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    Should I use rollers or trainers?  
    I have a friend who swears by rollers. It forces smooth riding skills or you end up in the wall in the other room pretty quickly (or at least perform amazing faceplants in an instant).

I have used magnetic resistance units, as you can force hill simulations or run wide open spin fests on them. Best to add a computer with cadence and a powerful electric room fan though.

Mine is a rear wheel mount unit, rollers actually have some appeal to me. The roller is a wider circumference, has a more tractable surface (steel rollers on the rear mount units squeal and shave tires pretty fast unless you put ungodly force on the mount).

Don "I'm too chicken to try a true roller set" Bolton "BUGAAAAWK"

I bought a wind trainer that uses a fan, mainly because I got a good buy on it. It works well, but I suspect the magnetic type would be quieter. I used it a lot when I first started out. I gave me seat time and helped me develop my spinning technique. You control the load by using different gears. A word of advice; don't try to stop the wheel quickly with the brake. The wheel stops and the trainer keeps spinning for a bit, grinding a notch in your tire. Need you ask how I know this?

Phil Ford

The type of trainer I use would require an act of God to fall out of. It uses a triangular frame on each side of the rear wheel, a roller mounted on an adjustable pivot, and an axle "thumbscrew" (you crank this closed on the ends of your axle. (can cause some scratching on the QR ends)).

It requires you elevate the front wheel about an inch to keep your bike level.

The contact with the rear wheel occurs behind the wheel and leverage is ONLY applied via an adjusting knob on its pivot. So your contact area and weight are not governed by body weight or placement, its predetermined by your adjustment.

OK, now the fun part. On a real ride you kind of hobble up and down as you ride down the road because tires are rarely exactly round. You don't really notice this effect until speeds in excess of 50 mph which we rarely do. However, the trainer doesn't allow the bike to ride up and down, so in order to compensate for points of lighter contact, you tighten down the adjustment.

This has an adverse effect, the resistance effect is harder and depending on the roundness of your wheel/tire, could create "easy spots" in your pedal stroke. If you have enough tension so that you can't slip the wheel (i.e. a sudden loss of resistance in your pedal stroke) then you are at the point where you want. You may still get a squeal at each point of maximum pedal leverage. This will go away as the tire surface cleans off and things heat up. Too much tension makes it hard to pedal and sometimes causes jamming in the magnetic resistance unit. (lunging the wheel backwards on the roller frees this up) Trust me you'll hear this if it happens to you.

If you have easy spots in the pedal rotation you will get excessive tire wear at these points. I fried a tire this way during a bike fitting session < 1/2 hour.

Mine uses a nylon web strap between the front and rear ends of the triangle. YOU MUST USE THESE ON A HARD SURFACE! My strap has a nice swath burned out of it from my rear wheel rubbing it when I set it up on carpet once. I use a small section of plywood to support my stand on carpeted surfaces now.

Don "oops gotta run, its meeting time again" Bolton


Rollers are a terrific way to train during the winter months. The advantage that rollers have over other trainers is that you maintain (if not improve!) your balance, improve your form and work more muscles than you would on any stationary bike.

But they require a little learning first! And the learning curve is steep! Once you get past it, though, they're cake. 1) Try starting out with pedals with clips. You know, the pedals that you don't clip into. With a toe bail and a strap. The toe bail will help you pull up through the pedal stroke, thereby smoothing it out. "But Eric," you say, "Clipless pedals do that!" Well, yes, but pedals with a bail and strap are easier to get rolling with when starting out - i.e., you save precious milliseconds because you don't have to search for the pedal to clip in. 2) Until you can start and stop reliably, ride in a doorway (of the pedestrian type – a garage door is a little to wide for most people). If you start to loose your balance, you can grab the wall. Heck, you can hold the wall while you get speed up and the bike becomes more stable. The heavier your wheels are and the faster the they spin, the more stable the bike becomes. 3) Make sure the wheelbase of the rollers is _longer_ than the wheelbase of the bike! Well, unless you want to roll off the front of the rollers...

Rollers force you to relax, ride smoothly and be light on your hands. And they're a great party trick.

