Whether you’ve decided to cycle inside to avoid inclement weather or because you want to catch up on the latest episode of your favorite show, there are two main options for indoor riding. Trainers affix to the axle of your rear wheel and apply resistance, while rollers provide a moving surface over which your wheels move. Either will allow you to get a good workout indoors.
Muscles and Balance
One of the biggest differences between trainers and rollers is that on a trainer, your rear wheel is fixed, holding the bike in a stable, upright position. This means you don’t have to try to balance on the bike, making trainers more beginner friendly, according to an expert analysis at the Cycling Tips website. The down side of this is that you don’t engage as many accessory muscles involved in balancing on a bike, meaning that rollers can be better for base fitness work.
According to Coach Levi, a cycling coach with an Internet site offering tips to cyclists and triathletes, a major advantage of rollers is they help you with your pedaling mechanics. “Riding on rollers provides a very realistic feel,” Coach Levi says. “(They are) great for improving your balance … you learn to ride in a straight line.” He points out that choppy pedal strokes become very apparent on rollers, allowing you to correct and improve your form.
Trainers can be hard on your bike, according to Levi. The clamp that attaches to your quick-release lever can scratch or break the lever, and even has the potential to scratch your frame. The high-pressure resistance a trainer applies to your rear wheel will wear out your tire quickly, and Levi consequently recommends buying an inexpensive tire for trainer use.
Despite the realistic feel of rollers, they don’t allow you to vary resistance, and therefore can’t be used to simulate hills. Resistance, according to Cycling Tips, must come in the form of changing gears on the bike, but they offer caution. “The power you’ll be generating will be a function of your ‘speed,’ not ‘strength,’” it says. Trainers allow you to change resistance, offering the option to do power training or interval work.
If you’re interested in watching TV, talking on the phone or otherwise multitasking during your ride, trainers have a distinct advantage over rollers. According to Cycling Tips, “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." Cycling Skills, an informational website for cyclists, also notes that rollers with fan-resistance units can interfere with music or other activities because they are quite loud.