Bike Trainer Essentials (Do You Need a Skewer, Tire, or Mat?)

If you are new to using a bike trainer, you might have questions about skewers, mats, and other bike trainer essentials. Keep reading this FAQ for answer to some of your most critical questions, including examples from my own experience using bike trainers.

Do You Need a Special Skewer for a Bike Trainer?


Depending on the type of bike you ride and the type of trainer you ride it on, you might need a special skewer. The skewer or through-axle is the part of the bike that attaches the wheel to the front or rear fork. 

Many entry-level bikes use an aluminum quick-release skewer with threads on one end, which screws into the fork and a lever on the other end. A quick-release skewer allows you to remove the wheel when necessary quickly. However, using a bike on a trainer puts extra tension and stress on the skewer. Therefore, many trainer manufacturers will provide a specific skewer for you to use with your trainer. 

For example, my DiamondBack Arden 1 aluminum frame bike came with an aluminum skewer. When I put it on my Kurt Kinetic Wheel-On trainer, I needed to swap out the aluminum skewer for Kinetic’s included steel skewer for added strength. This skewer is a little bit heavier, much sturdier, and just fine to use on the road as well as on the trainer. The Kinetic skewer is designed to fit into the cups at either side of the trainer to hold your bike securely in place. 

However, when I put my Jamis Renegade Exploit onto my Wahoo Kickr, the through-axle works perfectly with the Kickr, so no special skewer is needed with this combination. The Kickr also came with a skewer so that I can use the DiamondBack quick release on there, as well. 

And although you may need a special skewer for your trainer, do you need a special tire, as well? 

Do You Need a Special Tire for a Bike Trainer?

If you are using a direct drive turbo trainer, you do not need any particular tire. Instead, you remove your rear wheel and attach it to the trainer’s cassette and hub. First, however, you’ll need to make sure that the cassette on the direct drive trainer matches the cassette on your bike. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to swap it out for one that is the same. 

On the other hand, if you are using a wheel-on trainer, you might want to get a trainer tire for several reasons. First, you can indeed use your regular bike tire on a wheel-on trainer. However, over time, this can damage the tire. After a few hundred miles, the tread on the center of the tire will begin to wear down, making a smooth streak where the normal tread should be. 

If you have nobby tread on your tires, you’ll want to switch to a trainer tire because it will give you a much smoother ride while you are using the trainer. Additionally, a trainer tire is designed to be a little bit ‘sticky’ on the trainer. This will help give you more traction than a regular tire. Finally, trainer tires are a little less expensive, so they are more affordable to replace than a traditional bike tire. 

Do You Need a Mat for a Bike Trainer?

You do not need a mat to ride a bike trainer, but it certainly helps. Bike trainers put out a little bit of vibration, so using a thick rubber mat underneath will help absorb some of this and dampen the noise.

Another good reason to use a mat is to protect your flooring from sweat. 

Riding a bike trainer tends to be a sweatier experience than riding outdoors, and the sweat can drip and pool on the floor. A mat will protect your flooring, whether it is hardwood or even carpeted.

Can You Use a Bike Trainer on Carpet?

You can use your bike trainer on the carpet, but you might want to put a mat down on top. Dirt and grease from your bike can easily get on your carpet, as can sweat. If you have carpeting, you’ll probably want to put a mat over it or at least a heavy towel. 

Do You Need a Quick Release For a Bike Trainer?

You don’t need a quick-release skewer for a bike trainer. However, your trainer will most likely include (or have available) a skewer specifically designed to work with that trainer. Additionally, many trainers will use a skewer that also happens to be a quick release.

A quick-release skewer just makes it easier to remove and replace the wheel. 

Most trainer skewers are made of steel to make them sturdier and safer. Many skewers that come with the bike have plastic nuts on each end. The plastic nuts are not strong enough to withstand the force of the trainer. The steel nuts included with the trainer’s skewer are specifically designed to interface with that trainer to make it safer and stronger. 

Always use the trainer’s skewer and consult the owner’s manual for specific instructions.

Wondering if you can stand up on a bike trainer? Then check out my article Can You Stand Up on a Bicycle Trainer? (Is It Safe?) to find out.

Do You Need a Riser for Your Front Wheel (on a Bike Trainer)? 

Your rear wheel will be locked in place by your bike trainer, whether it is a wheel-on trainer or a direct drive trainer. Your front wheel will remain in place just like if you were to ride it on the road. However, you might want a riser for your front wheel. 

If you use your trainer on a hard floor, such as cement or hardwood, you might find the front wheel slips around. A riser will help hold your front wheel steady, so it doesn’t move. 

You may also find that the rear wheel is significantly higher than the front, essentially placing you in a descending position. If this is uncomfortable, you might want to put a riser underneath your front wheel to make it level with the rear wheel. 

Some trainers will include a riser in their package. However, you can also purchase them separately. If you’re on a budget, you can put a block of wood or a book underneath your wheel and use a piece of rubber mat to hold it in place. 

For those ready for a serious fitness test: Have you heard of the Navy PRT Bike Assessment?

Do You Need Clipless Pedals for a Bike Trainer? 

You do not need to use clipless pedals on the trainer, but it does help. Your power and your pedal stroke will be much more consistent if you are clipped into the pedals. But you can just as easily use flat pedals on your trainer, as well. 

If you are new to using clipless pedals, practicing with them while your bike is on the trainer is a great way to learn how to clip in and out easily. In addition, you won’t need to worry about falling while you get used to the feeling of the pedals. 

What Else Do You Need for Your Bike Trainer?

You might want to invest in a platform such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, Suffer Fest, RGT, or Rouvy. These inexpensive options will provide you with a game-like riding experience and workouts that you can use to get stronger on the trainer and outside. These platforms can also help you measure the distance you traveled on your trainer.

Your trainer may also come with an app that you can use for training, as well. Many of these apps can be run on a laptop, tablet, or even a smartphone. 

It’s also helpful to have a fan, a table for hydration and nutrition, some towels to wipe your sweat, and music or entertainment to help you pass the time. 


JJ here - I've spent a lot of time on a bike, including completing the 3,000+ mile Southern Tier Route (CA to FL). I started Cycling Beast to "demystify" cycling topics, and to help people overcome roadblocks and level-up their skills.

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