Now that winter is almost upon us I find it’s time to grease the bearings on my rollers, lay them down on the kitchen floor, and rack up some evening winter mileage in the cosy warmth of my own home (well, I say ‘cosy warmth’, but anyone who has ever ridden rollers indoors will translate that more accurately as ‘steamy, humid sweat-box’.)
I’m very much a rollers man, as opposed to the probably more popular ‘turbo trainer’.
At the risk of exaggerating my feelings on this (really…me?), the fixed and unnatural feel of the turbo trainer induces in me such extreme levels of boredom, that any shot of winter endorphins released by the act of exercise is far outweighed by the feelings of deep depression brought on by the thought of strapping myself in to that device and spinning my legs mindlessly for an hour.
The rollers are a little tedious compared to a proper bike ride, of course, but the concentration required to ride balanced on the rollers, and the fact that the bike moves about underneath you like, well…a bike, make them a far more attractive option for me.
They also have the added bonus of promoting a smooth and slick pedalling technique which, in my mind, gives me a look of Bradley Wiggins in his time-trialling-Tour-de-France-winning pomp. In reality, I probably look very slightly smoother and more professional than when I first started to ride the rollers regularly.
I’d like to use the word ‘souplesse’, but I probably shouldn’t.
In 1937 legendary blues guitarist and mythical seller of his soul Robert Johnson told us he was a Steady Rollin’ Man who “rolls both night and day”, and my simple cyclist’s mind latches on to this lyric every single time I jump on to the rollers, and rotates it on a loop. Being a big fan of pre-war blues and of riding the rollers, I suspect places me directly in the middle of a very specific Venn diagram. Looking at it scientifically, what other song could I possibly take on as my ‘rollers’ song?
It chooses itself.
Unfortunately, scratchy acoustic pre-war blues doesn’t actually cut the mustard as the kind of motivational soundtrack which will help me increase my cadence half way through an hour long session in the kitchen, and so I find myself searching around for something more likely to promote the flow of adrenaline.
But even with some top-notch cycling tunes in my earphones, and even taking into account that the rollers are considerably less tedious than the dreaded turbo trainer, once I reach the 40 minute mark my interest starts to wane and the mind starts to wander and latch on to all manner of odd stuff.
Without all the sensory information that makes your average bike ride out in the real world interesting – navigation, potholes, random encounters with nature, the wind – basically an entire world around you in 3D, I find myself focusing in on minute detail from this tiny domestic world around me.
First of all, I usually spot the calcified corrosion of the stem bolts which fix handlebars to bike right beneath my nose; a result of the many hours of sweat which have dripped from my forehead and face and gone to work on the once shiny metal. I berate myself for forgetting to drape a protective towel across them – how do I manage to forget this EVERY time?
Too busy humming Robert Johnson as I set the bike up I suppose.
At some point I find myself fumbling at the knobs on the gas cooker just near to my right knee, checking and double-checking that when I climbed onto the bike and leant myself against the cooker to get myself up and running I didn’t accidentally turn on the gas flow. I never have of course; my feelings of general light-headedness are always due to my limitations as a cyclist and not the fact that I’m slowly gassing myself, but once the possibility crosses the mind you’ve got to check, haven’t you?
I’ll often spot a neighbour passing by the kitchen window and immediately become a little self-conscious – mainly due to my attire. In the comfort of my own home an outfit which consists of bib-shorts, socks, shoes and nothing else is perfectly fine. Should a visitor or passer by spot me through the now steamed up windows though, they may wonder why I’m red-faced, out of breath, and dressed like a wrestler on a Monday night.
It also occurs to me every time I ride the rollers that one day I will give in to the temptation to stand up on the pedals, and attempt to maintain my balance while replicating the effort of riding uphill. I’ve seen this done by others more skilful than me, but never yet felt brave enough to attempt it. I can say for (almost) certain that the day I finally do give in to that temptation (and that day will come?!) I will find myself, in a matter of seconds, sprawled across the kitchen floor, undignified, still dressed as a wrestler, and perhaps even with an oily chain-ring mark across my right calf.
I can take the indignation of hiding from the winter weather on the rollers, of dressing as a skinny second-rate wrestler, of dripping sweat all over the kitchen floor and my favourite winter bike, and then falling off…but a chain-ring stain on my calf?
That’s an affront to my self-esteem that I just cannot afford!