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Many people use rollers rather than trainers when riding their bike indoors. Can you use rollers with a mountain bike?
To use an outdoor bike as an indoor exercise bike, you need a trainer or rollers. Trainers hold your bike in place to let you you pedal without moving. Rollers are similar, but don't hold your bike in place, so you have to keep your balance.
Yes, you can use rollers with a mountain bike, as long as the rollers fit the bike's wheels. Rollers work just as well for mountain bikes as for road bikes and city bikes. Rollers prepare you for real trail conditions better than trainers do.
Trainers are better in some ways - they are safer and more likely to let you adjust the resistance. However, trainers keep your balance for you, which makes them too easy. Rollers are a challenge and the best practice.
Since it is cold and snowy in the winter where I live, I use my mountain bike indoors to stay in shape. I like rollers better than a trainer when riding my mountain bike inside.
Stationary Bikes Can Be Too Easy
When you are riding a mountain bike off-road, it is bumpy, because of the rough and uneven ground. This is part of the challenge and part of the fun. You have to try harder to ride a bike along a trail than to ride a bike along the smooth pavement.
You also have to ride up and down hills on a mountain bike or a road bike. You have to pedal harder when going uphill, this is part of the challenge.
With a stationary bike, you sometimes feel like you are pedaling on flat, smooth ground. This is too easy and doesn't prepare you for riding outdoors. You also won't get in shape nearly as fast if it is too easy.
Many People Use Both Stationary Bikes and Outdoor Bikes
While I love mountain biking on the open trails, I still have rollers to use my mountain bike as a stationary bike. Sometimes, if I don't have a lot of time, I ride my mountain bike at home, not on the trail. Riding at home on a trainer or rollers is also great if the weather is poor.
Training at home is like practice for riding outdoors. If you are training for riding on open trails, you should not feel like you are riding on smooth, flat pavement.
What Are Rollers?
Rollers are metal drums that replicate the experience of riding outdoors. If you are riding on metal drums inside, you have to keep your balance like you would on the road.
A lot of rollers also add resistance to your stationary bike, making it harder to pedal. This will replicate the challenge of mountain biking and make you perform better on the trail.
Rollers Compared to Bicycle Trainers
Trainers are very stable, so some people prefer them to rollers. Beginners are often better off with trainers. Riding a bike indoors with a trainer is easier, and you can adjust the resistance to simulate a difficult ride.
Rollers, on the other hand, are designed to be unstable. No device attaches to your back wheel and holds it in place. You have to keep your balance on your own while riding with rollers.
Why to Use Rollers With a Mountain Bike
Using rollers and raising the resistance is a challenge and is good practice. Rollers are particularly important for mountain bikers because you have to pedal harder on the rough trail than on pavement. Keeping your balance is also harder on a bumpy trail.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Rollers
Since you pedal on metal drums/cylinders with nothing holding your bike in place, it is slightly dangerous. If you let the bike go too far in one direction or another, you will fall off your rollers. On the plus side, this will build your balance better than a trainer.
Not all rollers let you increase the resistance. While you can easily find rollers that let you increase the resistance, many rollers do not offer this. Trainers are better for building your strength than rollers with no way to set/increase the resistance.
There are three different types of rollers you can try:
- Standard rollers, which are the cheapest. They have three metal cylinders, with two cylinders going under one wheel and one under the other.
- Clamp-on rollers, which can be better for mountain bikes. They fit bikes with small 20-inch wheels or large 29-inch wheels. Get them if you want adjustable rollers for bikes of different sizes.
- Tire rollers are slightly more complicated things that you mount your bike inside. They are good for larger bikes with wheels over 26 inches.
Reasons to Use Rollers
Rollers can make you better at mountain biking. If you don't have time to be on the trail all the time, you should use rollers to train indoors.
With rollers, you have to ride straight - you won't be able to move the pedals otherwise. This prepares you for real trail conditions.
If you live in an area where there's a few months of snow every year, like I do, rollers are a great tool. You can keep your mountain biking skills up and stay in shape over the winter. Some people gain weight and lose muscle in the winter, you can avoid this with indoor exercise.
Rollers Teach Bike Handling Skills
When you are riding, it is hard to pedal in a straight line because your weight shifts around. If you use rollers, you can learn to overcome this and ride straight while outdoors.
Rollers also make you more confident about your abilities. If you see a big hill coming up on a trail, you might worry that you will run out of momentum and won't make it up to the top.
If you train with rollers with adjustable resistance, you won't fear the hills. You will see a big hill on a rough trail and know you will make it to the top without slowing to a halt.
Rollers Get You In Shape
Mountain biking is a strength and endurance sport. If you train with no rollers during the cold months, you might find your stamina lacking when the warmer weather comes back.
If you train with rollers, you will make your muscles strong and tireless. You can also work your heart and lungs harder with rollers. Rollers can make your bones stronger, too, as all strength exercise can.
Having muscles not only makes you stronger but is good for your health, too. If you have muscles, it is easy to stay fit and not gain weight. Muscles make you burn calories at rest, plus the risks of many serious health problems are lower if you are stronger.
Rollers Let You Focus Purely On Power
On the trail, you have to focus on avoiding big bumps, avoiding obstacles, and turning. On an indoor bike with rollers, you only have to focus on pedaling against resistance. This will sometimes strengthen your legs even more than riding outdoors.
Do Rollers Have Any Disadvantages?
Rollers are not for people who lack the leg muscles to train with rollers. A lot of the time, a completely untrained cyclist has strong enough legs to train with rollers. However, not everyone does - you might have to strengthen your legs for a while before you can use rollers.
Some people have health problems and have to be careful when cycling. If you have bad knees, hard cycling may be too harsh, and you may have to stick to light cycling without rollers.
Cycling might cure your health problems, but it could also worsen them. Talk to your doctor if you aren't sure how much physical activity you can handle. Possibly, you should start slow and work towards harder activity.
Rollers Don't Quite Simulate Road Conditions
Real trails are bumpy and uneven. Rollers don't simulate these conditions that well. They replicate the difficulty of riding up trails and of riding along the rough ground, but they don't simulate the bumps. Therefore, they don't train you for real trail conditions all that well.
Outdoor Cycling is the Most Fun
Many people including myself do both indoor and outdoor cycling. This is what I recommend - you should have an outdoor bike and a trainer so you can use them indoors. Riding inside with rollers is great exercise, but it's not as much fun as a real trail.
Your Bike Can Fall Off the Rollers
One of the worst things about rollers is that you can fall off your bike if you aren't careful. If you aren't used to riding a bike indoors with a trainer at all, try without rollers first.
Rollers can make your bike wobble. If you aren't prepared for this, you might fall off your bike.
However, riding a bike with rollers becomes easy and safe after a bit of practice. You don't have to worry about falling off if you do this right.
Rollers Have to Be the Right Size
Your rollers have to be just the right size for your wheels or they won't fit. Be careful when you buy rollers, as you will have to return them if you pick the wrong size.
Rollers Are Not Easy to Transport
You also have to be careful when transporting your rollers to another location and setting them up again. This is is a small flaw and not any reason to avoid using rollers. Rollers are worth the disadvantages including the small safety risks.