During the winter months a lot of mountain bikers lose their motivation to go outside and they watch their hard earned fitness whither away. One of the athletes that I coach asked me a great question recently:

Can I Put My Mountain Bike On a Trainer?

Yes, you can put your mountain bike on a trainer, but you will need to find the proper trainer to fit the specs of your bike.   The best trainers are flexible and will fit a variety of mountain bike

With so many different types of mountain bikes, it only makes sense that there would be different trainers to accommodate each style of bike and each style of rider. Before purchasing your trainer where you will spend hours turning over the pedals, make sure to do all of your research.

What is the Best Indoor Mountain Bike Trainer?

In my opinion, the best indoor mountain bike trainer is a front mount trainer with a free-floating rear wheel on rollers. I highly recommend the Feedback Sports Omnium Over-Drive Trainer. (Link to Amazon for pricing and great reviews)

Feedback Sports Overdrive Roller Trainer
Feedback Sports Overdrive Roller Trainer

If your seriously looking for the best trainer for your mountain bike feel confident in using the Omnium Over-Drive Trainer (link to check prices and reviews) The Over-Drive trainer is compatible with all wheel sizes 26 in. to 29 in. additionally it is Boost capable for 110mm front forks.

An example of this type of trainer is the Feedback Sports Omnium Over-Drive Trainer. This trainer only weighs 13.3 pounds which makes it easy to maneuver and/or travel with to make sure you can always get your ride in. It functions through a front wheel mount and a free rear wheel. This design doesn’t place as much stress on the rear triangle of the bike like the usual rear wheel mount trainer. It also allows the rear wheel to float on the drums and provides a “real feel” like riding on the road.

How It Works: Since this trainer is a front mount style it works for both a thru-axle and a skewer style of mountain bike. With more and more mountain bikes switching to a thru-axle design this trainer makes it easy to switch back and forth depending on what type of bike you and your friends have.

Hopping on my Saris H3 for a workout
Hopping on my Saris H3 for a workout

Another barrier that a lot of mountain bikes present for trainers is the fact that many mountain bike companies are switching to “boost” which means that the fork and rear triangle sits wider than other similar bikes. While many trainer companies will sell “boost kits” that you can buy in addition to their trainer, the Feedback Sports Omnium Over-Drive Trainer comes with small adapters for every width of fork. These adaptors can simply be pushed in and pulled out of the front mount to match your road, cyclocross, mountain biker, enduro bike, or whatever other contraption you might have.

Benefits: The biggest benefits of this style of trainer is its ability to adapt to most styles of bike and the ease in which you can take your bike on and off of the trainer.

Disadvantages: I think one of the reasons you don’t see as many people on this type of trainer is because it is not a smart design. That means in order to ride on something like Zwift you will need your own powermeter separate from the trainer. Additionally, while the free rear wheel allows for a more realistic feel is also allows some of your hard earned watts to get lost in transition from your legs to your pedals, to your wheel, through the drums. This just means that if you are a hard-core numbers nerd you might have to count for a bit of a power decrease when riding on a front mount trainer.

If your SERIOUS about Mountain Bike Training Indoors, PLEASE read this article The Ultimate Indoor Training for Mountain Bikers. (With a FREE PLAN)

What Types of Bike Trainers Are There?

Don’t just take my word for it. Look through all of your trainer options and decide on your favorite trainer for yourself. That research could take you awhile though, so I’ve outlined the most common types for you.

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

Rear Wheel Attachment Trainer: In this type of trainer, a skewer will go through your rear wheel and the trainer will lock the rear wheel into place. The wheel will be pressed up against a cylinder that will provide resistance via fluid or magnets.

A fluid trainer is generally considered better and is more expensive than a magnetic trainer. The fluid trainer is quieter and will provide progressive resistance, which means that as you pedal harder you will naturally gain more resistance. The magnetic trainer is a bit louder, and will generally require you to increase the resistance manually.

Wheel-less or Direct-Drive Trainer: In this type of trainer, you will remove your rear wheel and mount your bike directly onto a cassette mounted on the trainer. The trainer will hold your bike in place. This style is beneficial because there is no friction resistance and therefore it saves the wear and tear from your tire.

Direct drive trainer or called a wheel-off bike trainer
Direct drive trainer or called a wheel-off bike trainer

The direct-drive trainer is also one of the most accurate types of trainers and claims to have a +/- 3% power accuracy. Unfortunately, you have to pay the price for this type of trainer. These trainers will cost you about $1000 in comparison to $300-$400 or another standard type of trainer.

