cycling · Guest Post

My first time on cycling rollers (Guest post)

Sam had shared with me that one way she kept cycling through the winter was with rollers. (See her post on winter cycling options for some roller ‘how to’ basics.) I liked the idea that I could get used to my own bike on a flat plane. It seemed to me the bracket trainers pitch a person a bit more forward. I’m building my core strength on a road bike as most of my cycling has been on my mountain bike and I find even a cruising posture challenging.

I’ve done two triathlons on my mountain bike. No, that is not a good idea. I finished in the pack on a try-a-tri distance but I definitely saw everyone pull way ahead the following year on a sprint distance. So this year I scored a 1963 road bike on my dumpster diving budget and have fiddled around with it to a point where I can ride short distances. I am very wobbly and this has kept me from riding with others. I’m embarrassed. I then remembered Sam talking about how rollers help with stability and I thought this could be the tool I needed.

I knew my extended family would gladly pitch in on equipment to support my goals so I started shopping around at local cycling shops. I have to say that I hate buying gear. It seems to always involve a man scanning me from head to toe with a doubtful look. They don’t believe I run. They don’t believe I bike. They see a 5’4″, 250 lb woman with very large thighs and think I do nothing. I hate that. I feel like I have to defend my right to even be in the shop in the first place.

The roller shopping was a typical example. I asked about rollers. The salesperson asked me why I thought I needed rollers. I explained a friend had recommended them as a good way to work on stability and I wanted to build my confidence before going on group rides. I told him I was self conscious about being so wobbly. He agreed it was the right tool for that but continued to give me a skeptical look, so much so that my life partner spoke up and said “She knows what she wants, she does triathlons”. I was glad he was there. As a lean, fast responder man he gets instant fitness cred. Some days I’m just not up to having to call people on their bull. After chatting and getting the price we left the first store and my partner turned to me and said “We are never spending money there again.” We went to two more shops with similar results.

I knew Sam had gotten her rollers from Mountain Equipment Co-op (see here) so I went there and found them, no hassle from staff and brought them home for Christmas. I stared at them until Jan 1. My beloved had tried them and found it challenging but useful, today was my turn.

I chose to try them with my mountain bike. It has street tires and I felt the wide grip and shifting from the grip would be easier. I set up in a door frame and promptly rolled backwards off the rollers. Tried again and rolled forwards. Tears welled up. I thought of that first guy and his skeptical look  and I felt ashamed that I couldn’t do this plus I’d promised Sam I’d blog about this! Turns out I hadn’t adjusted the roller length to the longer mountain bike frame. A few minutes with the Allen key and I was ready to roll.

The resistance was weird and I was glad for the door frame to lean on. Cycling is way harder on rollers than the street.

I only went for 10 minutes and was lathered in sweat from the extra effort of balancing and the resistance. I noticed that my peddling is not as smooth as I thought. My right leg does way more of the work than my left and there are sections of my rotation where my effort is uneven. I am guilty of coasting when I ride outside and this will force me to dump that bad habit.

As I’m writing this my two sons are trying the rollers out too. I love sharing my fitness challenges and successes with them. I’m still a little weepy from a humble beginning. I often have unrealistic expectations when trying new things and I shed tears for my full spectrum of emotions regularly. I have realized that being brave is usually just continuing to try rather than quit. So I’ve registered for the Kincardine Triathlon this year and will, for the first time, be racing with some great friends I have met though this blog so I better keep rolling until it warms up here in London, Ontario.


Natalie is a feminist mother of two who happens to be the Fund Development Coordinator at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection. She is thankful for paid work that supports anti-oppression and funds her other life projects like eating good food, housing her family and exercising.

25 thoughts on “My first time on cycling rollers (Guest post)

  1. UGH, the way the bike shop employees treated you is awful. I’m glad you didn’t give them your business. I wish there was some way for them to know that their employees’ terrible treatment is responsible for a loss of sales so they can get their employees to knock it off already.

    Anyway, I have never tried rollers before. They seem rather terrifying! I have an indoor trainer that is very stable because it holds your rear wheel in place, so you have to try very hard to fall off while using it. I’m already pretty nervous about my tri bike as is (mostly because of the clipless pedals – I’m working on it!) but riding it on rollers would probably give me a heart attack. Long way of saying, don’t be discouraged, you’re doing something that’s really challenging and scary even for an experienced triathlete, and it sounds like you are handling it just fine.

    1. Caitlin,
      Thanks for the encouragement 🙂
      I was surprised at how relatively easy the rollers are and found them even easier with my road bike. I don’t clip in but the doorframe method would make being clipped in pretty easy. I also watch a series of wipe outs on YouTube. They are not very spectacular, sad listing sideways moments rather than big wipeouts.
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on kristenloblaw and commented:
    This is my friend Natalie doing a guest blog on Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty one of my fav blogs for women in sports and health pursuits. Nat is one of the awesome women I will be doing the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon with this summer, but more on that later!

  3. What a great post. It upsets me that when you try to give a local bike shop some business, they mess it up by treating you badly. Frustrating. I wonder if sending the three shops this post might wake them up a bit.

