BICYCLE TRAINER VS ROLLER – BUYERS GUIDE

Shaun George Bike Skills, BOTS Guides, Racing

Even though we love our bikes, riding outdoors isn’t always possible – time constraints, weather conditions or simply the lack of motivation. The monsoons and winters are probably the worst times to be out riding. Instead of missing out on the joy of riding during these seasons, why not ride indoors. Indoor trainers & rollers are a great way to ensure you don’t miss out on your daily rides. There is such a vast collection of trainers & rollers to choose from that deciding on one can be quite daunting. We’re going to break that process down and explain in detail which one is right for you.

If you’re not familiar with trainers or rollers then we’d recommend reading our INDOOR TRAINER BUYING GUIDE

TRAINER VS ROLLER

Direct-drive indoor trainer

TRAINERS – A bike trainer is typically made up of a frame, a clamp with which the bike is held securely, a roller that is pressed up against the back wheel, and a mechanism that is used to provide resistance – the exception being a more expensive “direct-drive trainer”.  The bike you plan to use is mounted onto the trainer so you can experience a workout comparable to an outdoor ride, just in a highly-controlled environment.

The smart trainers, which are a higher-end version of the traditional bike trainers, are typically direct-drive (you take your rear wheel off and just hook the bike right up to the trainer). 

Pros of trainers

  • Provide power data (direct drive), handy if you don’t have a separate power meter
  • All will pair up with apps to adjust the resistance
  • Can reach high efforts and sprint just as hard as on the road
  • No loss of energy

Cons of trainers

  • Little need for upper body or core to work unless you consciously engage them
  • Non-direct drive versions can feel quite ‘inconsistant’, direct-drive versions are quite expensive

ROLLERS – Rollers are made up of three metal cylinders (or rollers) in a frame. Your rear wheel directly drives the rear roller as you pedal. They don’t hold your bike up, so you have to balance yourself as you pedal, just like you would when riding along.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and we’ll be taking you through the differences between them in this article to help you make a decision on which might be the best for your needs.

Pros of rollers

  • Get riding without any need to remove wheels or swap tires
  • Encourages good pedaling stroke technique to remain upright
  • Trains the full body as core needs to be engaged to maintain balance
  • Smoother feeling which can mimic the road more accurately
  • Usually easier and lighter to transport (good for pre-race warm-ups)

Cons of rollers

  • Takes practice to get a hang of
  • On all but the more expensive versions, resistance is limited
  • Only expensive versions connect with apps via Ant+ and Bluetooth
  • Most people can’t get out the saddle – aside from high cadence spin-outs – sprints are not possible

1. AFFORDABILITY

Generally, cycle rollers are less expensive than bike trainers. The average price for bike rollers is anywhere between Rs.16,000-30,000. You can get one for as little as Rs.10,000/- but most probably, it will be a cheaply made unit that will cause issues further down the lime

Indoor trainers, on the other hand, are more expensive than rollers. You can get magnetic trainers with amazing adjustable resistance for less than around Rs.40,000/-. There are trainers for every budget, and the cheapest of them go for Rs.15,000/-. Wind trainers are the cheapest—but you are more likely to get into trouble with your landlord, roommate or spouse because of the noise it creates.

2. EASE OF USE

How experienced are you a rider? Most people would say that if you’re a beginner then you should stick to a trainer rather than a roller. While a trainer is easier to begin off with, it’s not the ideal setup in case you want to improve your riding technique. Indoor trainers clamp onto your rear wheel and attach securely to your bike frame. It provides stability and promotes balance; you will not have to worry about toppling over, hence safe riding.

Bike rollers, on the other hand, are ideal for riders with some level of skill and balance. It will be tough for a beginner to try and balance a bicycle over metal drums. You may find this balancing difficulty on rollers to be an advantage if you are looking to improve your efficiency and pedaling while maintaining a straight line. Try to practice with rollers in the doorway, so you will have something to hold on to when you lose your balance. You will also remain focused since letting your mind wander even for a second could cause you to topple over.

3. PERFORMANCE

If you’re looking to achieve a smooth, consistent, powerful pedal stroke and proper cycling form, you should look at getting a roller. If you have rough and jerky pedal strokes, you will bounce on the roller, which will give you a natural feedback mechanism to help you pedal more smoothly. This is a good way to subconsciously keep improving on your pedaling technique.

Trainers, on the other hand, are ideal for highly structured workouts. If you are a rider focused on getting the most out of every minute, invest in a trainer. They are great for shorter workouts with specific intervals structures. The stability on trainers lets you concentrate on maintaining the interval instead of maintaining balance – core engagement is a lot less due to this though. You can also do various vigorous workouts on a trainer. They have an incorporated resistance unit that you can sync with Virtual Training. Another thing you can’t do on rollers is off-the-saddle sprints. One of the best and probably the only trainers in the market currently that lets your bike rock side to side while off the saddle is the KINETIC ROCK AND ROLL SMART FLUID TRAINER.

4. size and storage

Will you be moving around a lot with your equipment or do you have limited storage space? If yes then a roller would be most ideal for you, considering the other factors mentioned above of course. Rollers are light compared to trainers, and you can easily fold them and put them in storage when not in use.

With trainers however, it’s not that easy. They are foldable and light too, but most of them aren’t; which is the point here. The more advanced, mid-range to high-end trainers are often quite heavy (15-22kgs) and can be a burden to move around.


In conclusion, it all boils down to what you are looking for. Rollers and trainers both provide a way to ride your bike indoors. You’ll need to consider all of the factors above to really decide which one is good for you.

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