I am an avid turbo rider – ok, avid is exaggerated, because I’d rather go outside if at all possible and after and hour on the turbo, I’d rather knaw my arm off than having to do anymore. But then again, needs must. After all, the weather isn’t getting any nicer, and if you live in Scotland then you start realising in mid-September that pretty soon, the turbo will become your best friend.
But the turbo is not the only option for indoor training and in order to improve my riding I was told to get myself on rollers. Oh dear! The R-Word… I won’t lie, I’ve always found the idea of rollers intriguing, but quite honestly the fear of falling off them far outweighed my curiosity. And having toppled over with my bike on a turbo trainer, you will understand my trepidation.
So on a sunny ride over possibly the roughest road ever, I realised that my bike handling and balance were truly rubbish and needed improving. A friend, who was out with me, let slip he had a set of rollers sitting in the garage and didn’t use them. Oh… darn, set of rollers acquired and I’d thought this would take some time. No excuses now.
The door frame solution
After a short DIY session the Tacx Antares rollers were assembled and I was ready to roll. Extensive consultation of the twittersphere had produced a set-up that, in theory should provide me with ample room to hold on to things for balance while being narrow enough not to fall: the door frame.
The rollers in the door frame and a mirror straight ahead so I wouldn’t look down (been told that’s a cardinal sin and doesn’t help with balance). So far, so good. I’d decided to try first without clip ins. Next problem: getting on the bike – it’s all of a sudden about 10 inches higher. Somehow I managed and then grabbed onto the door frame and slowly started pedalling. BIG mistake. It was so wobbly and my first attempt ended after about 30 sec with a cramped hand and fear sweat already appearing on my brows. Riding rollers one-handed when you start – not a good idea.
Attempt 2 was a bit longer but then I stopped and thought I should change my hand I was holding onto the doorframe with since it started cramping. Suddenly, I found myself wedged into the doorframe, still sitting on my bike, holding on to the doorframe, not able to reach the other side of it and unable to actually put my foot down on the ground. I had to do the embarrassing thing: call my flatmate for help to get me back upright. We quickly devised an ingenious bucket ladder solution to facilitate getting on and off the bike – it helps to have an engineer as a flatmate. That way, I would also be able to put my foot down quickly.
Another attempt, another bit longer, but I still hadn’t let go of that doorframe. Eventually, my flatmate observed that it was maybe an idea if he held on to the frame so I could ride with both hands on the handle bars and that his dad had always gone very quickly on rollers, so maybe I should pedal faster. With a slight dent in my pride, I accepted his help and started pedalling a bit faster and Ta Dah! the bike actually stayed quite stable and upright. Having both hands on the handlebars heped too.
After a total of 20 min, my first roller ride ended with me drenched in cold sweat and contemplating that I could only go on the rollers when my flatmate was around holding the frame. Surely not! Generations of cyclist had learned how to handle their bikes on rollers and so would I.
More consultation of the twittersphere and presto! A much more sensible and more stability promising set-up came about. I call it the wall-and-sofa-sandwich. Essentially, the rollers go between the wall (so you have a large surface where you can get support) and the couch (so you have a soft landing area if things go belly up) and the aim is to keep the gap as narrow as possible.
I thought, if I do this I’d do it proper, so it was clip ins. Getting on in the narrow gap is a bit of a challenge. Note to self: pull one break so your bike doesn’t move. Being upright and resting one elbow on the wall for support, I tightened my core muscles and started pedalling quickly right from the start. A slight wobble when my bike went fully straight and then it was a fairly stable and secure ride. For about a minute or so. Then my focus slipped and I had to stop. But having the wall was great because there was nowhere to go and as long as I kept pedalling nothing would in fact happen. And so I spent a good 20 min on the rollers with short breaks to collect myself when my focus slipped and I started to weave erratically left and right.
Having the wall and the sofa helped to build my confidence enormously because it was mainly the safety aspect I was worried about (someone even suggested I should wear a helmet, which I seriously considered given my recent history). With that removed from the equation all there is, is working on focus and pedalling technique to keep the bike rolling smoothly. I’ll still go on the turbo, but I’ll be working on expanding my time on the rollers to get up to an hour. It will mainly be a mental challenge much more than a physical. But what’s life without a challenge?