Wahoo Kickr Rollr review: A more natural indoor trainer

Wahoo is a company that likes to innovate and invest in new product types, and the Kickr Rollr joins the Climb and Headwind on that same path.

It's not the first powered roller to hit the market (the Elite Nero debuted 2 years prior to the Kickr Rollr), but it is the first hybrid that clamps the front wheel in place and allows novices to ride without feeling the fear of toppling off - something that anyone who has tried them will have experienced.

But innovation does often come at a cost. Does Wahoo strike the right balance here, or is this one trainer you should avoid?

We've been testing in order to find out.

Setting up

  • Dimensions: 80 x 30.5 x 147.5-170cm
  • Weight: 23kg
  • Flywheel weight: 4.8kg

Out of the box, you can't help but notice the fact the Rollr is not a small piece of equipment. It consists of two long pieces that fit together to create one long, thin frame, and is about the length of your bike. Screwing these two pieces together is a 30-second job and is about as difficult as the setup gets.

The front piece then slides backwards or forward to allow your rear wheel to sit on the rollers and the front wheel to rest in the supports. At the front end is a frame that unfolds up, and into which you clamp your front wheel, a little like some roof-mounted bike carriers. Unfortunately, this system means that the Rollr is not compatible with the Wahoo Climb, unlike all the other trainers in its line-up.

For storage purposes, that front piece can be folded back down so that the Rollr is only about 20cm high. We could see this being helpful if taking the Rollr for a pre-race warm-up, though its length, even when broken back down into two pieces, could be an issue for some people.

Because your wheel stays on with the Rollr, there are no compatibility problems caused by different axle types or drivetrain manufacturers. You'll be able to fit pretty much any of your road/cross/gravel bikes with 700c wheels to it and use it as long as they have a power meter attached, but, due to the minimum/maximum wheelbase, Wahoo says that most mountain bikes and smaller bikes (e.g., 650b wheels) won't fit. Of course, this limits both the market and the appeal.

If you are swapping the same bike on and off, as we were mostly during this test, it takes 10 seconds at the most to put your bike on and tighten the front wheel clamp, then you're ready to go. There's no faffing around removing your back wheel and getting grease on your fingers here - it really is a cinch.

The Rollr itself is easily identifiable as part of the Kickr family, with its matt black finish, grey detailing and chevrons on the flywheel and dark blue lettering. It has the familiar feeling of solidity that you get with the brand, too, which leaves you feeling securely planted when riding. With that said, it does make the Rollr less portable than some people may hope - especially if they are intending on taking it to use for race warm-ups. If that sounds like you, know that it can still be used as a normal set of rollers without a power source, providing up to 450 watts of resistance this way.

The Rollr does not have a built-in power meter of its own, and instead relies on you to connect to a power meter on your bike to measure power and adjust the resistance as a conventional smart trainer does. We asked Wahoo why they had decided to design the Rollr in this way, and they explained that the decision was two-fold. Firstly, it has become more common for bikes to be sold with onboard power meters or for cyclists to buy their own power meters so they can measure their efforts on the road, track and trail. By using these, cyclists were getting consistent power measurements across their indoor and outdoor training and there is no need for the Rollr to measure power.

The second reason is due to the design of the Rollr. With gravity and the rider's weight holding the rear wheel in place on the rollers, rather than the clamp through the axle that you would find on traditional wheel-on or direct drive trainers, there are too many variables to provide accurate power measurements. For cyclists who don't yet own a power meter, Wahoo is selling a bundle with the Rollr and its new Powrlink Zero Speedplay pedals at a slight discount, though they only offer the single-sided option, rather than the dual-sided, at the time of this review.

Of course, Wahoo wants you to register and set the Rollr up via their app, and this is worth doing to ensure you're running the latest firmware. At this stage, the app takes you through the process of linking the Rollr with your bike's power meter (it is compatible with most ANT+ power meters), which is a quick and painless process. Once this one-off task is done, the Rollr will remember your power meter, automatically connect in future, and they will act as a smart trainer with its resistance and functionality working in harmony with your power meter as if it were one product. You can also use the Wahoo app to do some limited training, but most people will be linking up to third-party apps such as Zwift to ride with.

