In a world of direct-drive (ie, remove your back wheel) smart trainers, Wahoo has changed the game by introducing a smart roller trainer that allows you to keep both wheels on your steed as you ride indoors.
If you haven’t heard of “rollers” before—as they’re commonly referred to—traditional rollers are two pairs of cylindrical metal drums at the front and back of a metal rectangle. You place your front wheel and back wheel on each pair of rollers, balance against a wall to mount your bike, and then stay upright on the rollers thanks to your continued pedaling and centrifugal force. If you stop pedaling, you fall down.
Wahoo challenged the “dumb” roller model and enhanced it: adding connectivity and “smart” features along with only using a single pair of drums for the back wheel while locking the front wheel in place. Hence, no falling down.
Rollers are known to improve pedal stroke efficiency and to offer a realistic road-feel. But in this market of direct-drive trainers, can the Wahoo ROLLR find its place? Read on to find out.
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Wahoo ROLLR: The Basics
The Wahoo ROLLR has all of the smart trainer features we’ve come to expect from a connected-friendly trainer for $800.
The ROLLR is ANT+ and Bluetooth friendly, allowing users with bike-mounted power meters to easily connect to the trainer. We used a Stages crank arm-mounted Bluetooth-enabled power meter when testing and had no issues with connectivity. It was extremely easy to pair the power meter with the trainer – once pedaling was initiated, the power meter immediately synced with the trainer and the Wahoo app. But to be clear, many smart trainers the ROLLR does not have a power meter built in—you must supply your own.
The ROLLR also easily pairs with your favorite third-party training app such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, or Wahoo SYSTM. One of the big draws of rollers is their road-like feel thanks to an unconstricted back wheel. The slight undulation of the back wheel on the rollers only adds to the virtual reality riding experience. If you close your eyes—you really feel like you could be riding outside!
Lastly—and perhaps—most importantly, the ROLLR was extremely easy to set up, much more so than this reviewer experienced with any direct-drive trainer. The ROLLR comes in a massive box, which makes it seem intimidating, but upon getting all the pieces out, the rider only needs to secure two screws and place the trainer near an electrical outlet in order to start riding.
Wahoo ROLLR: Breaking Down The Features
As we mentioned before, the ROLLR takes the good parts of traditional roller trainers (easy setup, great road-feel) and leaves out the bad (steep learning curve, high risk of falling off).
The ROLLR has two sleek-looking drums where the 10.5-pound flywheel sits, as well. This is where your back wheel will rest. The drums begin rotating as you pedal and otherwise stay in place (no rotating if you pick up the trainer). The best part? The two cylinders are whisper-quiet. And not “oh this direct drive trainer won’t make my neighbor as mad” quiet. Like practically silent. You could easily watch TV at a normal volume while riding the ROLLR.
In order to secure your front wheel, the ROLLR has two beds where your front wheel makes contact with the trainer. Once your wheel is placed in these rubber-lined holders, the rider then secures the front wheel by fitting the quick-release gripper where the wheel and bike frame meet. The quick-release lever can be adjusted to the width of your wheel, making it easy to accommodate a variety of wheel sizes and bike types. Plus, the ROLLR has an adjustable length controlled by a lever that allows you to size the trainer to fit the length of your bike.
Storage-wise, the ROLLR could be better, and we’ll get into that shortly. The mechanism that secures the front wheel can be folded down so that the trainer lays mostly flat, but it still checks in at nearly five feet long.
On the app side of things, the ROLLR’s resistance can easily be manipulated via the Wahoo app. If you have a third-party power meter or Wahoo’s new POWRLINK pedals, all it takes is a simple sync to get your ride data uploaded into an app such as Garmin connect, TrainingPeaks, or whatever tracking app you use.
Wahoo ROLLR: The Good
On a personal note, I am a big fan of rollers and have used a “dumb” version of them for a long time. They improve pedal stroke efficiency, and in my opinion, have the most realistic outdoor feel of any trainer. Suffice it to say, I was very excited to test out a smart version of my beloved rollers.
