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Ah, the good ole trainer vs roller debate! Well, I can guarantee one thing right now. This debate is far from over. My great-grandkids (if I ever have any!) are likely going to still be debating this question!
Basically, they both offer a way of riding your bike indoors to stay in shape during the off-season. The bike trainer “clips on” to your back axle and provides resistance as your pedal. The rollers are a different system that allows you to set your bike on them and pedal indoors.
I will start by discussing bike trainers and then move on to rollers.
Here’s Why You Want A Bike Trainer!Bike trainers are an excellent way to stay fit in the wintertime.
They are easy to set up. require no time to learn how to use them, and can let you lather into a sweating frenzy in minutes.
Plus, they require no balancing. Your bike basically becomes a stationary bike, and you can watch tv, read a book or game (if you are really skilled!) while pedaling.
They also are really good for those who have a smaller space to work with. You can easily fold it up and stick it in a closet when you aren’t using it.
In the past, people (marketing agencies) complained that the workout load of trainers was not conducive to real-life riding. It wasn’t “accurate” enough.
Well, a load is a load in my book. (And if you’ve spent any time on a trainer, you will agree).
For those of you concerned about getting the “most accurate” workout, go with a fluid trainer. They are engineered to offer a very similar power curve to that of road riding and are incredible for working on your sprints, honing your time trial efforts and building your power outputs for climbing.
In a lot of ways, trainers are a lot like weight lifting on a bike. They seem to require more fast-twitch muscles while still letting you get an excellent cardio workout in.
I also know a lot of time-trialing specialists who like working out on trainers. The intense, sustained effort required by a trainer seems to really appeal to them and reflects their real-life riding conditions.
For 99% of my readers, a trainer is a perfect choice. Even if you end up getting rollers, you will still want a trainer to allow yourself some cross-training efforts, or as an easy way to “zone out” and watch TV while you pedal.
… And Here is Why Rollers Are Better.Which brings us to the second half of this comparison.
So, Rollers are a lot trickier. You actually have to balance on them.
And the roller drums are pretty slick. It’s a squirrely task.
However, this translates into huge improvements in your road handling skills. Learn to balance your bike on a set of rollers and you’ll be able to balance on, well, about anything.
In addition, it helps you to keep your upper core muscles in shape as your upper body does all of those subtle adjustments to keep the bike in line.
Rollers require you to balance your bike. They actually sharpen your road-handling skills as you ride, so by spring-time you are better on the road than you were the year before.
So you are not only working out your legs, you are providing your entire skeletal system with a neuro-muscular workout, increasing your brain’s control over fine motor movements.
Your legs spinning pattern also becomes much more efficient. Choppy cadence translates into choppy riding on rollers. You learn to spin the pedals much more smoothly and are rewarded with more even power outputs and less fatigue on long rides.
The other advantage of rollers is that they create more of a road-like feel than trainers do. Since both wheels spin, you get that inertial resistance similar to when you are riding on the road. In fact, now that many riders measure wattage, it is becoming obvious that it is actually easier to sustain greater watts over time on rollers than it is on trainers.
However, it is hard to do all-out sprint and climbing drills on rollers. As you get more skilled, you might be able to stand up and pedal, but you still can’t typically get those all-out sprint efforts like you can on trainers.
Can’t Fathom How This Works? Want to See Rollers In Action?
However, because rollers have a learning curve to them (about 1 week for an avid rider), and because it is harder to multi-task on them, fewer people are inclined to choose rollers. And, even if you do, you will still want a trainer for cross-training and warming up on the day-of events.
What About Rollers With Built-in Resistance Units?
To help bridge the gap between trainers, some roller manufacturers have started creating a model that has a small resistance unit on it.
I think it’s an incredible idea. However, most people I know are doing good just to ride their rollers. Few would use the added resistance.
However, if you are a serious rider, you might appreciate the added challenge.
At the end of the day, these roller units are still just that — rollers.
Are Trainers or Rollers Noisier?
Worried about annoying the wife? The neighbors?
Then don’t get a wind resistance trainer. Those things are noisy. They should probably come with a complimentary set of earplugs.
Magnetic systems are better. And I find that rollers — depending on the manufacturer — are typically on par noise-wise with most magnetic or fluid trainers.
Here’s the way I see it. Rollers are better IF you have the time and willingness to learn how to use them.
Especially if you are a serious cyclist.
Otherwise, grab a trainer and stay in shape. It’ll do everything you need.
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