It's getting to that time of year now when newer riders may be thinking about the merits of investing in an indoor trainer. Less daylight, slippery roads plus the possibility of black ice mean that many riders will looking at either a turbo trainer or a set of rollers to keep the legs ticking over. But which is the "better" option?
I've spent a few years using a turbo trainer and last year invested in a set of rollers, so have spent numerous hours spinning away going nowhere atop of both. Here's my two cents on how they can benefit your riding.
Let's get this out the way. Your first go on rollers will be HARD! It feels like you're riding on an ice rink and you'll probably be thinking you'll never be able to let go of the doorway you've perched yourself between. But persevere and you'll reap the rewards.
Master the rollers and it will do wonders for your bike handling skills. Just riding them is a skill in itself, then there's the challenge of one handed riding, taking a drink, no handed, one legged, standing (I haven't mastered all of these) or even cooking an omelette like Siri Minge of Team Hitec!
I mainly use my rollers for two types of sessions. Indoor recovery rides where you can keep the effort level in check; and high cadence aerobic interval sessions focussing on bike handling. Rollers will make you a smoother and more able rider, although not necessarily a stronger one. You can get rollers with built-in resistance levels, but I have no experience of these. Rollers are also great for just "getting in the miles" indoors over the winter as you're less likely to get bored riding one. If your mind does wander, you might just fall off!
There's no denying that when used effectively, a turbo can knock you into shape pretty damn quick. The downside is that you need to be incredibly motivated to keep using one month after month!
I have a basic mag-resistance model that I strap the TT bike onto. Some people can knock out hours and hours of steady state on a turbo, not me though, I find that mind numbingly boring. This is an area where virtual reality turbo trainers can help a lot. Riding a virtual tour stage in your garage can ease the boredom somewhat.
For me though, it's all about out-and-out, head down, lung busting, Watt crushing, leg destroying interval sessions of no more than an hour. Big gains in minimal time! It's hot and sweaty work but the results are well worth it. One caveat though, riding a turbo will do nothing for your bike handling skills. In fact it may even blunt them. While a turbo undoubtedly helped me increase my power output, it taught me to do so by mashing on the pedals as hard as possible with little interest in form.
Note that you'll also need a fan to keep you cool, a towel to mop up sweat and a riser block for the front wheel (a thick book or block of wood will suffice).
The choice between rollers or a turbo comes down to what you want to achieve over the winter and of course your budget. Ideally you'd have both and be able to use them to target different aspects of your training. Overall the turbo trainer has probably done the most for my fitness and power, but the rollers are great for aerobic capacity, perfecting your form and are without a doubt much more fun to use! In a nutshell then...
A turbo trainer taught me to hammer.
The rollers taught me how to dance.
Middle Ringer can be found most winters in a dimly lit shed, drenched in sweat and gasping for air. He also writes on his own blog; The Tempo Cyclist.
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