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Turbo or rollers?.........that is the question

We all like pretending we’re hard and heading out on our bike on long winter rides in the cold. But sometimes it’s just too icy, or too wet, even with the correct clothing. Sometimes we simply haven’t got time to do it. And after all, there’s no shame in riding on the turbo instead of out in the cold and dark – you’re still training harder than everyone who isn’t riding at all!

Indoor trainers are a brilliant way to keep up your fitness or get fitter through the winter, and can set you up for a summer of great riding. If you’re interested, but you’re not sure whether you should get a turbo trainer or a set of rollers, you’re in the right place. Hang on.........what is a turbo??.........and aren't rollers used for styling hair?? Read on for a comparison.

Errrrrr.......what's a roller..... and what is a turbo?

Turbo trainers and rollers are basically stationary bike trainers.

Turbo trainers hold your bike upright and provide resistance against you pedalling – usually at the back wheel.

Rollers are made up of three metal or plastic cylinders (or rollers) in a frame. 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 their own advantages and disadvantages, and i'll be taking you through the differences between them to help you make a decision on which might be the best for your needs.

Turbo trainers are generally the most popular way to train indoors. They’re really simple to use, and there’s nothing to learn when it comes to riding them – you can just attach your bike to the turbo trainer, jump on and go!

Here’s the information you need to know about turbo trainers:

  • You just pedal – generally, there’s no steering or balancing to worry about.

  • They’re easy to use. Just fit your bike and pedal away… without going anywhere, obviously!

  • It’s very hard to fall off a turbo trainer that’s been correctly set up without deliberately trying to.

  • They all include some form of resistance to your pedalling, and this is often adjustable to provide more or less of a workout. They make it easy to train to specific intensities. If you’ve got a training plan to follow, this can be really handy. For example you can train specifically for hills by increasing the resistance to replicate the intensity and cadence (leg speed).

  • Because they don’t really take much concentration to ride, it’s also easy to watch TV and not have to worry about going in a straight line as you pedal. For some, that can make indoor training much more palatable, as lets face it, riding indoors isn't that much fun! (although i love it - but i think thats just me!!).

  • Almost all turbo trainers fold up for easy storage.

  • Because the resistance unit on turbo trainers normally presses against your rear tyre, your rear tyre will wear out more quickly than on the road.

  • Many people like to keep a cheap wheel specifically for turbo use. By doing this, they can easily swap to a turbo specific tyre, which wears much more slowly and also makes less noise than a normal tyre when used on the turbo.

  • Of course, if you’re using a direct drive turbo (where you remove your rear wheel and attach your bike using the cassette on the direct drive turbo) then there’s no tyre to wear!

If you’re looking for more of a skills challenge as well as a physical challenge, a set of rollers is a great option. They’re also arguably really simple to use – just put your bike on them and start riding – but because you have to balance yourself, it takes a little bit of practice!

While it’s always possible to ride off the edge of your rollers, it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of riding along in a straight line and relaxing. Here are the main points for or against rollers:

  • Because you have to balance and control your bike, it’s much more like riding outdoors.

  • Rollers help you to develop your bike handling and core strength without having to go out for a ride.

  • You’ll normally see much less tyre wear on rollers compared to a turbo trainer (unless you have a posh direct drive turbo!), so you can leave your normal tyres on without worrying.

  • You can fall off them! It takes a little bit of practice to get comfortable and confident, and it’s normally best to start off with your rollers set up in a doorway to give yourself something to nudge against if you need to straighten back up. In the past i've used a chair to grab hold of. To get used to using the rollers, just practice, practice, practice - it will come. Set yourself little challenges ride for 1 min, then for 2 mins etc., etc. Once you can ride for a few minutes try increasing your cadence gradually every minute until you find you maximum cadence. Then try riding with one hand.....its a challenge but will all improve bike handling

  • Because you actually need to concentrate on riding, training on rollers normally takes more attention than riding on the turbo. This means you might struggle to pay attention to your soaps as you pedal along until you’ve gotten more used to it. Although, on the other side of the coin, you may find that time passes alot quicker as you concentrate less on the clock

  • Rollers don’t usually have resistance (although some do). You’ll need to change gear to make it harder or easier to pedal.

  • To start with, it’s much harder to do big efforts on the rollers without falling off. However, if you just want to focus on pedalling hard, you might find yourself being rudely awakened by riding off the edge!

  • Rollers can normally be folded up, but they’re generally slightly bigger than a turbo trainer.

To put it simply.......

.......if you’re looking for something you can get on and pedal as hard as you can and work on your fitness, a turbo trainer will suit you perfectly. If you’re looking for the extra challenge of staying upright, going in a straight line, and improving your skills, and pedalling technique (as well as gaining kudos among your training buddies), then a set of rollers can help your bike handling over the winter.


When they’re set up, both turbo trainers and rollers take up roughly the same amount of room (with rollers needing a bit of space at the sides to let you wobble around). Some people like to have both, using turbo trainers for fitness and rollers for bike handling, skills and high cadence efforts.

No matter which one you choose, turbo trainers and rollers are both great tools for keeping up and building up your fitness without leaving the comfort of your own home or garage.

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