The Rollr will 'only' provide up to 1,500w of resistance, which is noticeably less than many smart trainers on the market. It can also only simulate an incline of up to 10 per cent, whereas many trainers will replicate a 20-25 per cent gradient. It's worth putting both of these sets of numbers in context, though. We only just managed to top 900 watts for a couple of seconds in testing - and even the best amateurs are going to struggle to hit 1500 watts, so we don't really see this being an issue.

In Zwift, Alpe du Zwift climbs at 8 per cent (the 7.6 miles it goes on for providing plenty of challenge), and, apart from that, the steepest climbs are only very small sections rising to around 15 per cent which you will only actually experience that if you manually change your Zwift trainer difficulty settings to 100 per cent, rather than leaving it at the default 50 per cent difficulty, which automatically halves any gradient that you are on.

Riding the great indoors

  • Resistance type: Electromagnetic (can produce 450 watts resistance without power)
  • Max power output: 1,500 watts
  • Max simulated grade: 10 per cent
  • Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth

We tested out the Rollr with Zwift, Trainer Road and Wahoo's Systm (previously known as Sufferfest). Connecting the Rollr is easy; it's discovered by the software and you connect via Bluetooth or ANT+ as you would for any trainer.

Once inside the apps, the Rollr really comes into its own. We found that the difference in ride feel was immediately obvious, with the natural lateral movement allowed by the free back wheel providing a far more realistic and pleasurable ride experience than any fixed wheel or direct drive trainer we had ever ridden.

The longer the ride, the greater the benefit we felt, with rides of over an hour feeling far less fatiguing. We experienced shorter recovery times, too, and didn't suffer the same level of tightness in the hips the following day that a rigid setup can cause. Free and group riding on Zwift are where the Rollr excelled, responding to the rolling terrain well and feeling closer to the open road than we've had on other trainers.

Using Trainer Road and Zwift's workouts, we found that the Rollr required us to make more gear changes to find the correct power level in ERG mode, as the smaller flywheel and non-fixed back wheel/axle meant that it couldn't compete with fixed turbos power range. We didn't find this a particular problem once we got used to it. Instead, it felt like more of a feature of this new type of trainer.

Where it did cause a little more of an issue was in the speed it took the Rollr to respond to a change in power demand. For example, if we were spinning at 100 watts, and then our workout demanded that the power increase to 250 watts, there were a few seconds of lag before the Rollr reached that level. It then ebbed over and under the target wattage, rather than holding as close to it as you might expect.

When looking back at the workout data, we could see that the Rollr was holding the right average power output for each interval, so it did its job albeit in a slightly different way to many trainers. Our take on it is that it is accurately replicating a road ride, but the lag and fluctuation of power readings will not satisfy everyone.

During Zwift races, more importantly, there was a little lag in power changes. This meant that keeping up with a group, something that can be tricky at the best of times, was even more difficult on occasions, and losing a draft at a crucial time can mean game over. Moving from seated to standing also brought about some slight power variations, enough to cause an issue in a race.

On that basis, if Zwift racing is a mainstay of your indoor riding, we don't think that the Rollr is going to be the best trainer for you. Even with Wahoo's ongoing firmware development, it seems that the 'floating' rear wheel is the limiting factor here.

The other issue that the Rollr has, a feature of all wheel-on trainers, is that it is pretty noisy. And the faster you go, the louder it gets. There are things that will affect just how loud it is, including your trainer mat, the type of tyre on your bike, room acoustics and more, but it can't compete with the direct drive trainers such as the Kickr or Core on this front.

If you live with other people, they would be disturbed by the Rollr if you used it in the same room as them, so it is likely to suit people who have a dedicated training space over those who don't. Still, it does double up as a fairly good-looking bike stand when not in use.

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