Learn the difference between trainers and rollers

Bicycle trainers and rollers can come in handy when your training moves indoors. Many factors can force this switch, from weather to time restrictions. Price, skill level, usage, and ability can all factor into your purchasing process. Use the info below to your advantage when shopping for trainers and rollers.

Bicycle Trainers

A bicycle trainer is typically a tri-pod devise that secures the bike into a stationary riding position. The rear wheel is held off the ground by locking the skewer into the trainer. The front wheel is held off the ground by a riser block to make the bicycle level. Some riser blocks have multiple positions to simulate climbing or descending. There are three types of resistance to your wheel:

When talking trainers and rollers, magnetic trainers are the best bang for your buck.

Magnetic trainers are the best bang for your buck.

Wind – This affordable unit runs between $85 and $120, but expect a lot of noise. It is best used for short rehab stints, monthly rainy day riding sessions, or someone on a really tight budget. The noise from this type of trainer is caused by human force against the tire and from the small channels in the unit that catch air and add resistance. Due to the noise level, it is hard to watch television or listen to the radio while in use. Changing resistance levels is cumbersome because one must get off the bike to tighten or loosen the resistance to simulate different terrains. Although affordable, the parts of this unit are not created for heavy everyday use. Unnecessary wear to the rear tire will also occur when used daily.

Magnetic – Based on price ($125-$250), durability, and noise projection, this is the most practical unit of the three. It is not exactly like riding on the road, but similar enough. The mag trainer is set up like the wind trainer, but uses magnetic resistance instead of wind. This trainer allows for TV viewing and music listening.  The unit also stands up to multiple rides per week. It will simulate multiple terrains just by changing the gears of the bike. Some units come with a wired remote shifter to change resistance without getting off the bike.

With the magnetic trainer, cyclists get the most bang for their buck. Click To Tweet
Fluid – The most expensive of the three types of trainers is the fluid trainer. This unit best mimics the feel of being on the road. Prices range from $250 to $399 but will definitely stand the test of time. It is the most durable trainer because it is designed for serious indoor cyclists who will spend hours a day on it. The resistance of this unit is controlled solely with the shifters on the bike.

Bicycle Rollers

Wikipedia describes rollers as “a type of bicycle trainer which makes it possible to ride a bicycle indoors without moving forward. However, unlike other types of bicycle trainers, rollers do not support the bicycle. They normally consist of three cylinders, drums, or “rollers” (two for the rear wheel and one for the front), on top of which the bicycle rides. A belt connects one of the rear rollers to the front roller, causing the front wheel of the bicycle to spin when the bicycle is pedaled. The spacing of bicycle rollers can usually be adjusted to match the bicycle’s wheelbase. Generally, the front roller is adjusted to be slightly ahead of the hub of the front wheel.”

When deciding between trainers and rollers, know that rollers require more skill.

Rollers require great balance and handling awareness.

Like trainers, rollers also come in different levels, but they all use the same type of resistance – human resistance.  The main reason to use rollers is to work on bike handling skills. Rollers increase handling skills by increasing balance on the bike. This is crucial for draft-legal racing and riding in tight quarters. Rollers take a constant state of awareness while in use. The price of rollers (between $175 and $399) is determined by the type of material from which the drums are made – aluminum or plastic.  Aluminum rollers cost a little more but will last longer. Plastic rollers will generally not last as long and will also wear the tire out quicker.
Both trainers and rollers have their purpose in the sport of triathlon. Trainers are more practical for everyday use because they meet the needs of the fitness cyclist: set the bike up, pop in a movie and ride. They are safer (than rollers) and easier to use for a large number of people positioned in one place. They are a good replacement for getting a nice ride on the road. Rollers, on the other hand, are more of a tool than a ride replacement device. They are used for serious cyclists to help increase cadence efficiency and balance on the bike. Rollers are not recommended for beginner cyclists because of the safety factor. Both trainers and rollers are foldable and easy to store.
Common brands:  Cycle-Ops, Wahoo Kickr, and Kinetic