    I’m really impressed that you chose rollers over a trainer–it’s a lot more challenging from the sounds of it. I am also a bit scared of rollers. Sam recommended them as requiring more work than a trainer — she sent me a comparison article. I like that rollers require you to keep the bike upright. But to be quite honest, when I’m actually out on the bike I don’t have any trouble keeping it upright, so that’s not the thing I need to practice. In the end I bought neither and decided to spend the winter working on swimming and running. I’ll hop on the bike again in the spring. Probably not the recommended way to train for a triathlon.

    I’m excited about doing the triathlon with you and so glad we all got registered in time.

    1. I am looking forward to Kincardine too! I think you will have lots of time come spring. Who cares what “the best thing is” I think whatever works for you is “the best thing”.

      1. That’s true. No “best thing.” My main goal is to be able to easily-ish make it up the final hill in Kincardine. Last year it just about did me in. This year, I want to fly up it on my new bike! We’ll see.

  4. It might not actually be a ‘bike shop’ thing.

    I always give cyclists skeptical looks when they talk about buying rollers, especially if they don’t have a stationary trainer yet. (Too be clear: ALL folks who take the step to invest in any sort cycling training equipment get my automatic respect and the Dave-stamp-of-awesomeness.)

    I don’t think the skepticism and weird looks come from a ‘how can anyone not pick Campagnolo over Dura Ace’ (translation: ‘chocolate’ over ‘vanilla’) arrogance . Rather, rollers are limited in the types of cycling training that you can safely do. IMHO, these would include some of the most critical cycling training exercises, e.g., high cadence work, single leg spinning, lactate threshold work. I banned them from my cycling/triathlon classes.

    BUT, as guitar teachers say, the best guitar is the one that gets you to play. Likewise, the best bike is the one that you love riding. (It’s true!) Some folks love, love, love the feel of that rollers provide when taking their bike for a long, comfy cruise in their snowless living rooms.

    So for those folks, definitely, definitely, definitely go for the rollers! But – unless you don’t want other cyclists to treat you like you’re crazy – use them in the privacy of your own home and slip them back under your bed when you’re done. 😉

    1. Dave,
      I am a very debutante cyclist so am glad for the information I can get. I’ve met local folks who simply put on the winter tires and ride on. I hope to get there. The rollers are giving me insight into where I’m at and from that alone it’s worth it. From what others and you have posted I should budget for the other style of trainer too.
      Next winter!

  5. Hi Natalie– thanks for the post and congrats on getting going on the rollers! I admit I’ve never tried them and am more than a little nervous about them. There are even roller races out there (I think Sam has blogged about this), and some places (generally bike shops) sponsor newbie nights where they show you, and you race against the clock. I am thinking about trying this sometime– will let you know if I get up the courage…

    And a pox on the shop that wasn’t nice to you. You didn’t imagine it– it happens to women (and larger people, and older people, and whoever seems to be the perceived “out” group for that part of the cycling community) and we need to call them on their bullsh*t. If you send the manager of the mean-person shop your blog post, along with a note, you might actually help shift their shop culture. Who knows?

    -catherine w

  6. Natalie & co.,

    This article came across my Facebook feed from our mutual friend Samantha. I read your thoughts and experiences with interest and I have thought long and hard about what sort of response I want to reply with. Hopefully this is something that make sense from the other side of the counter.

    My past is punctuated with several stints in cycling retail and I would say that without much exception, associates regard “walk-ins” with a certain dubiousness when they ask about rollers. For regulars, since the shop has been at every step of the way in the rider’s learning process, this isn’t really a problem. I am presuming that you are familiar with the differences between trainers and rollers, one requiring core strength and balancing, and the other one does not. There have been many cases where people, not knowing the skills needed to ride on rollers, head into shops afterwards seeking refund and damages because they trashed their bike or put a hole in their living room drywall. For you to have the gumption to stick with rollers, chapeau, but this is not the majority. As much as this blog has been about bike shops being a social gathering place where people go and express their love for cycling, they are also places of business; so I am sorry that you had a negative experience shopping for your rollers but in order to minimize the chances of someone giving us bad reviews, i.e., “those SOBs at that f’king place don’t know Jack, look at my wall!”, we will usually err on the side of no business rather than bad publicity.

    Notwithstanding, good luck with your rollers.

    1. Thanks for that thoughtful perspective Eaton. We frequent quite a few shops as all 4 members of my family cycle & some unicycle and unfortunately it wasn’t an isolated moment. It’s been pretty standard for me to explain I want X for these reasons. One shop near my place has been great but they don’t carry rollers. We’ll be sticking with them for our business. They always approach our requests with curiosity & enthusiasm which I like.

  7. Kick ass, Natalieh! Way to stick to this one. I’m also terrified of rollers, but their power to get you to get on, get stable, and really get to know your bike and build a physical relationship with it is undeniable. As the velominati would say, chapeau!

  8. I love how men feel the need to mansplain your mansplaining experience to you. So frustrating.

    As for your humble beginnings, look at it this way: When you finally master it, it will be that much more of a victory.

