Cycling, TOOLBOX | 5 comments
How to Use Rollers for training
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Going for a spinning class?
It’s winter and it’s cold. It was -20C this morning here in Edmonton. Very often I get asked (at work) what do we cyclist do in the winter time to stay in shape. The answer is simple: we ride rollers! Some people these days would better understand if I said: “I am going for a spinning class” – that’s how it’s called these days.
On the rollers
When the weather is less than ideal, training rollers allow you to get your bike ride in without having to venture outside. Training rollers allow you to use your own bicycle instead of an exercise bike. You can easily store the rollers vertically to save space in cramped living quarters. This piece of exercise equipment typically consists of a metal frame with three metal or PVC tubes. Two of the tubes are near each other on one end of the frame; the other lies at the opposite end. Keeping your bike balanced and going in a straight line require some initial effort, but with a little practice virtually anyone can succeed.
Roller training is the most effective method to maintain target heart rate while improving spin, balance and form. Plus, it’s the most fun!
Having your wife to accompany you during the ride helps motivation
How to ride on rollers
Rollers are viewed with suspicion, incomprehension or downright fear by many riders – a dangerous liability only suitable for hardcore experienced riders. But once mastered, they can provide a valuable addition to the training armory of any cyclist, regardless of experience.
- Lay the rollers in a doorway or close to the wall.
- Place the back wheel of your bicycle so it rests between the two rollers closest together. The front wheel should rest on the lone, third roller.
- Straddle your bicycle and check that your bicycle is in a relatively easy gear. To start, you want a gear that will allow you to pedal effortlessly.
- Grab onto the door frame (or wall) and sit on the bicycle seat. Adjust your pedals slightly by pedaling backward so they are both level with the floor. Practice balancing in this position, keeping your focus in front of you as if you were riding on the road.
- Pedal at a high cadence, changing gears as necessary. If you pedal too slowly, you will have difficulty keeping the bike tracking in a straight line.
Tips & Warnings
- Be sure your bike is adjusted properly for your size.
- When you are positioning your pedals, do not pedal forward. Pedaling forward will cause the rollers to spin.
- Do not look at the rollers while you are riding. Keep your focus straight ahead.
- Once you are comfortable mounting the bicycle, you can use the rollers in places other than the doorway.
- Wear a helmet even when riding your bicycle indoors. Balancing is difficult, at least initially, and there is a potential for falling off of the bike.
Other uses for rollers are: warming up for races
Starting off: Put your bike in a low gear and have the rollers set up close to a solid object such as a wall or doorway. Make sure your wheels are in the middle of the rollers and, keeping one hand on the wall, begin pedaling at 60rpm. If you have a willing volunteer, an alternative is to have them hold your handlebar; you’ll be more balanced to start with and the learning process will be quicker.
Going straight: Look straight ahead. You don’t watch your front wheel on the road, so don’t on the rollers. Once you feel condemn in your balance and you’re staying central, let go of the wall, build up your cadence and you’re off. After a few sessions you’ll gain conﬁdence and develop more advanced skills.
Mind on the job: Concentrate on what you’re doing – no watching TV at an odd angle or turning around to see who’s just come into the room… To stop, you need to simply slow down gradually and, before you come to a complete halt, reach out for the wall.
After an initial period to develop skill, riding rollers demands essentially the same concentration as road riding. Therefore, proper mental skills are constantly improved on rollers, unlike bad habits that can be promoted by stationary trainers. Add the tremendous benefits gained in balance, control, and bike feel while riding rollers, and you can see why we say, “ONLY real riders ride rollers”.
Rollers are best used to develop smoothness and pedaling efficiency – use them often enough and you’ll be able to ride on them no handed. Basically this helps you relax on the road as you have better stability. I think the only thing you can’t do on rollers is to accelerate really fast, as the belt will slip. During warmups/rests/cooldowns, I reach for the water bottle, alternate hands, try no-handed stuff, try spinning out a few times.
Cycling race on rollers some 40 years ago.
I doubt whether you’d be able to do anything over 60 minutes on rollers, use your trainer for endurance and interval sessions. You’ll probably get bored/sore nuts/ fall off and look like a goose. Also, it’s harder to watch TV than on a trainer as you have to keep the bike on the spinning bits.
Entertainment setup in my basement
For entertainment, I have music and an old TV down in the basement. I find the radio to be better than CD’s. With a CD, when it’s over, I think it acts like a psychological punctuation mark. If you’re feeling lazy, you might be tempted to quit after one. The radio is better, especially around 5-8pm, when the music seems to flow non-stop, and every song is different. The speed of the music or type of music doesn’t seem to bother me either. On the TV I usually watch old cycling tapes about Tour de France, or some professional classics from Europe. Watching TV helps me kill the time, and occupies my brain. Sometimes I imagine that it’s me climbing those big mountains in France, or sprinting to the finish line shoulder to shoulder with Mark Cavendish.
