If you’re looking at getting a set of rollers or a trainer and aren’t quite sure which one is for you, I’ll explain the differences of each.

Both rollers and trainers are great ways for you to train indoors because they allow you to use your own bike that you’re accustomed to, they’re relatively cheap (compared to a indoor exercise bike ergo setup), they’re easy to store and transport, they’re quick to set up and take down, and they’re easy to bring to races to warm-up on.

There are a few differences that you should consider before purchasing however.  Which one you buy really depends on your goals for using them.  If you want to work on spinning technique and base fitness, go for rollers.  If you want variable resistance workouts that require lots of power, go for a trainer.

Here are a few points on each:

Rollers

  • Rollers allow you to practice your spinning technique.  Once you get sloppy with your spinning, you’ll quickly become unstable and you’ll be forced to correct it.
  • Most affordable sets of rollers do not offer variable resistance.  Your resistance will come from changing gears on your bike.  This is okay up to a point and you’ll be able to spin your 53×11 up to 70km/hr without a massive amount of difficulty.  The power you’ll be generating will be a function on your “speed“, not “strength“.
  • You won’t be able to perform all-out sprints or power intervals on rollers while standing up.  Too much throwing around the bike will knock you off balance.
  • One thing I love about rollers is that there is zero downtime and your training is very efficient.  Every minute that you’re on them you are spinning with perfect technique and not slacking off.   There’s a saying that 90mins on the road is equivalent to 60mins on the rollers.
  • I find that the increased concentration that rollers require make them a little less boring and easier to handle mentally.
  • Your balance on rollers is coming from the gyroscopic effect of the wheels in motion. The faster you go, the more stable you are.  It’s not as difficult or scary to learn how to ride on rollers as you may think at first.  It’ll take you 2 or 3 sessions before you get the hang of it.  Try staring out by setting up in a doorway where walls are close by.
  • Contrary to popular belief, if you happen to fall off your rollers, you won’t go flying into the television set and through the wall.

Trainer

  • Most trainers will have a gadget that will allow you to change resistance on the fly.  This means that you can do more “strength” and “power” intervals against this added resistance.
  • The increased stability that a trainer provides allows you to do intervals where you can stand up and get a little more sloppy with the bike.
  • You won’t need to concentrate as much when using a trainer.  This is great if you’re flipping through channels on the TV, reading, taking lots of breaks, whatever.
  • A trainer may be hard on the rear tire because of the increased resistance.  I’d recommend using an old tire and putting something underneath the area where the trainer is sitting.  The rubber will sometimes heat up and flake off and completely ruin your carpet.  You won’t make that mistake twice.
  • If you’re intimidated by the thought of balancing on rollers then a trainer may be a better choice.  There’s no learning curve involved with using a trainer.
  • A trainer is smaller and easier to transport, so it may be a better option if you want to use it to warm-up before races.

One last point about both rollers and trainers: they can be noisy and annoying to your neighbours (if in an apartament) or your husband/wife/roommate.  If you can, nothing beats getting outside and enjoying the ride!