They see me rolling…

Kreitler rollers - imageIt can be very difficult to get outside in the cold and dark winter months, so finding a way to train indoors during that time can be a huge benefit to performance once the outdoor season does start again. This year, I have a set of bike rollers that I am going to be using with my recumbent over the next few months.

Using rollers with a two-wheel recumbent seems to be less common than other styles of trainer, usually because they’re not long enough to accommodate a recumbent. I found a used set of Kreitler Challenger rollers locally in great condition. In doing some research, I couldn’t find very many models that cater for the wheelbase of my Bacchetta Corsa, at 47″, but the Challenger rollers from Kreitler can extend up to 48″ which is perfect. In fact, Kreitler even offers a frame extension kit to make the rollers longer, for tandems and other recumbents.

Kreitler rollers and recumbent - imageThey come in three different drum diameters, 2.25″, 3″ ad 4.5″, and I have the 3″. As the drum size decreases, the resistance increases. According to Kreitler, most riders can maintain a high wheel speed on the 4.5” drums, which are the easiest to learn on and have the lowest resistance. A high wheel speed helps with balance and provides the greatest coasting effect if you momentarily stop pedaling. The 2.25” drums are for only the strongest riders and were originally designed for the US Cycling Team. So the model I have is right in the middle – ‘medium’ resistance, not as easy to spin on as the larger drums but not as expert as the smaller model.

So why did I decide to try rollers over other kinds of trainer? Any trainer can be used to ‘train’, to improve or maintain physical activity or performance, particularly when you can’t get outside, so that’s a given. In principle, the typical benefits cited specifically for riding on rollers are that it improves balance and stability (since it requires you to ‘hold your line’ on a narrow set of rotating drums, rather than the trainer constraining the bike in some way), it increases pedaling smoothness, it engages the core more and can improve top-end speed and cadence. My own drivers for now at least are the first two – balance/stability and pedaling smoothness. Whether or not the core is more engaged riding a recumbent on rollers as it is for an upright on rollers I don’t know, and improving speed and cadence are downstream aspirations rather than short-term goals until I’m used to the rollers.

I’ve only ridden the rollers a handful of times so far and it’s been interesting and fun! Below is a video of my very first ride. Sorry, no prizes for spotting that I’m hanging on to the car, which I realize isn’t the point! A common suggestion is to start using rollers in a doorway, so that there is something either side of you while you get used to balancing. I didn’t have a convenient doorway so I was in the garage. I absolutely did need support, do still need support to ride, although that is improving quickly and I can already ride with a hand at the car door handle, holding and hovering on and off, on and off (with the offs getting longer each ride). According to Kreitler’s advice, the 4.5” rollers are the easiest model to learn on so perhaps I might have found those easier, but these 3” rollers were all that was available used locally when I was searching.

The next observation is directly related to one of the desired benefits. Immediately I noticed while pedaling a ‘shwoop swhoop swhoop’ pattern. My pedal stroke appeared almost digital, on or off, and not very smooth at all (although watching the video afterwards, it doesn’t look as bad as it felt). Rollers seem to exaggerate any lack of smoothness and I remember it very clearly from when I used to ride my old Catrike Speed on a set of Sportcrafter mini-rollers over winter (if you’ve never seen those, they look like just the back end of a set of rollers, which make them ideal for trike use, just two drums for the rear wheel). With practice and time on the rollers, that smooths out and power is applied more evenly throughout the stroke, everything feels smoother and that shwoop shwoop pattern dissipates. That’s still some time away for me this year, but I’m optimistic that it will come through use this winter before I get out on the road in the spring.

Another observation is that 3” of drums plus the frame’s structure very noticeably raises the bike, a small step would be useful when getting on and off!

So the idea of planning some structured sessions on my new rollers is still some time away, no imminent interval training here – I just want to ride for extended periods without hanging onto something first. I’m encouraged that it feels fun and it feels very natural, very close to road riding (compared to a stationary exercise bike, even a recumbent one, which I’ve used in previous winters). That may also be true of other kinds of trainers, I just don’t have experience with them. I’m confident my fitness will benefit from riding the rollers over winter and I have seen my pedal stroke smooth out in the past from training with Sportcrafter rollers so I expect that will happen again here.

I don’t know for sure that Kreitler Challengers are the only ‘recumbent-friendly’ models but certainly most rollers I looked at online didn’t extend up to 47”. These are nicely made and roll smoothly, I’m happy with them.

We will see how I get on over winter and what sort of shape I’m in come the spring!