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Let’s face it: crashing your bike on the living room floor is pretty embarrassing. But that’s just what happened the first time I tried to ride rollers. So how do you stay upright while getting in a great workout and sidestepping some awkward bruises? Here are my favorite tips for how to ride rollers — plus 3 free roller workouts.
What are rollers and why should you try them?
Cycling rollers are pretty basic. They consist of three drums, a metal frame and a roller belt that tensions the unit. Some rollers have features like parabolic drums that help keep you centered or bumpers to reduce the chances of rolling off. Others have controlled resistance and some units are more portable than others, making them easier to store or throw in the trunk for pre-race warmup.
All of this might sound scary, but taking the time to learn how to ride rollers will produce some longterm positive training benefits. Unlike a stationary trainer, rollers force you to have good balance and coordination. Basically, if your pedal stroke sucks, you’re going to know it instantly, as you struggle to balance. Rollers develop pedaling efficiency, smoothing out your stroke and eliminating dead spots. If you’ve ever been accused of having a sloppy pedal stroke or have trouble riding in a straight line, rollers will help develop these valuable skills by engaging your core and developing better balance and form, while training a more powerful cadence. Plus they’re fun to ride because present more of a real-life road feel. They demand that you stay focused on what you’re doing at all times, so training time on the rollers tends to pass quickly.
How to quickly get started
Fortunately for consumers, rollers are fairly low-tech compared to stationary or turbo trainers and models don’t vary much. If you’re trying them for the first time, I’d suggest saving some cash by picking up a used set, even if they are an older model. If you have the money to spend and want to reduce the learning curve, you could try a set of parabolic rollers such as Elite Parabolic Indoor Roller Bicycle Trainer, which help your wheels stay centered. For a more comprehensive list, check out our in-depth Cycling Rollers Buyer’s Guide.
Whatever model you choose, here’s a step-by-step guide to how to ride rollers and get more out of your training time.
How to ride rollers (and tips to stay upright):
Set up the rollers in a doorway to reduce the chances of falling over, as you develop balance. Avoid setting up next to any sharp objects or glass coffee tables. Be sure to set the rollers up so that your bike’s front axle is over the front drum. You can pump your tires to the same pressure you would use outside. If your rollers have resistance, avoid using it until you’re comfortable just riding at first.
- Eliminate any distractions. Anything that takes your eye off the bike will potentially cause you to lose your balance or roll right off the side. Stick with background music if you must, but trying to watch television is an advanced skill. Yes, you can use Zwift with rollers, but I don’t recommend it until you’re very secure.
- Use a chair, stool or the frame of the rollers (some rollers have a small platform) to help position you over the top tube. Be sure your bike is in an easy enough gear to spin up, but not so easy that you’ll spin out. Remember, there’s no resistance, unlike a stationary trainer, so you’re naturally going to have a higher cadence. I recommend starting in the big ring, toward the middle of your cassette. The faster you can get up to speed, the more secure you’ll feel.
- Hold the brakes and lightly lean your shoulder into the door frame or wall. Try to keep both hands on the hoods for balance. Begin pedaling, keeping your body loose (especially your elbows and shoulders) as you get up to speed. Keep breathing and stay loose. It’s going to feel awkward at first. Then, when you feel stable enough, slowly push away from the wall until you’re unsupported.
- Focus on a point directly in front of your wheel and try not to shift your gaze. If you begin to wobble or veer in one direction, keep pedaling. This will keep you upright. Try to avoid oversteering or making any over exaggerated corrections. The slower you pedal, the harder it will be to control the bike. It’s like a track bike: Just keep pedaling. If you need some quick support, lean your shoulder against the wall and then engage the brakes.
- As you become more comfortable, use the rollers for high cadence workouts, but save your high intensity days for the indoor trainer or outside. You can even play around with taking one (or both!) hands off the bars as you ride. Or, if you’re very daring, you can give this a try:
And here’s something just for fun:
Coach Rob from Tailwind Coaching provided 3 roller workouts to help improve neuromuscular efficiency, develop a smooth pedal stroke and build fitness. Check them out below.
If you have any tips for riding the rollers, post them in the comments below.