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Bike Rollers Review – Top 5 Smoothest List for Jan. 2020 with Buying Guide
One member of the Groom+Style review team begged off of this assignment, saying he has enough trouble making it to the bathroom in the middle of the night without falling. He had no interest in trying to stay upright on the most difficult-to-conquer equipment for indoor cycling.
He had a point. Bike rollers deliver a terrific workout, while letting dedicated cyclists work on their form and balance in a manner that’s remarkably similar to the experience of road riding. However, rollers are also notoriously hard for beginners to master because (in most cases) the bike isn’t anchored to the rollers. For a novice, it’s somewhat like climbing onto a log in the middle of a lake to try log rolling for the very first time. The resulting tumble is pre-ordained.
Having the right bike roller, though, can ease the transition from a resistance trainer. There are many options for both beginners and long-time riders; some are even built for easy transport to outdoor courses for pre-ride warm-ups and cool-downs. We’ll be explaining how to choose the right models for your experience level, and then listing Groom+Style’s reviews of the top 5 best bike rollers. Climb on board for the ride.
How Indoor Bike Rollers Work
Bike rollers allow you to ride your own bike indoors on a stationary platform, and they are pretty simple devices. A frame holds two round drums in the back and one in the front, with the front cylinder connected to the middle one by a belt. The belt ensures that the front wheel of the bike balanced on the rollers will spin as pedaling drives the rear wheel.
Most bike rollers don’t provide any way to attach the bike to the device. You simply place it on top of the rollers, get on board and ride – while trying to maintain balance on the spinning cylinders without falling. That’s why using this equipment is more challenging than attaching your bicycle to a bike trainer or riding a traditional stationary exercise bike. There are a few bike rollers which do offer methods to secure a bicycle to the device; the review team has included one in our rankings.
Pros and Cons of Bike Rollers
Rollers, trainers and stationary bikes all provide excellent cardiovascular and core/muscle workouts. Rollers, however, have the added benefit of helping riders develop balance. In turn, that means a better workout for leg muscles, because you have to pedal faster to ensure the bike stays upright. Bike rollers also train riders to control their upper bodies in order to maintain stability during the ride, and their realistic road feel leads to improved riding mechanics. Finally, using rollers encourages greater focus on your workout; you can’t watch TV, read or even become distracted when on bike rollers, since that’s a prescription for a nasty fall.
There are other major advantages to rollers. They preserve your bike and its rear tire, since the rollers’ lower resistance doesn’t create excess wear on the tire, and you don’t have to deal with a quick-release attachment clamp and lever which can scratch your bike frame or break. They’re easier to set up and take down because you don’t have to attach your bicycle to them. And the ride on bike rollers feels extremely authentic, which is why so many professional riders prefer them for training.
There are disadvantages to consider, though. We’ve already discussed a big one: bike rollers are tougher to use than trainers until you become proficient at balancing on them. That creates a big challenge for novices. A second issue is that most rollers don’t give you any way to adjust resistance other than changing gears, unlike trainers which let you simulate hill climbing and other conditions simply by increasing resistance. A few models do allow you to add resistance, but expect to pay more for them.
Only one or two units are smart bike rollers which can Bluetooth all of your workout details to your phone, tablet or computer for review and analysis; connectivity is usually only found with trainers and stationary bikes. Finally, not everyone wants to work out with the single-minded focus required by riding on rollers. If you want to multitask while riding indoors or just coast for a while to get your wind back, a trainer is a much better choice.
Key Features of Bike Rollers
The first consideration to look at is the diameter of the rollers. If you’re looking for high resistance for your ride, a smaller drum size will be the right choice. New riders or those who prefer a ride that’s a bit easier will want bigger rollers.
The majority of bikes will fit on the majority of bike rollers, thanks the prevalence of wheelbase adjustment features. However, some can’t be adjusted and won’t accommodate unusual bike sizes, so it’s important to make sure your bicycle will work with the rollers you choose.
