Bike Trainers vs. Rollers – Which One to Choose? (2021 Guide)

Wheel-on and direct-drive bike trainers vs. Rollers

In this comparison of bike trainers vs. rollers, you find out their advantages and disadvantages. I will explain them in-depth to help you decide which one is the right choice for you.

I also answer some FAQs that people ask before buying trainers and rollers.

Spoiler alert: One is not better than the other – it depends on your needs!

Let’s dive in.

How to Choose Between a Bike Trainer and Rollers?

The best way to decide whether to buy a bike trainer or rollers is to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are your motivations and capabilities?
  • What do you want to improve (e.g., sprints, endurance, pedaling technique)?
  • How much time do you have?
  • Do you need an interactivity element?
  • What is your budget?

Let me give you an example. Rollers probably won’t be the best option if you want to improve your sprints for criterium races because they are not suitable for riding out of the saddle and don’t provide as high resistance as bike trainers.

If we take a closer look at the performance improvements, there are few studies comparing rollers and bike trainers. However, this study showed that training on rollers led to better results in a 10-km individual time trial.

Does it mean you have to get rollers to improve your performance? No. The above-mentioned study also confirmed that bike trainers also improve performance.

You have to consider your needs and compare them with the pros & cons explained below. But don’t worry, I will guide you through.

Pros & Cons of Bike Trainers vs. Rollers (Summarized)

The following table summarizes the advantages & disadvantages of bike trainers and rollers. I explain them more in detail in the subsections below.

 ProsCons
Bike Trainers• Easy to ride (beginner friendly)
• Suitable for rides out of the saddle and high-intensity intervals
• High resistance
• More sophisticated trainers can adjust resistance based on a training app
• More difficult to set up
• Cheap models are very noisy
• May hurt your pedaling technique
• Possible bike compatibility issues
Rollers• Easy to setup
• Affordable (price similar to low-end direct-on bike trainers)
• Relatively quiet
• Portable
• Improve pedaling technique, balance, and top-end cadence
• Better engagement of core muscles
• Compatible with almost any type of bike
• Take time to get used to (not very beginner-friendly)
• Require a lot of concentration
• Not suitable for rides out of the saddle
• Limited resistance

Riding Experience

Beginners may experience hard times on rollers because they require constant focus and keeping your balance. I remember my first time on rollers. It was so difficult not to fall. It took me a few rides to gain some confidence.

PRO TIP: Place your rollers in a door frame or near a wall so you won’t fall during your first attempts on them.

Thanks to the stability of bike trainers, they are much more beginner-friendly. They are also better for long, endurance workouts exceeding one or two hours because you don’t have to focus on stability all the time.

You likely last longer on a bike trainer because they are not as demanding in terms of concentration as rollers.

Resistance

One of the main differences between bike trainers and rollers is resistance. Especially high-end trainers can offer much higher resistance (2000W and more) than rollers or rollers with resistance. This makes them ideal for riders who want to improve their strength or train sprints, for example.

Rollers with resistance offer resistance levels of around 400W, but they are not suitable for riding out of the saddle due to their nature. The resistance is too low, and only skillful riders can keep their balance when sprinting out of the saddle on them.

Price

One of the main pros of rollers is their affordability compared to mid-range and high-end bike trainers. You can buy high-quality rollers (without resistance) for less than $200 and those with resistance for around $400.

For comparison, the prices of budget (wheel-on) trainers start at around $100, mid-range around $400, and high-end direct-drive trainers can easily exceed $1000 (check out the table below).

Price rangeTrainer
Up to $300Low-end wheel-on bike trainers
Rollers
$300-500Smart wheel-on bike trainers
Rollers with resistance
$500-1500Direct-drive bike trainers
Above $3000Bike simulators

Portability

Bike rollers are more portable than bike trainers. They are usually foldable, taking up less space than a bike trainer. This is a huge benefit for people with limited storage space.

Direct-drive (and also some wheel-on) trainers are much heavier and less portable. This is also one of the reasons why some riders prefer rollers for pre-race warm-ups.

Bicycle Compatibility

While rollers are compatible with virtually any bike type (their length is adjustable), bike trainers may not be compatible with your bicycle due to different attachment mechanisms and axle standards.

Make sure to double-check whether the bike trainer is compatible with your bike or whether or not you need special adapters. Find out how to choose a bike trainer in my guide.

It is also worth noting that knobby MTB tires are noisier than road tires on rollers and wheel-on bike trainers.

Third Party Apps Compatibility

With the increased popularity of indoor cycling apps, people like you are looking for the best solution for their indoor workouts.

Smart and interactive bike trainers are better for use with training apps like Zwift, ROUVY, RGT Cycling, etc. Thanks to their stability, you can focus on your training intervals and rest when needed.

Zwift App Design
Zwift – one of the most popular indoor cycling app
Rouvy App Design
ROUVY – augmented reality cycling app
RGT Cycling App Design
RGT Cycling – virtual roads inspired by the real-world

Furthermore, rollers cannot adjust the resistance based on the training app so that you won’t get the interactivity element as with bike trainers. This makes bike trainers a clear winner for one hour plus workout sessions or virtual races.

Riders prefer rollers for shorter, high-cadence workouts focused on improving their pedaling technique.

Riding on rollers also feels more natural because the bike moves as if you were riding outside. This is not possible on a fixed trainer*.

*There are so-called trainer platforms that move with you and the trainer, improving the overall riding experience. You learn more about them in the best bike trainer accessories article.


Bike Trainers vs. Rollers FAQ


Conclusion

Based on the comparison of benefits and disadvantages of bike trainers vs. rollers, I came to the following conclusion:

Buy a bike trainer if you:

  • Want to train sprints, endurance, or hard intervals.
  • Want to participate in virtual races.
  • Want to relax on a bike while spinning your legs.
  • Require the interactivity element with 3rd party indoor cycling apps.
  • Have enough storage space for a trainer when you don’t use it.
  • You have a bigger budget.

Get rollers if you:

  • Want to improve your pedaling technique, core strength, and stability.
  • Don’t have too much space and time for longer workouts.
  • You need portable companion for pre-race warm-ups.
  • Don’t mind the lack of interactivity element.
  • You have a limited budget.

I hope this article was helpful for you. Will you choose a bike trainer or rollers? Let me know in the comments below.

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