Immediately, I was impressed by how easy it was to set up. As mentioned, it arrived in a nearly four-foot-high box and I felt a sense of dread at how many pieces might be inside to assemble. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find just three when I dug in: the drums and flywheel, the front stability piece, and the electrical cord. Two screws later and I was ready to ride.
It was also extremely intuitive in terms of how to put the bike on the ROLLR. There is also a quick start guide that explains everything, but even without that, it would be hard to mess this one up. You leave both wheels on (no more fussing with your chain and derailleur!) and simply secure the front wheel with the quick release mechanism.
I was initially skeptical of the quick release mechanism (and am not entirely in love with it—read on to find out why) and how well it would actually secure my bike. I found that it held up quite well, allowing me to even do some standing accelerations while still feeling stable on the trainer.
The ROLLR, as predicted, has an excellent outdoor riding feel to it. Your back wheel will move back and forth slightly—just enough to replicate how the wheel would move when put to pavement and the smoothness of the ride is greatly dependent on you developing an efficient pedal stroke, which using a roller-type trainer all but forces you to do.
Lastly, while you can certainly use the ROLLR with the Wahoo app when plugged in, its drums also work on “manual mode” and will still reflect the gearing of your bike even when not electrically connected. In this sense, you could technically bring the ROLLR with you and use it as a pre-event warmup tool, even if there aren’t electrical outlets available.
Wahoo ROLLR: The OK
The ROLLR will likely feel quite different than a direct-drive trainer—and that’s intended, but doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
For starters, there is no ability to use a steering component with the ROLLR due to the front wheel’s locking mechanism. While the back wheel’s slight movement still gives that road-feel we all crave, there is no turning or steering simulation available with this trainer.
Others may not like that the ROLLR, like any set of rollers, requires a good bit of focus on honing your pedal stroke. An inefficient or “mashing” type of pedal stroke will make your ride on the ROLLR feel jerky and not very fun. On the flip side, if you’ve been looking for a way to improve pedaling efficiency, the ROLLR could be the ticket.
The quick-release aspect of the trainer is something I go back and forth on. I like how easy it is to secure your bike and adjust the quick-release based on type of tire and bike. However, I’m not entirely sold on the idea of clamping something to my wheel. We all know crazier things have happened—but if you lose your balance on say, a standing climb, and tip your bike, I would be concerned about snapping my wheel or a spoke on my wheel. There’s also no guidance provided on how tight the quick-release should be. Obviously, it needs to be tight enough to prevent any movement, but how tight is too tight? I didn’t find any information there.
Finally, we need to talk about storage and transportability. While the ROLLR lays much flatter than any direct drive trainer, it measures at almost five feet long when folded up, with no way to be compressed further. This could be a great opportunity to slide the trainer under a bed or couch, but it is still heavy enough that hanging it on a wall or picking it up to constantly move it elsewhere for storage is a real pain.
Plus, who wants to transport a five-foot-long heavy piece of equipment? Very few people. This trainer is ideal for those who have a dedicated spot for their indoor riding and rarely need to move it.
Wahoo ROLLR: Conclusions
The ROLLR took a tried-and-true way of riding indoors and upgraded it fantastically. ROLLR makes using rollers safer, more dynamic, and fun. Plus, for roughly the price of a KICKR, you can buy both the ROLLR and Wahoo’s Powerlink pedals in one package ($1400) or save yourself a pretty penny and just purchase the ROLLR for $800.
For those who hate messing with their chain, cassette, or thru-axle, the ROLLR is an excellent solution thanks to its both-wheels-on technology. An even bigger bonus is that for those who frequently move between indoor and outdoor riding, leveraging the ROLLR means no changes to your bike are needed to go from pain caveat to the open road.
But for those who enjoy pairing their indoor riding experience with steering and climbing technologies, the ROLLR all but eliminates that ability due to the front wheel being held in place. Plus, there’s little guidance on the specifics of how tight the quick release should be against the wheel, and if there’s ever a situation where a rider might want to position the quick release elsewhere on the wheel (as opposed to right against the frame).
All in all, the ROLLR is a great deal for those looking to get the outdoor riding experience from the comfort of their own home while still enjoying all the connectivity features of a smart trainer—without burning a major hole in their tri budget.