If you’re a new rider, some models include a fork stand for the front wheel to help with stability and balance (you can also buy standalone fork stands separately). Other features that can help as you become acclimated to your bike rollers are parabolic drums that hold the wheels centered, and built-in step stools to help you get on and off.
Rollers weigh less and are easier to carry around than bike trainers, but some are lighter and more convenient than others. This can be particularly important if you have a small home or apartment, or plan to take your bike roller with you to a race for warm-ups.
That covers the key factors – so it’s time to mount your bike and get rolling with Groom+Style’s top 5 best bike rollers reviews.
1. Kreitler Kompact Challenger Rollers With Alloy Drums And Poly End Caps
For decades, Kreitler has been the gold standard in the bike roller industry. Their products feature top-notch materials and construction, they’re constantly being improved, you can choose drum size for their high-end machines based on your needs and experienced level, and all of their bike rollers are backed with a lifetime guarantee. You’ll pay for that quality, though. A top-of-the-line Kreitler Kat 1 Training Station, with the manufacturer’s terrific add-on options, can easily run you $1000.
That’s why we’ve decided to rank a lower-priced Kreitler model as Groom+Style’s #1 choice. The company’s Kompact Challenger Rollers aren’t cheap, but they come in at less than half the price of the Kat 1 Station and come complete with a matching frame. (Many vendors sell Kreitler rollers without the frame because the rollers are so terrific; be careful when you shop.)
You can choose 15-inch wide drums that are either three-inches or 2.25-inches in diameter, with the smaller rollers providing more resistance and a better workout. The Kompact Challenger can accommodate bikes with wheelbases from 38 to 42 inches.
The Challenger’s drums are aluminum, the frame is strong steel, and everything is made in America. One reason these bike rollers are lower on the Kreitler price ladder, though, is that they use end caps made of polycarbonate material instead of the stronger all-alloy caps featured on the company’s eponymous (and more expensive) “Alloy” model rollers. These poly caps don’t weigh as much, but you’ll sacrifice some momentum and they’ll need to be replaced after a few years. Adding Kreitler options like a headwind fan or weighted flywheel will wear out the caps even more quickly (and void the warranty).
You won’t find better bike rollers than Kreitlers. The ride of the Kompact Challenger is extremely smooth, stable and quiet, and the lightweight Kompact frame folds up easily for transport. This is the best affordable option the review team has found.
Facts and figures for the Kreitler Kompact Challenger:
SUMMARY: For the person who wants Kreitler-quality bike rollers without paying a fortune.
PROS: Exceptional quality for the price, smooth and stable ride, choice of drum size, lifetime warranty.
CONS: Poly end caps provide less momentum and can wear out, particularly with use of accessories.
The Kinetic Z is significantly lower-priced than any of Kreitler’s bike rollers, yet they still deliver great performance with the added benefit of folding up smaller than any mainstream competitor for storage or transport. That’s possible because the unit is built as a tri-fold instead of the more common bi-fold; when it’s completed folded it measures just 21 by 20 inches.
The large aluminum rollers are 3.5 inches in diameter and a little less than 15 inches wide, so they don’t provide an enormous amount of resistance as you pedal, but with premium steel bearings, they’re quiet and quite durable even though they’re lightweight. This bike roller is adjustable, to fit bikes with wheelbases between 38 and 43 inches. The ride is smooth.
The Kinetic Z isn’t the very best choice for beginners, but the combination of a grooved frame (left and right) for mounting and dismounting, easy assembly and the larger drums definitely make it a more approachable bike roller for moderately-experienced riders.
More details on the Kinetic Z Rollers:
SUMMARY: For the person who wants an easily-transportable bike roller that performs well.
PROS: Tri-fold design for easy transport, smooth ride, grooved frame, durable.
CONS: Relatively-low resistance because of larger rollers, not meant for beginners.
