Friday, 14 November 2014

Winter Brings My Cycling Indoors

Right on cue, the rain is lashing at the house... and lashing at me when I go out on my bike. 

Almost exactly a year ago, I pondered whether getting an indoor trainer or rollers would be useful in maintaining a level of cycling fitness through the worst of the English winter weather*. 

I didn't pursue the thought last winter but it did stick with me even when the weather improved in the spring. As the summer segued into autumn, I laid a few hints in the ear of my beloved (who is no fool) and so now possess a new set of Tacx Antares rollers.

I had a very interesting first session on them last night and will post about that shortly. But first, here are some tips on setting rollers up and getting started riding them. 

The Official Manual

The brochure on how to assemble and set up the rollers consists of six line drawings. There is minimal accompanying text and none of that is explanatory. The first drawing simply shows all the items that should be included with the unit. The rest all relate to assembly and set up. The first three of these are reasonably self-explanatory and shouldn't cause too much puzzlement to anyone with a little experience with self-assembly.

Drawings 4 and 5 are the problem. These should have been broken down further to result in at least two, possibly three additional drawings. I mean, look at drawing 3 (immediately above), now look at drawing 4. 

How on earth do you get from one to the next? It is not at all obvious looking at the rollers where that the length-adjustment cassette came from or how to get it out of its housing. It turns out, you have to turn the entire unit over to access it. Even if/once you've done that, it's not entirely clear what to do next. If someone has told you beforehand what to look for, then it may make sense to you in principle. But faced with the unit "in the flesh", it's not what I would call intuitive. 

Step 5 follows on from Step 4 but it too makes an intuitive leap that may not be immediately obvious.

YouTube to the Rescue!

Feeling a bit frustrated and annoyed, I turned to the Internet for the answers the manufacture failed to provide. In very quick order, I found this "how to", filmed and posted by a guy in the USA. His model of roller is the Galaxia not the Antares, but the details are similar enough for the video to be helpful and the narrator is careful to explain exactly the assembly issues that the Tacx manual does not.  (Warning: this video is much longer than it needs to be, as the narrator goes off on a couple of anecdotal tangents.)

I found this unofficial "tutorial" extremely helpful. Some aspects are much easier with two pairs of hands, so Adam helped me with the final assembly (one of us wielding the flat-head screwdriver, the other doing the pulling and pushing on various parts!) 

So now what? 

Getting Started and Not Falling Off

The Internet is simply bursting with personal tales of the trials and tribulations of getting to grips with riding rollers. My post last year linked to a few of them. I came to the conclusion that a lot of it is theatrics: whether the storyteller conquers the rollers or fails and gives up, he is guaranteed attention, be it awe and admiration or commiserations. As an over-thinker myself, I think a lot of this is... needless over-thinking. (I'm not just saying this. I set off on this enterprise with a great deal of anxiety, not all of which has dissipated. In fact, personally I suspect mastering rollers is going to be long, painful road. But the principles are actually very simple.)

So in a nutshell, what I've done is focus on this straight-talking no drama "how to" lesson from Wiggle Honda's owner/manager/rider, Rochelle Gilmour. 

Then get on your bike and give it a go. Whatever doesn't seem to be working for you will almost certainly be addressed by heeding or more of Rochelle's incredibly easy and effective Top 5 Tips for Beginners: 
  1. Set up your rollers with your bike between two objects sturdy enough to steady yourself (a) while mounting and dismounting, and also (b) while riding if needed.
  2. Select what you know will be a relatively easy gear on your bike before you start.
  3. Keep your eyes looking 1-2 meters ahead, never down at your handlebars or front wheel.
  4. Don't hold the bars too tight or your arms too straight. That will only start a front wheel wobble... or make it worse!
  5. Drive through your hips. If you start to wobble, a little more effort and load will straighten the bike right up.
Getting Tip 1 (choosing the location to ride your rollers) right is crucial. We first set up in the hallway (with a wall either side) but then found that an open doorway without a door -- as shown in Rochelle's video -- works even better. Next time, I plan to set up in the garage with a row of wheelie bins to one side and a step ladder on the other side (like this), since mounting and dismounting from the side rails of the rollers means working from a position significantly lower than the "ground level" at which your bike sits -- not ideal and potentially disastrous!  
    Once you gain sufficient control of the moving bicycle, try Rochelle's Sample Workout for Beginners:
    • With your chainring on the inner (if a double) or the middle (if a triple), get into your lowest/easiest gear (the biggest cog) at the back.
    • Ride for 1 minute in that gear, then change up one cog, ride for one minute, change up, you get the idea. One minute in each gear progressively harder. Keep your cadence the same as much as you can!
    If you have a modern road bike with a 10-speed cassettes, you have a 10 minute work out right there. Anything more when you're starting out is 'too much'. 

    So, there you have it -- I have accepted the Challenge of the Rollers!

    I would love to hear from any of you who use rollers regularly. Was getting started as hard as everybody told you beforehand it would be? What benefits do you feel you have gained?

    * I am of course still commuting by bicycle! It's the weekend road rides that get sacrificed when the bad weather closes in. And it's those miles that are crucial for my fitness.


    1. Got some rollers for Christmas. I'll keep you posted

      1. Hi, Tim. Yes, please do let me know how you get on. I'm working on a couple of follow up posts on this - it's been quite a learning curve!


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