Turbo Trainers vs Rollers - Total Women's Cycling

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Training & Nutrition

Turbo Trainers vs Rollers

Find out which one is right for you

The best way of training for time on the bike is to – shocker – spend lots of time on your bike. And that’s why turbo trainers and rollers have the edge on a spin bike during the off-season.

By letting you train on your actual steed, these machines ensure you are prepared for whatever crazy damn thing you’re planning on subjecting yourself to the minute the sun peeks out.

But unless you magically came across an indoor trainer in the skip next to your house, you’ll probably be wondering whether rollers or turbo trainers offer the best by way of training and practicality. So we’ve bunched the pros and cons of each into helpful categories so you can make an informed decision.

The Learning Curve

Turbo trainers work by applying resistance to your back wheel while it’s fixed to the turbo trainer frame. It’s just like your pedalling your bike, but you’re stuck to the ground and watching Mock the Week. This means you can go straight from newbie to power-user in a matter of minutes.

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Rollers present a steeper curve. They have a much greater requirement that the user has a sense of balance and the ability to concentrate for extended periods: you’re cycling on spinning rollers without the bike being held static and therefore you must continuously pay attention to staying upright. It’s likely that your balance is already half decent due to the fact you’re a cyclist, but rollers are an acquired talent… despite the fact they mimic being on the road better than a turbo trainer, the process still has a rather alien, uncanny feel. When you nail it, however, many would argue the rewards are greater.

Finding your Flaws

Turbo trainers are super forgiving and therefore won’t be of much help by way of improving your technique. However, because of the static nature of turbo training, it is generally easier to use various pieces of tech to monitor your performance in relation to the resistance applied.

You have to be steady on rollers. For the smoothest ride, you’ll have to have impeccable technique. So rollers can often indicate if you have any issue with your position or pedalling. Basically, rollers encourage good cycling behaviour more than turbo trainers.

Fooling your Body

Turbo trainers are fantastic at helping you maintain your fitness levels with indoor training. The static nature of them means that you can concentrate solely on your power output.

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Rollers force you to engage the muscles used during a normal cycle and therefore make it easier to maintain cycle-specific fitness. The thing that makes rollers annoying – having to learn to balance – actually makes them much more life-like and beneficial for a wider array of muscles.

Set-up and Portability

Turbo trainers are well annoying to set up. Aside from having to clamp your rear wheel into the frame, most people also choose to change their rear tyre to one specifically designed for turbo training (this prevents ruining your possibly quite expensive road tyre, and some argue it also quietens the process). You can also buy portable ones, where the frame folds up neatly for transporting them to events as a warm-up aid.

Rollers are easy peasy to set-up: after the initial putting-together process, most models fold up for easy propping against the wall, and then they’ll open out when you need them. Then, perhaps most helpfully, no changes need to be made to your bike. You just hop on and go.

Loudness

Turbo trainers are famed for their dire noise output. If you’ve got an air resistance model especially, tinnitus is to be expected. If you live in a flat, they are pretty much a no go.

Rollers are also loud, but because turbo trainers are just so disgustingly driving-you-crazy noisy, rollers are like a lullaby in comparison.

Are they forgiving?

Turbo trainers allow you a sneaky freewheel and the freedom to reach around yourself to ingest fluids or cupcakes. They also allow for the inevitable changing of the TV channel when someone you don’t like appears on screen, and ability to take a time-out if your child decides that the turbo trainer looks like an age-appropriate toy for a toddler.

Rollers are designed to disallow any faff. You can’t just hop on and off like if you were on a turbo trainer. This can be good for someone who wants to remain ‘in the zone’ at all costs. But bad for anyone who has, you know, a life. Or a phone.

Which indoor training method do you think has the edge?

You may also enjoy:

7 Turbo Training Rituals for Cyclists

Elinor Barker’s top tips for surviving turbo sessions

Will cycling make your thighs bigger?

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