Trainers Vs. Rollers

Guest poster Don Blount follows up his post on rollers, by comparing them to trainers.

If the weather changes so you are reluctant or unable to get outside to ride, is it better to hop on a stationary trainer or on bike rollers?

The answer is, it depends on what you want to accomplish.

The consensus among a few experienced cyclists is that rollers will allow you to work on your riding skills, although you’ll need practice to be able to stay upright on them. However trainers will let the most novice of riders hop on and do power workouts without any type of learning-how-to-ride-them period.

So which is better?

“I would recommend both because they do two different things,” Robert Fuller said. Robert is a licensed USA cycling coach and team manager for Rocket Sports Foundation, a youth cycling team in Lodi, Calif. (www.rocketsportsfoundation.org) In full disclosure, Robert did my bike fitting.

“As you know, with a trainer balance is only a minimal factor so doing hard intervals, standing up, sprinting, and slogging away while watching a video or TV is much easier to do,” he said.

But with rollers “there is a riding/balancing skill that is hard to replicate with any other form of cycling,” he said. “When riding rollers you are forced to learn to control your body movements since any movement is magnified on rollers.”

Ah, so true. While riding rollers I’ve turned my head slightly to one side to look at something and found myself lurching toward the edge of the roller and then to the floor.

Robert continued that rollers carry an important benefit. “If an athlete has mastered being able to ride on rollers for 30 minutes without falling off, you know that rider is going to be a safer rider on the road.”

So given that, if he could only have one, he’d use the trainer. “I would say that a trainer is going to give you a better, safer workout for 99 percent of all cyclists.”

A longtime friend of Robert’s is Craig Sanders. Another full disclosure — I work with Craig. He helped me select my bike and introduced me to Robert.

The two used to race bikes together a long time ago.

If Craig had to choose between a roller and a trainer, he would go with a roller. “A trainer is the same as riding a stationary bike at the gym. You can work on power but nothing else.”

Avid cyclist and blogger Dana McEwan (“Maine Velophile“) uses her trainer to build her base. “I do mainly endurance workouts with it and not too many intervals, or at least standing sprints,” she said. “The frame can torque a bit so you have to be a bit careful about body movement on it.”

She added that by the time she’s ready to start doing intervals on the trainer, the weather in Maine is starting to turn milder, and she can do those workouts on the road. “A road ride beats a trainer ride any day.”

Another cycling blogger, Bryan Dewberry, (“Biking to Live“) just started using a trainer. He says his biggest problem with it is boredom. “If I hadn’t set up my laptop on a table in front of me I don’t know if I could do it,” he said. He’s thinking about getting cycling DVDs to play during his workouts.

And in talking with a few sales people at my local LBS, all avid cyclists, they agree with the uses of each piece of equipment but also are split on which to use.

Ann, who is short, prefers a trainer in part because if she fell off a roller, it would be a long way down.

Steve, a former competitive racer prefers to use rollers because it allows him to work on form. Yet, he said, the trainers come with DVD systems that help you simulate riding. And depending on how much you want to spend, you can get trainers with all types of resistance settings.

Dana McEwan uses a fluid trainer, which she likes because it’s quiet. She suggests going with a reputable brand, such as CycleOps. “If you can afford to spend a bit more, then look for a good quality fluid or mag trainer. The latter actually allows you to adjust the resistance remotely,” she said.

But her most important trainer advice? “Invest in a trainer specific tire! And never use a regular tire that has been run a lot on the trainer outside on your road bike. Dangerous!”

I paid $110 for my Travel Trac rollers during a Performance Bike online sale in Sept. 2008. I haven’t seen them anywhere near that price since. A basic trainer I’ve seen on sale for as low as $89.

I may add a trainer at some at some point, in part because my wife wants to do indoor cardio work on her mountain bike. Daresay she won’t go near my rollers.

So depending on whether you want to work on your form and simulate riding while working out indoors or care less about your technique and just want to crank, that may influence whether you want to go with rollers or a trainer.

However, in the end, I agree with Craig: “Riding indoors is boring. I’d rather ride outside.”

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8 thoughts on “Trainers Vs. Rollers

  1. Pingback: Indoor Trainers or Rollers? « Maine Velophile

  2. Trainers vs. Rollers… I’d do a “trainer” if it came with software (like the $1000+ models) where you can dynamically manipulate resistance and pedal along with whatever “route” is on your screen… As far as rollers go, I really enjoyed your guest post the other day and have learned a lot.. the “stupid roller tricks” was far more entertaining and educational than the other video that was linked in the article.. If I had my “druthers” I’d rather do rollers as a low tech way to stay on top than a “stationary” set up (unless of course it was one of those big buck, computerized set ups..) Of course, then again, here in Texas, the “need” for “indoor speed” isn’t all that really necessary, except for maybe a couple of times a year..

  3. I’ll stick with my trainer, but only with decent videos to train with. Doing an LSD ride on a trainer is tough tough tough.

  4. I prefer rollers mainly because they keep my mind focused where trainers allow you to slip into never never land. I don’t have a TV or anything out in my garage so maintaining balance is the only entertainment (and my music) that I have. I generally try and subsidize my outdoor riding with spin class.

  5. Good point about investing in a trainer specific tire.
    That, and the fact that we usually attach our cyclometer sensor to the front which means you need to transfer it to the back to record your stats, are the only really annoying features of the trainer over the roller for me.
    The ability to control Resistance on the trainer is attractive, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more, you can actually attach a resistance unit to a roller.
    I’m with you though Don … outside is best. And down here in Australia, the temperature is warm, and the rain is rare.

  6. Pingback: Four Years of Noobishness | Bike Noob

  7. Ive had both rollers and a trainer. I hated the trainer. It was so boring, made me feel like I was damaging my bike, and just didnt feel real to me. Rollers are far better, on e you get a hang of how to ride them correctly. The mey is to maintain a decent speed, and make sure you are in a gear that puts some load on your legs. Otherwise you are going to have a significant amount of difficulty staying upright. The notion that rollers wont give you resistance is bull. I ride 3″ rollers, and put about 90/100psi in my tires f/r. There is plenty of resistance there. I average over 160bpm during an hour long ride, I can do intervals, I sweat, and I burn over a thousand calories. Dont get caught up in the whole idea that trainers are where its at. They put stress on your frame that they werent designed to handle, and rollers can hp you build strength and endurance just as easy with the right setup.

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