Eric Rutz

A good way to get started on rollers is the position the rollers in a hallway, that way you have two walls to steady yourself while you learn to ride them.

Jim, it worked for me, Morrow

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Most definitely! I personally preferred the doorway into my bedroom over the hallway for three reasons:

1) the doorway is narrower,

2) I could grab the doorframe (rather than just leaning against a wall - this caused my wheels to slide away from the wall I was leaning on), and

3) facing into the room, I had a bigger area in which to land! ;-)

There's certainly a large dose of personal preference. Anyone else have tricks for riding rollers? Like how to reach the remote, grab a beer and make popcorn without leaving the bike?

BTW, Jim, where'd you find rollers big enough for a tandem? Must be tough gettin started...

Eric Rutz

I agree with Eric and others that rollers are better cycling training devices than the kind of trainer that holds the rear wheel and has a flywheel attached to a squirrel cage fan or magnetic drag. I have two sons who have rollers, and they wouldn't use any other type.

However, being the unbalanced ol' fart that I am, I cannot, repeat CANNOT stay vertical on @%#^%&*!)&(+#^ rollers. And, I have skid marks on my workshop floor where I drove off the side several times, even as I held on to my workbench with one hand. I even went so far as to attend a PWTC sponsored roller training. Big mistake: my instructor held the handlebars with a death grip (_his_ mistake), and I tipped over sideways like Artie Johnson from "Laugh-In" on his tricycle. I got a 6" x 12" black and blue spot on my thigh for not graduating from roller training.

I finally GAVE MY ROLLERS to the Good Will people (without knowing that Eric could/would have used them)

So today, I use the rear wheel variety.

Which brings up another raging controversy:

Which is better: a magnetic drag or a wind drag? Don't ask me why, but my recollection is that the wind drag is supposed to be better. Something about the exponential forces of a squirrel cage fan being a better simulation of a hill than is the magnetic drag. You couldn't prove it by me. I had a magnetic drag on my rollers, and have a wind drag on the rear wheel trainer. They can both be tuff to make go.

The primary downside of the wind drag is that it is noisy. I do not find it _that_ bad, but some people have big time trouble with the noise.

My old rollers had a cable driven remote adjustment which moved the magnet relative to the flywheel. I could change the drag from the handlebars. I would like to be able to do that with the trainer, but have not seen one which had such an adjustment. Therefore, I have to adjust the drag before I get on the bike, making it a good simulation of starting your bike up on a steep hill. Hmmmm. Maybe that is not bad training either.

Curt Coleman

Just to define our terms.

Rollers are a three drum contraption that you actually have to balance on.

While trainers or wind trainers are the devices that you attach to the bicycle. Trainers allow you to ride without having to worry about balance or falling. Both devices can use various resistance methods like wind fans or magnetic units to increase the workout intensity.

Rollers on the other hand, don't simulate riding, like a trainer. You actually have to ride your bike, balancing and all, just like you would be on the road. Rollers are to bicycles like tread mills are to walking.

Also with rollers quality is VERY important. The drums on cheep rollers will go out of round (or be out of round to start with). Given that the drum will spin many times per wheel revolution that means that your wheels will be bouncing up and down at high frequency. As the drum roundness degrades so does the ride quality of the rollers, including higher noise levels, balancing and riding a straight line get harder too. I highly recommend Kreitler Rollers @ They have been around for eons and are know for their quality. I bring this up because I've owned low quality rollers before. Those rollers were a waste of money, and since all rollers are relatively expensive it pays to do your homework. Unfortunately I currently don't own a set of rollers.

Tips for riding rollers

As an additional note on trainers: You should be aware that trainers hold the bike in a non-natural way, i.e. clamp at the bottom bracket or rear axle. This can place stress on the bike that is different from the normal stress of riding. It's not much of a concern if you have a sturdy bike, but its something to consider for very light weight bikes.

Mike "I haven't ridden rollers in way took long" Buondonno

In addition to this, I believe it was the old Klein Bicycle web site where Gary Klein wrote that the trainer put enough stress on the bike to actually damage the tubes. Just something to consider.

