When it comes to real road feel while riding indoors, it’s hard to beat bike rollers. With both wheels free, your bike moves naturally beneath you like it does outside.
Riding rollers also helps you develop a silky, fluid pedal stroke (because if yours is jerky or uneven, you won’t stay on them very easily). That smooth pedaling action helps deliver even, efficient power on the road. And it sharpens your proprioception—the sense of where your body is in space—which helps improve your bike handling ability while you’re humming along outdoors.
Training wise, maintaining your balance on those spinning drums activates and strengthens your core and stabilizing muscles, which can mostly fall asleep when you’re locked into a turbo trainer. They’re also great for dialing in your mental game, as you need to be both focused and calm to keep the bike centered and upright for extended periods of time. Over time, that makes you a mentally stronger rider.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re already sold—or at least intrigued—by riding bike rollers, and you’re just facing one big barrier: getting started. Riding the rollers takes a little patience, but with practice, you’ll be confidently spinning smooth circles in no time. Here’s how it’s done.
Adjust Your Rollers
Bike rollers consist of three rotating drums nestled inside a frame. The first (front) and second drums are connected by tubing or a belt. The third (rear) roller spins independently. You can adjust the spacing between the front and rear rollers to accommodate the length of your bike.
When you position your bike on the rollers, the front wheel should sit atop the first roller so that the front axle is slightly behind the top of the roller. The rear wheel should be evenly cradled between the second and third roller in the rear.
Establish Your Support
Most people’s biggest fear of riding bike rollers is falling off of them. Ease that concern by setting your rollers next to a supportive structure that you can easily reach out and use to steady yourself. A counter, sturdy table, or workbench is useful because it can double as a surface for your water bottle, portable speaker, snacks, electronics, and other items you might want close at hand.
Give Yourself a Focal Point
Your eyes are going to want to lock on your front wheel. That’s like staring straight down when you’re trying to ride a curb or skinny bridge; it makes it harder to stay relaxed and balanced. Place an object like your laptop, tablet, or another item of choice a few feet in front of you so you naturally turn your gaze up and forward, making it easier to hold a straight line.
Set Up Your Cooling Station
You’re going to sweat buckets as you engage every muscle in your body. Place a towel underneath you and on the handlebars to catch the sweat, and place at least one good fan in front of you to create a cooling “headwind.”
To climb on, first make sure the bike is in a moderately hard gear in the middle of the cassette. Too small of a gear will leave you spinning out before you can gain momentum; too big of a gear will make it tough to get rolling.
Straddle the top tube and stand with your feet on the side rails. Hold the bars by the hoods. Put your outside pedal (the one further from your support) to the six-o’clock position and clip in. Place your inside hand on your support, bring yourself upright onto the saddle, and clip in with the inside foot.
If clipping in is difficult, you can always start with flat pedals and tennis shoes. That way you can put a foot down quickly if need be, so you’ll feel less nervous and more relaxed as you get rolling.
Steady yourself in position and, keeping one hand on your support, start pedaling. Get up to speed, aiming for a cadence of 80 to 90 rpm, as quickly as comfortably possible. If you pedal too slowly, it’s going to be harder to stay straight and upright; a little speed and momentum are your friends.
Once you’re up to speed and the bike is steady beneath you, gently take your hand off the support and place it on your bars. (The support is always there for you if you need to reach out and steady yourself.) Aim to keep a firm, but relaxed grip on the bars and relax your upper body. Too much tension will cause the bike to act twitchy, which makes it harder to maintain balance and stability.
Dismount When You’re Done
When you’re ready to wrap it up, place your hand on your support and coast down to a stop. Unclip your outside foot and dismount.
[Want to fly up hills? Climb! gives you the workouts and mental strategies to conquer your nearest peak.]
Build Up Gradually
Because you never stop pedaling, roller workouts can be deceptively tough. Build duration gradually, starting with short 10- to 15-minute sessions. Once you can comfortably ride for 30 minutes, you can start challenging yourself by changing hand positions, switching gears, and increasing or decreasing your cadence.
Work In Some Workouts
Rollers are the perfect platform for high-cadence intervals. Working these into your workout once or twice a week is a great way to improve your efficiency and feel more comfortable at higher cadences.
After a good warm up, do ramped sets of increasingly quick cadence drills:
30 seconds to 1 minute at 100 rpm
30 seconds to 1 minute at 110 rpm
30 seconds to 1 minute at 115 rpm
Recover 5 minutes at 90 rpm
Repeat, this time trying to start at 115 rpm and ramp up to 125 rpm
Consider Alternative Rollers
The biggest disadvantage to rollers is the inability to get out of the saddle and sprint (unless you’re really talented). Many newer models of rollers have eliminated that problem by setting the rollers on a sled or swing system that allows the rollers to shift underneath you as you stand out of the saddle.
You also can buy smart rollers that allow you to increase the resistance through your electronic device via Bluetooth, so you can simulate hill climbing and harder conditions. Smart rollers also allow you to pair with immersive virtual riding platforms like Zwift.
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