To Roller or not to Roller, that is the question?

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My first experience of indoor cycling was the good old stationary bike at the local gym. An uninspiring event in itself but, a necessary part of the basic fitness programme I had been advised to use. However as the time rolled by, the good old stationary bike developed into an essential singular element with the advent of the “spin class”. Here, I made a second foray into indoor cycling with all the vigour that our super fit instructor demanded. I didn’t know my body could hold (or in this case NOT hold) so much water, as I finally stepped off the “spin-bike” into my resultant reservoir of sweat (awkward). Then, as I learn’t more about cycle training, I heard about the wonderfully named “Turbo-Trainer”!! Who could resist a name like that, with all it’s intimations. Now, at last, I thought, the machine to make me great and I don’t even have to leave the house. I could now train “every day”. Famous last words!!

After a week of sheer monotony the “Turbo” was jettisoned into the back of the shed and now serves as not to reliable saw-horse! Eventually, however, I found my niche! This came in the form of Rollers. No not of the hair variety, it was a set of simple aluminium and plastic cycle Rollers!! They looked fantastic. Easy to set up, just lay them on the floor, put your bike on top, hop on the bike and pedal away to your heart’s content! Simple? No!

The Rollers are something of a dark art in that, while the principle is simple, the actual doing is nigh on impossible to begin with. For example, when is it actually safe to release your vice-like grip from the work-bench or kitchen work-top? And, if you do manage this, how long must you cycle between the two old mattresses you scrounged off your granny? No, I think, for most of us mere mortals of MAMIL age, learning the “Rollers” can be something of a health hazard.

However, assuming like me, you manage to “ride free” and are able to dispense with the mattresses, how, you may ask is this different from “Turbo-Training”? Well, apart from the need to maintain your balance and steady speed to stay upright, there is no real difference. The differences actually come when you decide to relieve your boredom by livening up your session with a simulated race DVD or Computer Programme. Fancy!!

These simulations usually go under the, oh so inviting, name of “Sufferfest” or “Death on Wheels” or “Please Let It End”. Not one to be totally daunted, I decided I liked the sound of Sufferfest. I was full of excitement as I scanned the DVD noting that my favourites would definitely be Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders, the so-called “hardmen” races.

L’enfer du Nord it was, my first attempt, so I decided to do it in the kitchen as the shed was too cold. I made the off from Compiégne steadily enough, only the occasional grab for the larder handle was needed until I got my confidence. Gradually the first cobble sections appeared. Sectors 27 – 18 trundled by uneventfully as my nonchalance grew, I mean, “What the hell were Sean Kelly and Bernard Hinault going on about? Pedalling powerfully and steadily now, my mind began to drift, “I would need to sort out that damp patch above the end cupboard sometime!” Pedal, pedal. “Oh, and that double socket needs replaced as one side isn’t working!” Pedal-pedal. Suddenly Sector 17, The Arenberg Trench flashes into view just as I spot loose grout around some of the tiles behind the sink and, in my surprise, I try to straighten the front wheel as I hit the Arenberg cobbles at speed. The cobbles by now are soaking and layered with wet mud, the front wheel begins the inevitable sideways glide and my handle bars drop lower as I hurtle still further into the shade of the Trench. Suddenly I feel the thump and, before I know it, my shoulder is bouncing off the fridge door ricocheting me toward the kitchen door where the bike gets jammed. This in turn, causes me to do a headlong over the handle bars and up the hall sliding on my chest to the front door! Now only slightly stunned, I frantically look around for the support car but realise, I’m on my own. Victory and Roubaix will have to wait for another session!

Session two, a few days later. Maybe Paris-Roubaix was a tad ambitious therefore, I think I will try The Tour of Flanders. This time I thought I might be safer in the shed so, after the initial set-up , I found myself pedalling comfortably among tool-boxes, paint-tins and hanging bicycle tyres. Settling into my race, I feel better now here in the confines of the shed. Laying down the miles, I negotiate the famous “bergs” with relative ease and find myself in a not too shabby position in the pelaton. Onward we trundle and again my mind wanders within this simulated world and toward possible glory in Oudenaarde! Then, again, I’m caught on the hop or the “kop” so to speak. We hit the bottom of the Koppenberg and I am in the wrong bloody gear! It’s too much of a grind and before I am even 50 metres up the 11% “wall” I have come to a wobbly standstill. Riders pass me on all sides as I frantically make a grab for the nearest hanging bicycle tyre. Got it! Momentarily I stabilize until the ceiling hook gives way. Then, it’s all screw-drivers and hammers and chisels as I flail down into the depths of Magnolia Matt Emulsion 20 litres B&Q £14:99 while my still “clipped-in” feet launch the bike off the rollers and sideways up onto the work-bench! Alas, I have been undone, one of the thousands of historic withdrawals from the famous Ronde van Vlaanderen!

It’s a curious thing, this Roller cycling. You just can’t get enough of it. I still cycle on mine and have to say, that I have got the hang of it. However, I have dispensed with Sufferfest, and now just do my steady “tempo” sessions at a much more relaxed pace aided by the simulated 1950′s scenery of Poirot or Miss Marple!

How about you folks, what have your experiences been?


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