Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Roller Derby!

It's winter time. Cold temperatures, and frozen precipitation have blanketed most of the country. Does that mean it's time to stop riding? No of course not. My big Christmas score this year was a set of rollers. I debated between rollers and a trainer for quite a while. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks. On one hand, trainers provide more resistance and the ability to hammer away. Since the bike is fixed in a static position, it's easy to simulate standing climbs, and intervals. The learning curve with trainers is virtually zero. Once your bike is in place, you're ready to pedal. Rollers on the other hand are a stability ball for cyclists. While they don't provide as much resistance, rollers require balance, handlebar control, and smooth pedal strokes to stay upright. Since there is nothing holding the bike, any lapse in concentration can lead to a nasty fall as many youtuber's have proven. After much debate, I settled on rollers with the goal of improving my balance and ability to hold a line. I'll freely admit I was a bit nervous about them after seeing and hearing many first time roller horror stories. For the record this is not me:

Undeterred, I placed my order for Cycleops aluminum rollers. Rollers are available in machined aluminum and PVC. Aluminum is a quieter material and is less prone to warping than PVC rollers which can become distorted due to UV damage or heat. The size of rollers also makes a difference. The smaller the diameter of a roller, the greater the resistance they provide. Kreitler provides a great guide to picking the right rollers on its website. The Cycleops rollers I chose have a 3.25" diameter rollers - the most common size which provide balance between power and tempo compared to 4.5" or 2.5" models. They also have an optional magnetic resistance unit that can be added later.

The unit ships ready to use. The only setup required is positioning the front roller directly under the tire. The instructions provide a guide, advising the front roller to be just ahead of the front wheel hub. That however, resulted in me consistently falling off the back every time I got on the rollers. All that was needed was a slight tweak, moving the front roller just a bit farther ahead and I was ready to go.

The Cycleops unit ships ready to use. Unfolding is all the assembly required

I was surprised by the size of the frame which is made of only 1/2" square tubing. However, once it is locked into place it feels quite sturdy even when stepping directly on it while mounting or dismounting the bike. It is however, a small target to hit if an emergency stop is required. Having something else to grab a hold of is a good idea, but more on that later. When the work out is done, the rollers fold flat and are easily stowed in a closet or beneath a bed. Another advantage compared to more bulky trainers.

Riding on rollers is a bit nerve-racking the first time. Since the bike is hovering about six inches in the air, it's difficult to get a foot on the ground. Best bet is to step on the roller's frame and then get started pedaling. The best tip I got was to learn riding in an open door way. The door frame provides an easy hand hold on either side and a great place to grasp when getting started. If there is one thing you take away from reading this blog, please let it be this: the first time you ride on rollers, set them up in a doorway. No matter how capable a cyclist you are, it just takes a momentary lapse in concentration to lead to a 0 mph crash on rollers. Doorways are great insurance against this. I started riding the rollers in short time spans, holding onto the door with my left hand while pedaling and steering to get a feel. After a few minutes I got up the courage to put my left hand on the handle bars and pedal for a few seconds before losing control and grabbing the door frame again. The next time I was able to extend my time with both hands on the bars up to a couple of minutes. By the third time I was able to complete a hour without holding onto anything. I did still have a wall nearby in case of emergencies.

The rollers in place and ready to use

Despite all the horror stories I saw and heard, I didn't find rollers that difficult to stay upright on (be kind cycling gods). However, once on them you realize how much focus it takes to ride them effectively. Any minute handlebar movements lead to drastic changes in the wheel. Movements of your body or leaning cause the back wheel to move. There are plenty of times I found myself watching my wheel go careening towards the edge of the roller. Somehow I was able to correct it back into the center each time. I quickly learned that it's best to look a few feet ahead and focus on a smooth pedal stroke. Look down and things go off kilter quickly. Fiddle with the handlebars too much and the front wheel starts wobbling like a drunk on a high wire. Focus on keeping the front wheel straight and everything works great. I'm getting better with them, I've even dared to pedal for a bit with no hands. But I still have quite a ways to go to match the roller skill level of some others out there:

Even at full rpm's the rollers themselves are very quiet. There is so little noise that watching TV or listening to music is very easy to do. Really the only downside I've found is having little bits of tire rubber smeared on a towel I placed beneath the rollers to catch my sweat. Speaking of sweat, since you're riding in a stationary warm climate there are no evaporative effects. As a result by the time you're done with an hour on the rollers, EVERYTHING is soaked with sweat. I now understand the importance of a towel on your bike to keep corrosive sweat from working its way into the bike's components.

The rollers have really been a nice addition to my cycling stable. They require a bit of skill and finesse to use, but it's nothing that a little patience and practice can't teach. I can see a measurable difference in my road riding when I'm back on the road. I now hold a tighter line and am in better control of my bike especially in windy conditions. If you're considering some form of indoor training this winter, rollers are a worthy investment with long-term payoffs in cycling ability.

1 comment:

  1. I always thought about getting on rollers but I just don't trust myself. I know it's the jitters prior to getting on it and then you can feel it out. That guy is ridiculous for treading that fast though. When he got up and started doing the teetering from left to right, I thought he was going to eat it. Good stuff to know though. Desperately wanting to get on the bike again when it's not cold AND wet outside.