Zdenko’s old heavy set of rollers made of steel
Rollers are also good during the whole year. Other uses for rollers are: warming up for track races, warming up while you wait for your mates to turn up to go for a ride, warming your body after a freezing cold ride, laughing at your triathlon friends who can’t ride them…
Zdenko in the basement riding on the rollers
I train on rollers for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, three times a week during the winter. I don’t buy the theory that you can’t train or develop on rollers. I have old, very heavy rollers, made of steel, but I like them better than the new models. They really give me feeling of being on the real road. I use my standard racing road bicycle, with a 53 chainring up front and a 11 – 23 rear cassette at the back. I also use 700 x 23 tires @ 120psi instead of thin racing tires. Between the gears, tire size, and roller diameter you work your butt off. I also stand on the rollers and this develops wonderful climbing skills because it makes you put your head forward, focus, balance, and again, you get so damn efficient in your circular pedal rotation that it becomes an art.
Example sessions – Here is how I do it:
TIER 1 – 10 min
Operate at approx 60% of your aerobic capacity (based on HR) – 10 min.
I call this warm-up.
TIER 2 – 11 min
Operate at approx 65-75% of your aerobic capacity (based on HR) – 10mins
Go all out (100% aerobic/anaerobic) – 60 sec.
No extra time for recovery. Go straight into Tier 3.
TIER 3 – 11 min
Repeat TIER 2.
TIER 4 – 15 min
Operate at >80% of your aerobic capacity (based on HR) – 9 min.
Go all out (100% aerobic/anaerobic) – 60sec.
Recovery – 5 min.
TIER 5 – 5 min
…all aboard the pain train!!
Go all out, for as long as possible…about 5 min or till vomiting ensues..
Recovery – 10 min
TIER 6 – 15 min
Recovery from Tier 5 - additional 15 min. Operate at approx 65-75% of your aerobic capacity (based on HR). I call this warm-down period.
Rolling, rolling, rolling
Although essentially based on the same simple design that’s been used for years, modern rollers have evolved and are much more user-friendly than those of old (which I use). Improved bearings offer a smoother ride, and smaller drums are easier to get spinning and mean less distance to fall. Some roller sets now have parabolically shaped rollers which make it easier to stay on.
There are plenty of rollers out there. Here’s an idea of what you’ll get for your money…
Beginner-friendly: Elite Parabolic, £149.99
This adjusts to all solo bike sizes. The rough surface of the plastic drums offers more low speed stability than metal ones, and the ﬂ anged ‘parabolic’ ends help prevent the wheels from wandering too, which boosts conﬁdence. The large drums spin well and quietly but you’ll be topping out the gears at 60kph+ to get a properly punishing workout. Weight: 8.12kg. From: Elite / Madison (UK).
Improvers: Tacx Antares, £169.99
The telescopic design means compact storage and they’re light for pre-event use. The ﬁxed frame makes a ﬂat ﬂoor vital though. The height of the rollers and lack of steps makes starting a bit precarious but they’re smooth, and not as ‘icy’ as metal rollers. They spin up to speed and increase gyroscopic stability very quickly, and there’s an optional extra resistance kit. Weight: 6.7kg. From: Tacx / Fisher Outdoor Leisure (UK).
Experts: Kreitler Alloy 2.25in, £329
These are relatively light and fold for storage. The lack of end stops and ‘icy’ feel of the metal rollers is initially intimidating and the small size of the rollers means a higher resistance level than other rollers. There’s some tire noise and buzz on the rollers, but overall smoothness and longevity are excellent. Medium resistance 3in rollers are available, or 4.5in for easy spinning, plus fan, ﬂy-wheel and front wheel stand. Weight: 7.52kg.
At the end, I’ll mention other option you have in case you don’t like rollers. As you might have noticed, my wife is using the “Real Axiom” electromagnetic trainer, which allows you to ride a real course in the comfort of your own home.
If you don’t like rollers, use the Elite RealAxiom Trainer
The Elite RealAxiom Trainer
The Elite RealAxiom Trainer is designed to be used in conjunction with the supplied user-friendly software. On your PC you get the option of selecting course toughness, profile and length and there are different race courses which come complete with riders-eye views as you pedal through the countryside and mountains. You can choose your favorite video course, compete against other Real Axiom owners or virtual competitors.
For me, I still prefer rollers…
Hope to see you on the road.
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