Indoor Cycling – Are rollers or trainers better?

It happens every fall in the Upper Midwest. Days grow shorter, the weather turns cold, and then we go switch the clocks back forcing everyone who loves to ride a bike to adapt. You could get a fat bike and fight off the winter blues, but let’s face it, you might not be ready for that yet (When you are, we’re more than ready to help). Whether or not you’ve trained inside in the winter, you might not be aware of the options of HOW to ride – the most common of these are a stationary trainer or rollers.

Which is better?

Most people starting out often go for the trainer – it’s a small piece of equipment that folds up and stores under a bed or behind a couch pretty easy, and it’s easy to turn an existing bike into a very good workout. Rollers are a bit bigger, but still compact and stowable – they feel a lot more like RIDING a bike, but they do require skill to learn at first (this skill does make a more capable rider out of roller users though). At Erik’s we can recommend one for you based on your unique needs and goals, but there’s a place for both of these in your home to get the most out of your workouts and to keep indoor cycling and training as fun as possible.

Some cyclists prefer trainers to rollers.

Trainers

Trainers work by holding the bike stationary in an upright position. There’s no need to balance with wide and stable legs. This set up, along with built-in resistance units makes this an excellent choice for developing strength as a rider.

Pros
  • High Stability allows riders just to focus on moving their legs and not on balance.
  • Good for loosening up or short workouts.
  • Great tool for riders doing high-intensity workouts like intervals or other anaerobic work.
  • Ideal for anyone doing rehab after surgery or strengthening after an injury.
  • Great for one-legged drills used in addressing imbalances or leg weakness.
Cons
  • Does not address handling or balance issues.
  • Fixed position can be uncomfortable for endurance work.
  • Extra pressure on the tire requires the use of a trainer tire for best performance and protection of your regular tires.
  • Lacks the most realistic road feel.

Rollers offer a ride that is more interesting than trainers

Rollers

Rollers are a long frame with a single drum up front and two drums in the back to support the bike. With 16″ of width under your bike, you’ve got some room to move, but not near as much as riding down the road. Rollers are often considered the ideal method for becoming a more complete cyclist. They force attention much like riding outdoors would. For riders new to rollers or those looking to ad versatility, it is possible to add a resistance unit and a fork stand and make it behave more like a trainer.

Pros
  • Promote even, rhythmic cadence from the rider.
  • Great for developing tracking skills and maintaining control of the bike.
  • Good tool for developing balance.
  • More stimulating to ride and less chance of boredom.
  • Quieter than the quietest fluid trainers.
  • No need to change out tires from your regular riding tires.
Cons
  • Not ideal for high-intensity interval training unless you are a very skilled rider.
  • Requires some skill to learn to use (learning curve).
  • Does not allow rider to “zone-out” in the same way as a trainer.

 

The Bottom Line

So which is best? Depending on where your desires match with the above pros and cons of each, there’s one that will fit your unique needs best and give you something to do this winter, but if you’re not the only rider in your household or you want your next season of riding to be the best ever, we feel there’s a place for both in your house. We even mentioned in a previous post about keeping trainer time entertaining by making it a group ride.

If you’re prone to getting lost in a workout or training at high levels of exertion, a trainer is an ideal option. Doctors and physical therapists often recommend cycling as a low impact activity following an injury or surgery related to hip replacement, ACL repair and other knee or leg surgeries. Trainers allow you to easily isolate a leg and work on strength building specific sides of the body.

Rollers obviously require some time to adapt as you are balancing the bike on a smaller space than you may be used to, but many riders report less boredom and actually look forward to riding the rollers. They can be a great way to work on your pedal stroke (aka souplesse) and since your upper body is far more active, they can help develop core strength related to cycling and improve your ability to maintain a line.

Whatever you choose, know that you are setting yourself up for better fitness and a more enjoyable cycling season whether or not you agree with the idea of an “off-season.”

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