Spin, roll, or ride the trainer: What’s the best choice?


It’s serious winter and Tracy and I are both spending lots of time on our bike trainers. It’s new to both us. Yes, I’ve done lots of winter things before–see Seven winter cycling options–but until this year I’ve never regularly used a trainer.

You can read our posts about time on the trainer:  Orange is the new bike and Cold snowy nights and hot yoga and sweaty trainer sessions and Winter’s Here: My 2015 Basement Cycling Tour. Obviously it’s been on both of our minds. I’m hoping for a much better spring and a much faster start to the cycling season now I’ve been using the trainer. Here’s hoping it’s worth it.

I also have rollers. And I’ve been taking the odd spin class too. I’ve also been getting emails from friends and new cyclists– Hi Susan!–about the advantages and disadvantages of each way of staying bike-fit over the winter. Here’s a quick run down on what I love and don’t love about each activity.

Spin classes

Love: The music, the energy, time flies, very sweaty, feels great, and the studio is one block from my house. See more advantages, Boost Your Fitness with Spin Classes.

Don’t love: Lots of the people aren’t cyclists, lots of the moves actually aren’t that relevant to bike performance (not your classes, Cheryl), the seats (ouch!)

Cost: $15/class but with a discount for multi-visit passes, cheaper at a regular gym with classes than at a special spin studio


Love: You work on cadence, balance, smooth pedal strokes. Requires a lot of concentration and effort. Never boring.

Don’t love: It’s not meant for big interval efforts or pedaling in big gears. Also there’s a steep learning curve in terms of stopping and starting and getting on and getting off. Scares my dog!

Cost: Your bike + $300 (approx). Here’s mine.



Here’s my favourite how to video:


Love: It’s my bike. I like riding with some of the same friends on the trainer as I ride with outside in the nicer months. Love the intensity of the interval efforts. I’m really working on high cadence (which is something I’m not great at). Like being able to track my workouts on the Garmin.

Don’t love: It’s really tough to do on my own.

Cost: I bought a fluid trainer, the Qubo Fluid Elite. Mine came from ebay for about $300 but MEC sells them for $400. I also pay for trainer classes with a cycling coach a couple of times a week.


Trainer or rollers?

“If you want to work on spinning technique and base fitness, go for rollers.  If you want variable resistance workouts that require lots of power, go for a trainer.”

Which is best trainer versus rollers, read more here.

 Trainer versus spin classes?

 On the trainer versus spin classes:  See

“The second advantage to riding your own bike on a trainer is that you can get a better workout. Spinning bikes operate on a large front fly-wheel that keeps the pedals going around. When you stop pedalling, the fly-wheel continues to turn, providing a coasting effect that you don’t get on your trainer. When you ride your bike on a trainer as soon as you stop pedalling, the bike stops, the power stops and the cadence stops. There’s no “coasting,” which makes the workout harder.”

Indoors or outdoors?

For me, there’s no question. As soon as it’s warm enough you’ll find me outside. But there are training advantages to indoor riding that I try to remind myself about during our cold and snowy winters.

Here’s Want to get faster? Ride Indoors

“Even if you live in a completely flat area, when you’re riding outside you inevitably have the opportunity to coast every now and again to give yourself a bit of a break. That doesn’t happen during indoor rides. While some high-end trainers have motors that allow you to simulate downhills, most trainers will force you to work throughout the ride. The consistent effort is one of the factors that makes indoor training more efficient. Like running on a track or riding in a velodrome, the conditions are also very consistent, allowing you the opportunity to do test sets and gauge your progress. (A time trial ride outside, for example, might be affected on some days by wind conditions. A trainer workout won’t be as susceptible to that.)

There are also fewer distractions when you’re training inside. Heading out for a long ride and chatting with a buddy or group of friends can take a lot of time, but you might not be getting as much out of the workout as you could. Putting your head down and hammering for an hour on the trainer might give you more bang for your buck.

The most famous proponent of that strategy is American IRONMAN champ Andy Potts. For Potts, riding on a trainer promotes high-quality training. He doesn’t have to deal with stop lights, traffic or other riders—he can focus completely on the workout at hand and get the most out of his time on the bike. Since he finds his indoor training works so well, he only rides outside during races.

Surprisingly, he’s hardly alone on the pro front when it comes to almost-exclusive indoor training. Meredith Kessler is another multiple-IRONMAN champion who rarely rides outside—typically once every couple of weeks unless she’s racing or at a training camp. Much of Kessler’s training is done while teaching indoor classes at a bike studio in San Francisco.”

In the end the indoor training that’s best is the one you actually do. What’s your strategy for staying bike-fit over the winter?

I confess I do love the pretty pictures my Garmin gives me of my indoor rides. Spot the sprinting drills and the perfectly times efforts. See how speed and cadence and heart rate all match up! Outdoors, it’s never that neat and tidy.


6 thoughts on “Spin, roll, or ride the trainer: What’s the best choice?

  1. I love my rollers for recovery rides or working on skills. It’s great for longer sessions on a weekend when you miss the club ride due to weather or whatever. The turbo I use for the properly hard, head down and PLF interval sessions! It’s good to have both, but if I had to choose one it’d be the turbo trainer as when used well it’ll get you fitter and stronger faster.

  2. Your post is inspiring me to turn to my trainer more, and not worry about spin classes so much. I agree with you about the time, energy, motivation from being with others, and music. But the spin instructors at my new gym (where I play squash!) are clearly not cyclists, and their workouts have nothing to do with bike training. Fair enough, but it’s not for me. Just FYI for trainer types: I found a great site for music playlists for various trainer workouts; there’s something for everyone here:

    My favorite spin instructor of all time– Jonathan Malone, who teaches in Boston, and used to road and mtb race, has his own site, which is a bit old, but has some nice playlists here:

    I’d love to hear what you’re both listening to on trainer workouts; I can share some of my favorites, too.

  3. I remember my dad and brother using the rollers in our basement growing up. We had a trainer too, and I hate to say this, but I was too chicken to try the rollers and stuck with the trainer. Almost 20 years later I still don’t use rollers, but I’m the only one of the three who still really rides.

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