Unlike turbo trainers, rollers keep you fit while helping you to develop your core strength and pedalling style. Rather than being fixed in place, you’re rolling freely over a set of drums which requires you to develop your balance and bike handling skills. These days some models are even able to use magnets to generate some resistance as well (though not as much as a turbo trainer will). Ultimately they’re a great way to train indoors and build technique while emulating the feel of riding a bike on the road.
There are four common types of rollers: conventional, resistance, hybrid, and smart.
Conventional rollers are the most basic, consisting of two round drums at the back, and one at the front. You need to balance while you ride them, and you’ll manually adjust the resistance by shifting gears.
Resistance rollers are nearly identical, however they have the ability to vary resistance, aside from simply shifting gears. These offer a great indoor workout, and are a great option if the base resistance of conventional rollers isn’t enough for you.
Hybrid rollers sit somewhere between the two types previously mentioned. These usually consist of two free-moving drums at the back, and one immobile drum at the front. This means you need to remove your front wheel and have your fork fixed in place. They make a great option for beginners who aren’t comfortable with the balancing needed for conventional rollers.
Smart rollers can connect to your laptop or smartphone using Bluetooth or ANT+ to sync up power readings and resistance settings. It also allows for more immersive training, using apps like Zwift, where the rollers will change resistance to suit the course you’re virtually riding.
Now we’ve covered the different types of rollers available, here’s our guide to help you choose the right set for your needs, followed by a list of our top picks.
When thinking about the roller design, the main things to consider are: the drum shapes, the materials they’re made from, and their size.
The drum shape will either be uniform (i.e. a straight cylinder) or parabolic (i.e. raised at the edges). Parabolic drums are designed with the larger diameter at each end in order to keep your bike in the centre and stop you from rolling off the edge.
The size of the drums will play a role in the amount of resistance they create too. The larger they are, the lower the resistance, which allows you to keep your cadence high without a lot of effort. A smaller drum, on the other hand, will create more resistance and are perfect if you’re doing intervals or sprint warm-ups.
Generally drums tend to be made out of alloys like aluminium, or a hard plastic like polyethylene. Again, these will have different parts to play in your training. Aluminum rollers are more durable, and tend to be smoother, easier rolling, and quieter. Plastic rollers, on the other hand, tend to wear through tires more quickly, and can’t be used outside.
Generally you shouldn’t need to worry about your bike not fitting on most bike rollers, since they tend to feature wheelbase adjustment. However, not all rollers have this function, and it can be trickier (or impossible) to accommodate more unusual bike sizes. Therefore we always recommend you measure the wheelbase of your bike to make sure it will be compatible with whichever rollers you choose to buy.
Portability and packability
It’s always worth bearing in mind the size of the rollers, whether or not they fold down into a smaller size, and how easy they will be to store in your living space. Plus, if you’re likely to be taking them with you to warm up for events, then you’ll need to invest in a set that’s easy enough to carry around.
Some conventional rollers, especially aluminum ones, will have no packability whatsoever, whereas plastic rollers are more likely to be foldable for easy storage. These generally tend to be lighter as well. Overall, the most compact rollers tend to be hybrids, since they lack the third drum at the front.
Bear in mind, since foldability and packability or an additional feature for some rollers, you should expect to pay a little extra for that convenience.