Jim Morrow

This is why my trainer has just under 2300 miles on it so far this year [posted on 11/15/99]. (well OK, that and my obsessive compulsive personality).

Trainers suck! But with a cadence monitor, a strong fan, and a goal (or set of goals) for each session they are just what the doctor ordered.

Don "what rain?" Bolton

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Wow!! Over 2000 miles on your trainer this year!

That's why I have an remotely adjustable fluid drag trainer that I can mount the 'bent on. Now, I can use all my instrumentation to watch speed, distance, cadence, heart rate, and best of all, altitude gain or loss - all while I sit back and alternate between watching TV and reading route maps to be sure I don't get lost.

I heard today that people should workout at least an hour per day. Even though the reference was to weight control (which I must do anyway), I expect such a work out is a good thing for muscle tone maintenance too.

I now have a new goal.

Curt Coleman

Go for it! I rolled 2460 miles so far for the year on my *trainer* this AM.

Set resistance, gear, and cadence goals. Plan sessions with intervals, others with pyramids, still others with endurance (i.e.: how long can I pedal resistance "X" in gear "Y" at cadence "Z" without pausing?), simulate hills (max resistance max gear at appx. 50 rpm cadence (I even have a large aerobic step to set the front wheel on to give the bike a proper climbing angle))

Mix-n-match, create little games with yourself, it's almost fun :-)

Today I spun at 95-100 cadence at a (53/21) drive ratio on a "slight incline resistance" for 15 minutes. Dropped into a 53/19 ratio at a 90-95 cadence for 15 minutes.

Then set the resistance to max, threw the bike into a 53/15 ratio at a cadence of 45 to 50 for 20 minutes *nonstop*. (Using the bike to simulate a leg press.) (Don't do this more than twice a week.)

Finished back in the slight incline resistance on a downside pyramid running 53/15 @ 75-80 rpm for 5 min, 53/17 @ 80-85 rpm for 5 min, and 53/19 @ 90-95 rpm for 5 min.

My legs feel like hamburger right now:-) Its GREAT!

Sessions almost always run longer that my initial plan. Getting started is the really sucky part.

Don "going nowhere phast" Bolton

I use a Blackburn MX-6 mag trainer. It was redesigned and replaced several years ago by the MX-7 which I haven't tried. The "6" has seven resistance settings while the "7" has 4.

I'm *REAL* interested in the Cat Eye CS-1000 which you clamp your fork in as well. It has resistance (variable on the fly) settings to simulate up to a 10% grade. In the recent issue of Bicycling mag it had the widest range of resistance settings and offered the highest resistance (by a large margin).

It got downgraded in their test due to poor portability issues. In my case however, I've a permanent trainer bike set up so this is fine with me.

I have run the "bolted" type trainer for going on five years now, I've yet to have a frame go bad from that. However I've been running steel frames on the trainer and with a lifetime replacement warranty from the manufacturer, at worst I get an upgrade if I break it.

Don "rollers scare me a little" Bolton

I went to Bridge City Bicycles, yesterday, to look at the Kreitler rollers. The Challenger has 4.5" rollers, and will work with their "Killer" headwind trainer. On the Kreitler website, the have a set called Dyno-myte, that have 2.5" rollers. The blurb with the Dyno-myte set said that the USA team trains on these, because they give a linear load. I assume that is because of the smaller diameter rollers. The cost of the smaller rollers is about the same as the Challenger set with a fan. Am I right in thinking that the Dyno-myte set would work better, since I can vary the effort with my gearing?

Phil (only 2500 miles to catch Don B) Ford

At the same time I asked on the email forum, about rollers, I emailed Kreitler. They answered today. The essence of their reply is in this quote:

To clear the air about either of the Myte models, if you are not in TIP TOP condition, the Mytes (Dyno or Poly) will eat your lunch in a New York Minute!! On the other hand, the 3" drum models (Dyno & Poly Lyte) will provide enough work load for a rider in TIP TOP condition to achieve aerobic as well as anaerobic levels of exercise. The other option is the Challenger with the "KILLER FAN". The Challenger w/fan option will provide a lighter load and also a heavier work load than either the Myte or Lyte.

