experience or, worse, potential injuries.

On the BalanceFrom Trainer in the Pain Cave
On the BalanceFrom Trainer in the Pain Cave

This comprehensive guide aims to answer the burning question on every mountain biker’s mind: How do I choose the right indoor trainer for my bike size? Whether you’re a beginner exploring mountain biking or an experienced trail warrior looking to maintain your edge, this article is your go-to resource.

In the following sections, you’ll find actionable tips, comparisons, and insightful advice to guide you through the intricate maze of indoor trainers. From understanding different trainer types to matching them with your bike size and beyond, we’ve got you covered.

Matching Trainer Types to Bike Sizes

Bike trainers are classified in two ways: Drive and Resistance. There are direct drives (remove your rear wheel and install the frame to the trainer; see images below).

Direct drive indoor bike trainer
Direct drive indoor bike trainer

The second type of drive is the classic on-axle (rear wheel-on) or roller type. In this setup, whether it’s a roller style (like the image below) or the kind that clamps onto the rear axle to steady the bike in the upright position, either utilizes a fully assembled bike, including the rear wheel.

Roller bike trainer
Roller bike trainer

Roller Trainers

The above image shows a roller trainer. The typical roller trainer has three parallel rollers. There are two at the back and one in the front, coinciding with the rear wheel (which sits on two rollers) and the front wheel, which rests on a single roller.

Roller Trainer Compatible Bike Sizes Chart

Brand/Model ExampleCompatible Bike SizesReviews SummaryLink To Product
Garmin TacX Antares26” to 29” wheel diameter4.2 out of 5, 990 ratingsLink To Product
Rockbros Foldable970-1090mm wheelbase3.8 out of 5, 147 ratingsLink To Product

Roller Trainer Considerations

Roller trainers are a little tricky to get used to. Unlike other types of trainers that hold your bike upright, roller trainers rely on your use of balance to maintain upright positioning. Furthermore, you’ll want slick tires, not the knobby ones you usually use on a mountain bike.

Feedback Sports Overdrive Roller Trainer
Feedback Sports Overdrive Roller Trainer

Wind Trainers

Wind trainers are one of the oldest forms of indoor bike trainers. As the name suggests, wind trainers use a fan-like mechanism to create drag for the rear wheel. These trainers are simple in construction but are also noisier due to the addition of the resistance fan.

Wind Trainer Compatible Bike Sizes Chart

You are not likely to find a modern wind-resistance bike trainer. However, some older models might still be in circulation in used equipment stores.

Wind Trainer Considerations

Most wind trainers are no longer in production as the modern magnetic trainer is much more prevalent. However, you can still purchase wind-resistant exercise bikes if you really want a wind-resistant experience. Like other rear-wheel-on trainers, you’ll want slick tires and not off-road ones.

Magnetic Trainers

Magnetic trainers typically use a magnetic flywheel and permanent magnets to create resistance. The rider controls the resistance, usually via a cable and lever, to move the magnets closer to the flywheel for greater resistance and further away from the flywheel for lesser resistance.

Magnetic Trainer Compatible Bike Sizes Chart

Brand/Model ExampleCompatible Bike Sizes Reviews SummaryLink To Product
CXWXC Bike Trainer26”-29” and 700cc wheel diameter4.3 out of 5, 2582 ratingsLink To Product
RAD Cycle Products Max Racer PRO26”-28” and 700cc wheel diameter4.2 out of 5, 947 ratingsLink To Product

Magnetic Trainer Considerations

Magnetic trainers are the most common trainer resistance type. You can find both rear-wheel-off and rear-wheel-on styles that use magnetic potential to control resistance. Moreover, these trainers are not the quietest, which is more noticeable when compared with fluid trainers.

Fluid Trainers

Fluid bike trainers are pretty interesting. Like the magnetic trainer, the fluid trainer also uses a flywheel. The flywheel is encased in a sealed container surrounded by a liquid or fluid. The fluid will thicken as the flywheel speeds up within the fluid, which causes greater resistance. So, the faster/harder you pedal, the greater the resistance.

