Bicycle Rollers Explained: How To Ride Your Bike On Rollers + The Pros & Cons

Ultra-endurance racer Robbie Ferri gives you the low down on bicycle rollers

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

Indoor training has exploded in popularity in the past decade.

Among the array of bicycle trainers available for indoor cycling, bicycle rollers stand out. Unlike stationary trainers, rollers offer a naturalistic riding experience that improves core stability, balance, and bike handling skills.

Many cyclists are intimidated by the obstacle of learning to bike on rollers. While it’s true that it can feel a little awkward at first, you can get the hang of it surprisingly quickly – and once you do, many cyclists find they much prefer rollers to a turbo trainer.

In this guide, we’ll be covering:

A Garmin bike-on roller on an orange background.
Credit: Garmin

What Are Bike Rollers?

Bicycle rollers are a type of indoor cycle training system. Instead of your typical turbo trainer, these rollers have three wheels that sit on the floor, and you put your bike on top of them, giving you the ability to cycle while staying completely stationary.

They are commonly used for indoor riding at home. You will also see them used for warm-ups and cool-downs at races and track events. To start with, rollers can be challenging to use as they require a certain level of confidence and balance that needs practice. 

Major manufacturers such as Garmin (as TacX), Wahoo, and Kreitler all have a range of bike-on rollers available across a variety of price points, depending on the features required.

Some rollers are fairly basic, and you use the bike’s gears to generate resistance. Others have adjustable resistance, and you can even get “smart trainer” versions with controlled resistance and even power meters to connect to apps such as Zwift and TrainerRoad. Some also include Bluetooth or ANT connectivity.

Some also include a frame to hold the front wheel in place, which can make the bike trainer easier to get to grips for beginners but negate some of the benefits of the naturalistic ride feel.

Fun fact: Bike-on rollers have been discovered to have been used as long ago as 1901, making them one of the oldest bicycle training and testing systems available.

Cyclists on rollers during a publicity tour for a race series in Australia, c. 1925.
Cyclists on rollers during a publicity tour for a race series in Australia, c. 1925.

How To Ride Your Bike On Rollers

Riding bicycle rollers can take a little time to get used to. Unlike riding a bike outdoors, you are not held up by the momentum. Here’s our step-by-step guide to riding rollers.

Step #1. Setup

The first step you need to take is to get set up. You will want to find a good place for your rollers that sits next to a solid object you can lean on or support yourself with. I personally like to use a wall or a cabinet, positioned on the side I unclip my pedals from first.

Then, you will want to adjust the front roller so it sits just in front of the front axle. The last thing you need is to jump off the front and go riding out the door. Then, I personally recommend starting with regular shoes until you feel confident enough to use clipless pedals.

Top Tip: Using a mat under your bike on rollers makes riding more comfortable and much quieter!

Step #2. Get In Position

Next, you are going to need to get into position on the rollers bicycle training system. Get the bike on the rollers with feet on either side. You will then want to put your foot on the pedals or clip in on the side away from the support.

Hold the handlebars with one hand, and then while using the wall for support on the other hand, slowly bring your foot up onto the pedal, ready to start going. 

Step #3. Ride

Next, start pedaling. Start slow and pick up speed. It’s important to remember the quicker you pedal, the more stable the bike will be – but don’t go crazy with an ultra high-cadence pedal stroke as it could set you off balance.

Once you feel confident, you can start removing your hands from the wall and holding on to the handlebars with both hands. Focusing on one point in front of you while riding makes staying upright much easier. 

Step #4. Dismount

When it comes to dismounting, it’s much easier than you might think. The first step is to stop riding and let the bike freewheel. At this point, you will want to learn on your support wall.

Don’t touch the brakes. Let the wheels slow themselves down naturally, then unclip your foot by the support wall. You will then be able to unclip the other foot and then jump off the rollers bicycle training system.

A cyclist wearing red and white cycles on and indoor roller.

The Pros Of Bicycle Rollers

Bicycle rollers have a lot of pros. For indoor training, they are a great way to stay in shape. Here’s the benefits.

#1. More Realistic Riding Experience

Riding rollers gives you a much more realistic riding experience than being on a turbo trainer. You can lean the bike side to side in climbs and sprints, and also, it’s not like you can let go of the bars and sit back.

#2. Great For Technique

Riding on a set of rollers is much harder than on a turbo trainer. It requires balance and focus, and you are utilizing much more of your core and stabilization muscles in the process. This goes a long way to improving technique and making riding outdoors much more natural.

#3. Cheap To Buy

Rollers, compared to modern turbo trainers, are much cheaper to buy. You can get an all-singing and dancing smart roller system for around $350, while basic models can be much cheaper, whereas you struggle to find a direct-drive turbo trainer for that kind of money.

#4. Easy Storage

Rollers are fairly easy to store for their size. They often fold up and can be put into very small spaces. It’s good for small space living compared to some turbo training setups. 

#4. Easy And Fast To Set Up

One of the biggest benefits of rollers is that they are super easy to set up. You unfold them, grab your bike, and go. With other training systems where wheel changes are required and sometimes even cassettes, it’s a super time saver.

A cyclist using their bike on rollers in their living room.

The Cons Of Bicycle Rollers

Up until now, rollers sound amazing. Before you go and buy a set, let’s talk about some of the cons. Here’s what you need to know.

#1. They Are Tough To Learn On

Learning how to use rollers takes time, and it also takes a lot of confidence. I personally didn’t enjoy rollers at first because I used to worry about falling off, and it took me a while for it to feel natural.

#2. Resistance Can Be Challenging

A lot of rollers require you to create resistance by using your gears. So, the higher your gear, the tougher it is to pedal.

Some options, such as smart rollers, can fix this issue, or many cyclists add resistance units to make it tougher without needing to be in the highest gear.

#3. They Are Often Noisy

If you are working at a high gear, they can be very noisy as the wheels are turning so fast. This makes it very difficult for many people living in apartments or house share situations.

#4. Not Always Ideal For High-Intensity Workouts

Roller workouts at high intensities are much harder than you might think. Not only can it be challenging to focus on huge power and keep upright, but you must also ensure that you can still pedal no matter how tough the sprint you just did was.

Are Bicycle Rollers For You?

Bicycle rollers are a lot of fun, and they give such a lovely feel like you are out on the roads. They have the ability to work more muscles and are fantastic for helping you keep focused and balanced throughout your workouts.

They are cheap to buy, and many work with the top applications, like Zwift. Rollers can teach you a lot about how important core work is when it comes to cycling, and once you get over the learning curve of getting used to them, they offer a sense of freedom a turbo trainer doesn’t.

Rollers are not for everyone, though. They are tough to get used to, and for many, they require a lot more concentration and come with more risk of falling off.

My turbo trainer setup at home.
My turbo trainer setup at home. © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Bike Rollers Vs Turbo Trainers

As a very experienced cyclist who does a lot of training indoors, although rollers are fantastic, I am personally more of a fan of my turbo trainer. Training indoors is about switching off, digging into the legs, and not worrying about staying upright.

It comes down to the experience that you want to have. Some people love the intensity and the feeling of rollers. When that’s not for me, it doesn’t mean it’s not for others. I train with many pro cyclists who choose rollers over turbo trainers. 

Either training system will get you on the bike and riding through times when the weather is too challenging outside. Most cyclists opt for a turbo trainer just because of safety and simplicity.

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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