3. Elite Arion Mag Home Trainer 2016
If you’re new to bike rollers, hopefully, you’ve read this far and haven’t been discouraged yet – because the Arion Mag is a good choice for those ready to make the switch from a traditional bike trainer to rollers. (We don’t know why Elite has named this unit a “trainer,” but trust us, it’s really a bike roller.)
This Elite (we’ll look at another of their models shortly) costs a little more than the Kinetic Z, but its design is more friendly for beginning or less-skilled riders. The parabolic-shaped plastic drums keep you from riding off the sides of the unit, while they help keep you centered and steadier than traditional cylindrical rollers. There’s also a built-in step to make it easier to get onto and off your bike.
An unusual but great feature of the Arion Mag is that there are three magnetic resistance levels to choose from (you have to get off your bike to change the setting), so you can start with low resistance as you grow accustomed to the bike roller, and dial-up to high resistance for a tough workout once you’re ready.
It’s a lightweight and foldable machine, the plastic rollers reduce noise and static electricity, and the experience is solid for moderate- to-smaller-sized bikes.
The combination of parabolic rollers and three resistance levels make the Arion Mag a very good choice for beginners that can provide increasingly-difficult challenges as time goes on.
Looking deeper at the Elite Arion Mag Home Trainer 2016:
SUMMARY: For the person who doesn’t have much experience with bike rollers and wants a quality model.
PROS: Three resistance levels, parabolic rollers for an easier ride, lightweight and foldable.
CONS: Not as challenging for experienced riders, resistance levels aren’t extreme, large bikes may not fit.
Not only is this another good choice for those new to these machines, it’s the least expensive model on the Groom+Style list of the top 5 best bike rollers. The plastic parabolic rollers work in the same way as the Arion Mag’s, keeping the bike centered and preventing the rider from slipping off one side or the other during the smooth ride.
What makes this Tacx unit a little different is that it includes a Skyliner front wheel support which elevates the wheel to a normal riding position, steadying the bike and making novice riders feel safer as they learn to navigate rollers.
That makes it harder to build up momentum, though, so if you want to sprint or pedal while standing the review team recommends moving up to the Tacx Galaxia for an extra $70 or so. The Galaxia has a unique suspended chassis and drums which slide back and forth to absorb some of the bike’s motion as you ride.
The Anteres isn’t quite as well-built as the models we’ve listed above it; you may notice some screws loosening or rollers squeaking after it’s been in use for a while. However, it’s definitely several steps up in quality from the under-$100 bike rollers that may tempt beginners.
The Groom+Style team believes the Tacx Antares is the best bike roller for newbies and for smaller budgets.
Specs for the Tacx Antares Rollers:
SUMMARY: For the person who is new to bike rollers, or has a limited budget but still wants quality.
PROS: Good for beginners, front wheel support, parabolic rollers for an easier ride, lightweight and foldable.
CONS: Build quality slightly lower than top-rated models, difficult to build momentum.
5. Elite Arion Digital Smart B+ Trainer
You’ll pay nearly twice the price of the Arion Mag (similar and reviewed earlier) for this baby, but it’s an automated and fully-connected smart bike roller that serious riders will love.
The magnetic resistance levels are electronically controlled depending on your choice of course or type of training, slopes can be simulated up to 6% – and it has complete Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity. That lets you send details on speed, cadence and power to apps or programs on any compatible phone, device or computer (except for Garmin Edges). The Smart B+ also comes with a one-year subscription to Elite’s training app.
The Arion Digital Smart B+ is much more bike roller than most people need. The people who do need it, however, know exactly who they are, and they’ll love it.
A closer look at the Elite Arion Digital Smart B+ Trainer:
SUMMARY: For the person who is serious about training and wants a smart bike roller.
PROS: Electronically-controlled resistance with 16 levels, full-connectivity and built-in training programs, high-quality.
CONS: Expensive, too much machine for most riders, requires a compatible app/device for full functionality.