They answered my questions in the first paragraph. As far as being in TIP TOP condition, I feel that I have achieved the T in TIP, only it's lower case.

Phil (going for the upper case T) Ford

There is a trainer (not rollers) on sale at Performance which has a fluid drag. I have my wife's TE mounted on it and ride it every week day. It is MUCH quieter than a fan drag, and a better load than magnetic, having had both.

Curt Coleman

I bought a set of Kreitler Rollers, the Challenger model, with a Killer headwind fan. What an experience! I have only ridden on them twice, for a total of about 20 minutes, but it certainly a different world on rollers. The advice about starting out in a doorway should be considered gospel for someone of my limited abilities. I expect to have worn the paint off the door jamb by the time I am ready to fly solo. I do like the fact that I have to keep balance and steering in control while riding, it is much more like riding on the road. A very muddy road, when the bike pivots around its vertical center and the rear wheel slues out some. It is manageable, just different.

Phil Ford

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Krietler Rollers

Not much to look at; part of the beauty of rollers is their simple construction; just a metal frame (mine folds in the middle for easy storage) with 3 aluminum drums (one in front and two in back) connected by a rubber "chain". The size/construction of the drums is the most important feature; aluminum is the best material, larger drums are easier to ride on than smaller ones. You balance your back wheel between the two rear drums and put your front wheel on top of the front drum and away you go. I use a step stool to get off/on and place the bike near a stationary object so I have something to grab onto if needed. You can "fall off" the rollers if you're not concentrating on what you're doing, but its not as scary as it sounds.

Linda Moreland-Hooker

I have a Blackburn Mag trainer that I have had a good experience with. I had to make the notch bigger to go over the wider quick release mechanism but it has in excess of 2k miles on it and seems to not be wearing out. I have done most of my saddle development on it...(on/off, fiddle with something, on/off, on/off, on/off...) It sure beats the old style from wayback.

Jim "seen too many trainer miles" B.

I too have a Blackburn Mag trainer. My third one. The older style trainers had narrower frame and the quick release holder didn't fit over most quick releases. Their Mag unit had seven resistance positions adjustable via a side mounted dial. Shifting these were a challenge but they were bulletproof.

Enter progress. After 5 years of use the frame got rusted, the nylon strap frayed. I bought one of the new improved models. Better frame, clamp fits quick release. Mag unit POORLY engineered. It lasted a year almost to the day and yes they replaced the entire unit no questions asked, but my new one is already sounding like a radial engined aircraft.

There’s a collar assembly that rides on a single notch in and out as you slide the adjuster. This adjuster pushes (or releases), the collar onto preset positions along the spindle to add/reduce magnetic resistance. The retaining notch and the sliders groove are both plastic. When new, the unit is silent and smooth. As these components wear against each other they oscillate and sound like the aforementioned radial engine.

I know this one is on the road to destruction within a few months of full use. (200 or greater miles per month).

The older style resistance unit does slip on the new frame, but it is getting "tighter" as it ages and I fear it will seize on me at some point, but it is quiet and does offer resistance levels the newer style units don't.

I.e.: old unit max gear/max resist I can sponge out a 50 rpm cadence against the resistance and maintain that for strength development. On the new unit I can spin 90 to 100 cadence in its max gear/max resistance ‘till my heart pounds out of my chest. It has nowhere near the resistance the older unit has.

I'd start asking reputable bike dealers about the longevity of these things, how they are made, etc. Try them out in the shop, do they provide you with the ability to simulate a hard hill?

The Blackburn for the most part is well engineered and they do stand behind it, but if you are serious about using it, it won't last all that long.

Let me know what you find as I'll be needing a new trainer before the year is out.

Don "churn-em and burn-em" Bolton

I use a fluid resistance Volare Elite. It is strongly built and easy to set up. Bicycle Magazine gave it a good rating a couple years ago.

Steve Heim

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  Page Last Updated: Jan. 20, 2003  
    CyclingSite > CO Collected Wisdom > Training > Rollers & Trainers  

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