Turbo trainers v rollers

Indoor trainers are a brilliant way to maintain and improve your fitness. In the comfort of your own garage or kitchen, you can run an intense workout that will help you to burn fat, supercharge sprints and improve your climbing.

If you’re in the market for an indoor trainer, the choice is between a turbo trainer and a set of rollers. There are fans of each, and both have plus points that set them apart – but just how do you choose?

In our turbo trainers v rollers advice guide we explore the differences between these two types of indoor trainers that will help you make the best choice for you and your bike life.

What’s the difference between turbo trainers and rollers?

Indoor trainers can be split into two basic camps: turbo trainers and rollers. Within this crude categorisation there’s lots more you’ll need to know, but let’s begin with the basics.

Turbo trainers

Turbo trainers hold your bike upright and provide some form of resistance as you pedal to simulate road conditions. Some apply resistance directly to the rear wheel, other types of turbo trainer such as direct drive turbo trainers, resistance is provided through the rear cassette.

There are different types of turbo trainer, including magnetic turbo trainers, fluid turbo trainers, air turbo trainers, smart turbo trainers and direct drive turbo trainers.

We don’t delve too much into the details here, but you can learn about how the different types of turbo trainers work in our turbo trainers buyer’s guide video. There’s even a handy video to help you.


Bike rollers are made up of three metal or plastic cylinders (or rollers) in a frame. Your bike balances on top of the rollers instead of being held in a fixed position as it is on a turbo trainer. This means you’ll have to balance yourself as you pedal, just like you would when riding along.

Turbo trainers and rollers both have their own specific advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll explore below.

Turbo trainers

Turbo trainers are generally the most popular type of indoor trainer, with brands such as Elite leading the way. They’re really simple to use, and there’s nothing to learn when it comes to riding them – you can just get on and go.

Turbo trainers can be cheap too, with the entry-level Halfords Bikehut Turbo Trainer coming in at just £50 – around the cost of a month’s gym membership.

Here are 10 things you need to know about turbo trainers.

  1. You just pedal – your bike is fixed to the turbo and raised off the ground, so there’s no steering or balancing to worry about.
  2. They’re easy to use. Just fit your bike and pedal away - without going anywhere, obviously!
  3. It’s very hard to fall off a turbo trainer that’s been correctly set up (unless you’re deliberately trying to).
  4. All turbos include some form of resistance to your pedalling, which can be adjusted to provide more of a workout.
  5. It’s easy to train at specific intensities on a turbo trainer. If you’ve got a training plan to follow, this can be really handy.
  6. Because they don’t really take much concentration to ride, it’s also easy to watch TV or other entertainment while you’re riding. This can make long indoor training sessions less of a slog.
  7. Most turbo trainers fold up, which makes them easier to store in your garage or home.  
  8. If you’re using a turbo trainer that applies resistance to your rear wheel, you should use a special turbo tyre. If you use a normal road tyre, they will wear out quickly.
  9. Many riders have a cheap wheel that they use solely for use on the turbo. When they want to ride indoors, they can easily swap their road wheel for their turbo wheel, which is fitted with a hardwearing turbo tyre.
  10. If you’re using a direct drive turbo (where you remove your rear wheel), then there’s no tyre to wear.
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Bike rollers

If you’ve ever been to a bike race, you’ll see riders warming up on rollers. As well as providing rolling resistance, bike rollers demand more skill of the rider as you need to stay balanced on your bike and the rollers as you apply some speed.

Your bike simply sits on top of the rollers. You climb on the saddle and start to build up some speed. Starting to cycle on a set of rollers is easy, but staying upright takes some 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 10 things you need to know about bike rollers:

  1. Because you have to balance and steer, riding on rollers is much more like riding outdoors.
  2. Rollers can help you to develop your bike handling and core strength without having to go out for a ride.
  3. Racers like rollers because you can shift your weight around, replicating out of the saddle climbs and end-of-race sprints more effectively than a turbo trainer can.
  4. You’ll normally see much less tyre wear on rollers compared to a turbo trainer, so you can leave your normal tyres on your bike without worrying.
  5. You can – and probably will - fall off your rollers. If you’ve never used them before it takes a little bit of practice to get comfortable, and it’s normally best to start off with your rollers set up in a doorway or hallway to give yourself something to nudge against if you need to straighten back up.
  6. Because you actually need to concentrate on riding, training on rollers demands more attention than a turbo ride. If you’re starting out, focus on the rollers and not on a tv screen, tablet or mobile.
  7. Most rollers don’t usually have resistance. To up the intensity, you’ll need to change to a higher gear.
  8. Riding rollers is a steeper learning curve than a turbo trainer, but the pay-off is a whole-body workout that’s arguably more like riding on the road than a turbo trainer.
  9. Rollers can normally be folded up, but they’re still bigger than a turbo trainer, so consider where you’ll store them.
  10. While you can use online training programmes such as Zwift with rollers, it’s more difficult to set up than a direct drive or smart turbo trainer.
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Turbo trainers v rollers

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 and going in a straight line, then a set of rollers can help your bike handling over the winter.

Both types of indoor trainer will provide a healthy work out if you’re prepared to put the effort in.

Get interactive

If you’re looking to use your indoor trainer with one of the many indoor training apps, such as Zwift, Trainer Road and Sufferfest, then a smart turbo trainer is the simplest option. 

The Elite Zumo Smart Interactive Turbo Trainer is easy to connect to training apps and will provide the most reliable data. You can use non-smart turbos and rollers with training apps, but you’ll need to fit a compatible speed and cadence sensor that can connect with your app, or use a bike equipped with a power meter.

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Rollers or turbo trainer

When they’re set up, both turbo trainers and rollers take up roughly the same amount of room. You’ll need a little more room either side of your rollers for safety, particularly if you’re just starting out.

There’s no reason why you can’t have both. Some riders like a turbo trainer set up in house or garage and a set of rollers they throw into the car for pre-race warm-ups. There are no rules, just what works for you.

No matter which one you choose, turbo trainers and rollers are both great tools for maintaining and improving your fitness levels. To get the best out of your training, you should follow a structured plan that works on your weaknesses and sharpens your strengths.

If you’re looking to invest in a new turbo trainer, check out our turbo trainers buyer’s guide video. You can find our entire range of turbo trainers and rollers online, with free delivery if you spend over £40.

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