With my winter goal of keeping in shape taking... uh, shape, I have gone to the climbing gym a couple of times, and now own a harness, shoes and belay device of my very own. But while climbing is no doubt very strenuous, it's a lot of short bursts of energy and not a lot of sustained aerobic activity. One of the reasons I want to exercise through the winter is so that I can emerge from the Colorado snow in the spring already in shape to ride in the mountains, instead of spending April and May getting in shape.

And so, while I have every intention of spending a couple nights a week at the climbing gym, I need another thing to get the lungs working. I thought about getting a stationary trainer for my bike, and while I was surfing the web looking at the latest in trainer tech (and boy have they come a long way since my old RacerMate 2!) I came across a deal on a set of rollers. Yeah! Why not?!

I used to ride rollers when I was in high school and college (ever since I first saw the scene in "Breaking Away" where Dennis Christopher is training on them in the rain, eating an apple), but it's been a long time, for sure. Unlike stationary bike trainers, where the bike is clamped into a sturdy base that supports the bike upright, rollers are a set of three cylindrical drums, two for the rear wheel and one for the front. The front drum is linked to the rear with a belt, and while pedaling the bike rotates the rear drums, the belt in turn rotates the front drum. Basically, rollers are like a treadmill for a bicycle, and the bike is freely wheeling along the drums while you pedal, and the only thing holding you up is your own balance. Needless to say, riding rollers is a lot less mindless than pushing the pedals around on a stationary trainer.

In general, people ride rollers to improve their bike handling skills, as traditional rollers don't provide a lot of resistance. But newer rollers have smaller diameter drums, which increases the resistance somewhat. You can also run fatter tires at lower air pressures to increase the drag some more and get a reasonable breathe going, while still getting the extra benefit of improved balance that riding rollers instills in people.

Performance Bike had a sale on a pair of TravelTrac Rollers, and they took another 10% off at the register for a Christmas sale that was going on, so I walked out of there with a brand new set of alloy rollers for $120. I am impressed with the build quality and the bearings, and the non-skid sections on the rails is a nice touch (helps getting on and off the bike).

I set the rollers up in the garage, alongside a shelving unit that is firmly screwed into the wall studs, giving me a nice handle to hang onto (and grab, when necessary) as I started learning how to ride rollers again. I hopped on my bike and started pedaling, and 30 seconds later I had let go of the shelf bracket; I was riding rollers again, for the first time in about 15 years!

Encouraged, I changed into some cycling shorts and put on my cleated shoes and spun along for about 15 minutes or so. A couple of wobbles sent me reaching for the shelf bracket, but I never crashed and in general I would say it was a good re-introduction to roller riding. Hopefully in time, I'll be able to ride no hands, drink water, look around, etc. Right now it's all concentration just to remain upright and on the rollers, but practice makes perfect, right? I was able to get a good sweat going, and I plan to get some cheap, fat tires to both help with the resistance as well as save my good Conti tires for the road, come spring (the rollers deposit a fine aluminum dust on the tires, and wear them out prematurely).


If you're curious, here are some links to some good videos that show the good, the bad and the ugly of riding rollers.

Here's what not to do:

Here's a good basic clip of how it's done (setting the rollers in a doorway is a great way to have a hand-hold on either side of you for when things don't go according to plan):
Roller basics

... and this guy is just freakin' great:
Stupid Roller Tricks