Rollers: Rollers use cylinders or drums in order to help balance your bike. One drum will sit under your front wheel, whereas two will sit around your rear wheel. As the wheels and the drums rotate your bike will stay in place and you will be able to pedal. This type of trainer allows you the most real world feel since you are forced to balance the same way that you would if you were riding on the road. This balance element and the ability to simply place your bike as is on the rollers are the biggest draws to rollers.

The biggest disadvantage is that many people find it difficult to complete intervals while trying to balance on the rollers. While you can buy specific resistance rollers to make interval sessions more effective, this type of trainer is definitely for the more advanced rider.

Are you looking for more ways to get stronger during the off season? I wrote an epic article – 11 Off Season Mountain Bike Training Tips. In this article you’ll learn even more ways to go faster!

What Tire Should I Use On My Mountain Bike Trainer?

Unless you have a direct drive trainer, your wheel will be spinning on some sort of drum thus creating friction and, over-time, damaging your tire.

If you ride a mountain bike trainer with your normal mountain bike tire not only will the friction be extremely loud creating an undesirable riding experience, the friction will also wear out the tire and make it no good for riding outside later.

The best tire for riding your trainer would be a “trainer specific tire.” A great example is the Continental Hometrainer Folding Tire (Amazon link to check price) These can be difficult to find for the mountain bike and you won’t be able to put a road tire straight onto your mountain bike. The next best option is to put a “slick” mountain bike tire onto your bike.

Picture of a folding tire for a mountain bike
Picture of a folding tire for a mountain bike

An example of a slick mountain bike tire is the Maxxis Refuse. The Refuse comes in 27.5 x 2.0 and 700 x 40c. While technically this is not a trainer specific tire, it is a slick tire and you won’t have to worry about all of the buzzing and wearing out of your knobby tires.

If you plan to switch back and forth between your trainer and riding outside on the road, then I recommend purchasing an extra wheel for your bike. Since you will be using that wheel on the trainer, it can be cheap and heavy since grams don’t matter when you are stationary. This way, on a warmer day when you want to ride outside you can simply change the wheel instead of having to switch a tire back and forth.

WTB Slick 2.2
WTB Slick 2.2 a nice quiet tire for a trainer

Can I Get A Trainer For My 29er?

Yes! There are a number of trainers that fully support 29er sized mountain bikes.

For example, the front mount trainer by Feedback Sports has a small knob that allows you to adjust the length of the trainer so that your back wheel can sit nicely on the drums.

The Feedback Sports shines for 29 inch MTBs. Because the rear wheel is a roller, you don’t have to worry about wheel size or even if you have rear suspension. Just mount the fork (which accepts all the popular sizes) and start peddling. Check the price and reviews with this link to Amazon. Feedback Sport Omnium Trainer

If you prefer a more traditional rear mount trainer then you might want to research if the trainer will support a 29er. Not all trainers do, but you should still have plenty to chose from.

If you already purchased a trainer and it doesn’t seem to work with a 29er, then chances are if you switch your mountain bike knobby tire to a slick tire then you will be able to use your trainer. Since road bikes use 700 sized tires which is the same as a mountain bike 29 sized tire, it only makes sense that most would fit.

If you are using rollers then it is possible that you will need to adjust the distance between the drums. That can easily be completed in most cases with an adjustable wrench.

Finally, if you use a direct drive trainer, then you don’t have to worry about any of this since you actually remove your wheel in order to use the trainer.

Another option for MTB Training indoors is riding a spin bike. Stationary bikes are great exercise especially if you “ride” in a class. If you have a spin bike at home checkout this article that includes a Free Download Workout. -> Is Spinning Good For Mountain Bikers

Is It Better To Have A Hard-Tail or Full-Suspension on the Trainer?

Since I don’t foresee you encountering any rough terrain while riding indoors, a hard-tail is most preferred for the trainer. The hard-tail mountain bike will be more ridged and allow you to pedal more smoothly instead of bouncing slightly when you pedal like a full-suspension will.

Saris H3 Smart Bike Trainer
Read my review of 👉 Saris H3 Smart Bike Trainer

If you only have a full-suspension mountain bike then you can still ride your trainer without a problem. It would be recommended to lock-out the suspension in order to give yourself a smoother and more enjoyable ride. With the suspension locked out on the trainer more of your power will be transferred into the pedal instead of dissipating into the suspension.