Fluid Trainer Compatible Bike Sizes Chart

Brand/Model ExampleCompatible Bike SizesReviews SummaryLink To Product
Saris Fluid 2 Bike Trainer650b, 700c, 27.5” (<2” wide), 29” (up to 1.5” wide)4.3 out of 5,699 ratingsLink To Product
Alpcour Bike Trainer26”-29” and 700cc wheel diameter4.4 out of 5,809 ratingsLink To Product

Fluid Trainer Considerations

Fluid trainers are the most advanced of all the trainer resistance types. The flywheel with small paddles spins inside a fluid-filled shell. As the fluid moves, it heats up, and the viscosity increases (it thickens up).

These trainers offer some of the best feel simulating real riding because the momentum of the flywheel continues and doesn’t stop quickly, similar to riding normally outside.

For more information on the differences between magnetic and fluid trainers, read my article: Fluid vs Magnetic Bike Trainers (Which is Best?).

Smart Trainers

Smart bike trainers are those that work in conjunction with an app. Most of today’s trainers are smart or have components available to make them smart trainers. Usually, the components involved include a sensor to put on the bike wheel or another part to track the speed and rotations.

Saris H3 Smart Bike Trainer
Saris H3 Smart Bike Trainer 👈 link to review

Therefore, any of the forms mentioned above of bike trainers can indeed become ‘smart’ with the right sensor/app combination.

If you want to learn more about smart trainers, take a look at my article and video, where I unbox and set up the Saris H3.

Smart Trainer Compatible Bike Sizes Chart

Brand/Model ExampleCompatible Bike SizesMarketplace Reviews SummaryLink To Product
Saris H3 Smart Bike TrainerThru-axle with hub widths of 142mm or 148mm, Quick-release rear hub widths of 130mm and 135mm, Shimano/SRAM 8-11 speed cassettes4.6 out of 5, 285 ratings.Link To Product
Garmin Tacx Neo 2T Smart TrainerChainstay: 62mm minimum at 25mm forward of dropouts. Quick-release and thru-axles (130mm standard included). Also, 12 x 142 – 148mm thru-axle, 135mm thru-axle, and 135mm quick-release. Shimano or SRAM 8-11 cassettes are compatible.4.8 out of 5, 335 ratingsLink To Product

Smart Trainer Considerations

Smart trainers are the cream of the crop when it comes to sophisticated bike trainers. These trainers are typically compatible with one or more major trainer programs/applications out of the box. They are often sophisticated enough to offer specific rides, just like you would encounter in the real world.

Please take a look at my video where I unbox the H3 and get it set up.

Trainer Sizing FAQs

  • How do I measure my mountain bike’s size?
    • Wheelbase = front to rear axle, center to center measurement.
    • Wheel diameter = distance from rim edge to rim edge through the axle of a rim.
    • Chainstay = distance from the rear wheel center of the axle to the center of the bottom bracket.
    • Bottom bracket drop = ground to front wheel axle measurement minus bottom bracket center to ground measurement.
    • Bottom bracket height = distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the ground
  • Can I use a road bike trainer for a mountain bike?
    • Most trainers are compatible with either road or mountain bikes. However, for those which require the rear wheel to be installed, slick tires are a must.
  • How can I improve my mountain biking skills indoors?
    • You can improve your riding indoors with the use of a bike trainer, like the examples shown in this article. By practicing in the off-season, you can keep your stamina and endurance high while maintaining good health.

Before You Buy, Consider This…

You’ve now delved into the world of indoor bike trainers, understanding their nuances, compatibility options, and the features to look out for. Don’t let this newfound knowledge go to waste. It’s time to take the next step and decide on the indoor trainer that aligns best with your biking goals and bike size.

Getting a workout on the Balancefrom Trainer
Getting a workout on the Balancefrom Trainer

Start by measuring your mountain bike using the guidelines provided. Know your wheelbase, wheel diameter, and other vital measurements. Compare these with the specifications of the trainers you’re considering.

If you’re leaning towards a roller trainer for its versatility, remember that it may require a bit more finesse to master. For those eyeing smart trainers, make sure to pick one compatible with your preferred apps for a streamlined experience.

Choosing the right indoor trainer is not just about convenience; it’s about enhancing your performance and preventing any potential injuries. Please make your choice wisely, and you’ll not only get through the off-season in great shape but will also come out of it a better biker.


David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or making YouTube videos at 👉 DIY Mountain Bike Read more about David HERE.