With the lockdowns here to stay, a lot of cyclists are looking to practice their art indoor. Bringing your ride indoor also has the benefit of letting you fir a ride into your schedule no matter the time of day (or weather) and you never have to worry about traffic. What was once considered drudgery is now a way of life for most time-strapped and lockdown constrained cyclists.
There are two options for riding indoors - rollers and trainer. So which one should you choose and why?
Beginner is better served with an indoor trainer. A bicycle on an indoor trainer is fixed and does not tip over. Therefore if you're a beginning cyclist and your balancing skills are not that great, we recommend the stability and permanence of an indoor trainer.
If you're an experienced cyclist then rollers may work for you. Balancing on rollers while cycling requires skill and keen concentration. However, this balancing act means a roller will punish you for a sloppy pedalling technique or lack of concentration. Rollers improve pedalling & balancing skills in addition to giving you a workout.
When riding rollers you are forced to learn to control your body movements since any movement is magnified on rollers.
~ Robert Fuller - Cycling Coach
Improve Power or Technique?
If you're looking to improve power, then indoor trainers with their multiple resistance settings can offer much more resistance than a roller ever can. Out of the saddle, efforts are much easier on a trainer. A trainer is ideal for structured and vigorous workouts. If you are short on time and/or want to exercise while working/watching TV plan to do any kind of multitasking while training then a trainer is for you. Do not however that the resistance on a trainer is not natural and can feel a little weird while starting out.
If you're looking to improve cadence, pedalling technique, balance and cycling form then a roller is for you. From the moment you step on a roller, it is all about cycling. There's no grabbing a water bottle or reaching for a phone or remote. A roller is the closest you can get to a natural ride, especially because you have to attain and maintain balance all by yourself. Out of saddle efforts are next to impossible. But long sustained efforts are much natural.
Vitamin M / Affordability?
Rollers are more or less priced the same between ₹ 15K and 30K. This is because rollers are simple machines and any premium that you pay simply goes to improve build quality or addition of resistance mechanism.
The prices for trainers vary greatly because they come in various kinds. This is evident from their price breakup. Wind-based to hydraulic to magnetic...there's so much variation that it is difficult to list every kind. It is for this reason that trainers can cost from ₹ 13K all the way to ₹ 130K depending on the type and feature set.
Storage / Space / Noise?
Setting up a roller needs no changes to the bicycle, which is why it will work with almost any kind of bicycle - road, MTB or fat bike. It uses the same tyres and drivetrain that your bicycle has. So if you plan to ride indoor and outdoor on short notice a roller helps. Plus a roller slides under any bed with ease so storing and setting it up takes less time.
A trainer on the other hand is not as quick to set up as a roller, plus they are usually much heavier than a roller so transporting one can be a pain. Some simpler trainers do fold and some don't. while they don't need as much horizontal space as rollers, trainers do need that vertical space, so make sure you account for that.
Regular cycling tyre will work fine on an indoor bike roller but anything with tread can start to get noisy and add extra wear. If you are riding more than four to five hours a week, a trainer specific tire or an old road tyre would work best to reduce noise, give more reliable data and stop your bike from slipping under heavy load.
As a cyclist, you should be better placed to choose one over the other after reading this handy guide. We hope it helps clarify the basic difference between a roller and a trainer. Where one excels and where it fails. But if you were to ask Lama -
An outdoor ride beats a roller/trainer ride any day.
If you're looking to buy a roller or trainer Bums On The Saddle have an extensive collection of both.