If you can’t or don’t know how to lock out your suspension on your mountain bike then you might not have quite as enjoyable of a trainer experience, however, that won’t affect your ability to train. You’ll still be benefiting from your indoor training efforts.

What Accessories Do I Need?

Links to Amazon provided to check prices and reviews. This list accessories should complete your Indoor Mountain Bike Training Conversion.

  • Thru-Axle Adapter – Most trainers will have these but if needed get the correct one.
  • Mats – You’re going to sweat.
  • Wheel Blocks – You can simulate hills and different bike geometry.
  • Videos – Stay motivated – inspiration and some crazy trails
  • Towel – For the workout
  • Fan – Get a big one that you can direct

I’ll expand on the above bullets with some highly rated product links to AMAZON to check prices

Thru-Axle Adapter: I mentioned this before but it is so important that I will mention it again. If your bike has a thru-axle and you do not buy a trainer that is specifically designed for thru-axle bikes, then you will likely need to purchase an additional thru-axle adapter kit. Get the Feedback Sports Thru Axle Wheel Adapter Without the adapter you will not be able to ride your trainer. This is not something that you can “rough it” without.

Trainer Mats: Trainer mats are like glorified yoga mats. Get the SUPERMATS HEAVY DUTY EQUIPMENT MAT They are nice for a few reasons. First of all, sometimes your trainer will vibrate slightly and that vibration will be extremely loud on hardwood floor or tile. A trainer mat helps to eliminate some of that noise. Additionally, if you live upstairs in an apartment it could help that noise from transferring to your downstairs neighbor. Secondly, trainer mats helps to catch your sweat. Instead of allowing your sweat to drip onto the floor and warp your flooring, a trainer mat catches the sweat and allows for easy clean up.

Wheel Blocks: If you are using a rear wheel mount trainer then you rear wheel will be slightly elevated while riding. In order to feel like you are riding on a level surface you will want a wheel block under your front wheel.

A wheel block is an elevated platform that has slits for your front wheel to sit in place and not move around while riding.

In terms of comfort, it is always better to have your front wheel more elevated than your rear wheel. This allows weight to be lifted off of your hands and shoulders while riding the trainer.

If you don’t have a wheel block, you can always get creative. While other things might not lock your wheel in place, they can certainly solve your elevation issue. I’ve propped my front wheel up with a big textbook before.

Training Videos: Riding the trainer is great for your fitness but it isn’t exactly as riveting as shredding trails. Especially for mountain bikers, who pick the sport for excitement, the trainer can get very boring. It’s a necessary evil though so that you are still fit enough come spring to embrace the trails.

A Training Video recommendation would be the Carmichael Training System – Train Right Video Series (Amazon Link to take a look)

In order to help cut some of that boredom I highly recommend having your entertainment planned out prior to starting your trainer ride. You can watch videos, listen to music, listen to podcasts, or just watch TV. Some people just like to ride using the virtual riding game of Zwift.

I highly recommend some form of entertainment though. Watching the wall while spinning circles with your legs can feel like watching paint dry.

Towel: Everyone sweats while riding the trainer. In fact, you’ll sweat a whole lot more while riding inside than you will when you ride outside. Make sure that when you start your trainer ride you have a towel to help wipe some of that sweat away.

If you allow the sweat to sit on your skin without evaporation or wiping it away, it could actually cause heat rash. You don’t want to have to explain why you have heat rash in the middle of the winter.

Fan: A small fan can make all the difference while on the trainer. The reason most people sweat so much while on the trainer is due to a lack of airflow. When you ride outside, your movement creates your own breeze and helps to cool you down. Inside you have to manufacture that breeze with a fan.

A great recommendation is the Holmes 8-inch Fan (link to 1000’s of great reviews on Amazon)

It’ll Be Worth It:

While the trainer just can’t compare to the rush you get while riding down your favorite trail, all of your hard work will pay off in the spring.

There aren’t that many people out there that just love riding the trainer, but there are people that love feeling fit when it is time to ride outside.

Push through the trainer miles this winter, and impress your friends with how strong you are in the spring. Every pedal stroke will be worth it.

Hannah Finchamp - Author

Hannah Finchamp is a professional mountain biker for the Orange Seal Pro Team. When she isn’t riding her own bike she is coaching others to reach their goals as a Certified USA Cycling Coach and Certified Athletic Trainer. To learn more about the author please visit www.hannahfinchamp.com

Read more About Hannah Finchamp

Check out the Feedback Sport Trainer
MTB Tires for Trainer
MTB Tires for Trainer