  9. Rollers are terrifying, and you’re very brave! I’m glad you had a good experience at MEC- I work at the Calgary store (as a bike mechanic) and we work very hard on being open to everyone’s needs. (It helps that as a 40 year old woman, I can ride the legs off most of the younger staff and they well know it 😀 )

    That being said, I cheerfully admit to any and all who ask me about rollers/trainers that I am so scared of rollers and so bored by trainers that I put snow tires on my bikes and I ride outdoors year round. Not as far or as fast, but it works for me!

    1. I hope I didn’t make it sound scarier than it is. As a side note my partner and 14 year old son both tried them and completed 30 & 40 min workouts successfully on the first go using the tips Sam had posted.
      It’s more weird than scary if that makes sense?

      1. I am deeply klutzy, you see. I have managed to injure myself with a vacuum cleaner and a laundry basket (separate incidents) so I am not sure bringing a bicycle indoors would be a good idea for me 😀

        It’s awesome that your whole family is getting involved and using the rollers!

  10. Okay, everyone, calm down. Rollers aren’t that scary. You’re riding road bikes in traffic, next to other riders, going very fast. That’s scary. Rollers? You don’t even need a helmet. If you’re between a doorway or in a narrow hallway like me, there is no possibility of even falling. Really? What’s the issue?

    They’re excellent, nothing like it, for working on balance, pedal stroke, and cadence.

    I guess, thinking back, they seemed terrifying to me but I first got used to them riding at the velodrome. If you’re too tired to trust yourself on the banked track, but you still want to get some extra kms in, you ride the rollers. You also warm up and cool down on the rollers. When you’ve got 8 year olds and 80 years olds riding rollers around you, it’s hard to maintain the “I can’t do that” thought for long.

    There are rollers set up there between the racks of bikes, for beginners, and some just next to tables for old pros.

    Track riders love rollers because on fixed gear bikes speed is all about cadence. And regular road riders would do well to be able to spin at different speeds.

    Here’s a great “how to” video:

    Now unlike her, I use mine in the hallway. I also have parabolic rollers which means the edges come up so I can’t ride easily ride off the edges, And again, nothing bad happens if you do. You just stop.

    This really is one of those cases where people build something up to be much harder than it really is. I promise you. Do it for five minutes the first time. Ten minutes the next. And so on.

    I listen to music and watch carefully for dogs trying to dash by!

    I also find it helps to look at a spot at the end of the hallway and focus on that rather than looking down or around. Just like on the road! I have a mirror there and watch my posture.

    This whole tread has made me think I need to teach a “how to ride rollers” class!

    Here’s some more words of wisdom about rollers.

    “One thing I love about rollers is that there is zero downtime and your training is very efficient. Every minute that you’re on them you are spinning with perfect technique and not slacking off. There’s a saying that 90mins on the road is equivalent to 60mins on the rollers. I find that the increased concentration that rollers require make them a little less boring and easier to handle mentally.”

    Also, this: “The faster you go, the more stable you are. It’s not as difficult or scary to learn how to ride on rollers as you may think at first. It’ll take you 2 or 3 sessions before you get the hang of it. Try starting out by setting up in a doorway where walls are close by. Contrary to popular belief, if you happen to fall off your rollers, you won’t go flying into the television set and through the wall.”

    1. I have heard that about the concentration aspect of rollers… that’s part of why I am leery, personally. But you are right about putting barriers and boogeymen in our own way. I promise to try riding on rollers someday. Just maybe not this week 🙂

      (After all, I learned to ride track last summer, and THAT was pretty damn scary at first!)

  11. Thanks for your last post, Sam.
    Saves me a pile of typing…:)

    Just want to add two things :
    1. One persons meat is another’s poison.
    Many of my friends, Sam included, sing the praises of a particular downtown London bike shop. I’ve had one passably acceptable experience there after several visits. The others were horrendous.
    2. If I’m in my trainer and don’t want my nose pointed toward the floor, I put the yellow pages under my front wheel. Voila!

    1. Finally a use for the yellow pages! Also you seem like another lovely cycling human it’s oddly comforting to know your shop experiences haven’t been spectacular.

  12. Natalie, what a lovely post! I love your writing style. Funny, endearingly honest and so real. Here in Auckland, New Zealand, most (but thankfully not all) of the bike shops are just the same. You pretty much can tell as soon as you walk in. Thank you for the comments re your roller experience. That makes so much sense that you cannot coast on rollers as you can on the road or a stationery trainer, so rollers really would keep you honest. I had not thought about that. We are lucky down here that our winters are not so cold and inhospitable as to prevent riding. Unless I’m feeling whimpy and the warm blankets won’t let me out of bed! Awesome that you are doing the triathlons. You’re great and your boys must be very proud of their mum! Best of luck in the competition and stay warm til the sun is shining up there again. : )

  13. …when I’m actually out on the bike I don’t have any trouble keeping it upright, so that’s not the thing I need to practice. In the end I bought neither and decided to spend the winter working on swimming and running.

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