Not as easy as they make it look on TV...
Not as easy as they make it look on TV…

I’ve bought some rollers. I got them because I’m supposed to be doing some (XC mountain bike) races this summer, and I thought I should probably do some training for that in order to realise my aim of a top-ten finish (out of the twenty or so riders in the sport category, achievable goals and all that).

Riding on rollers is highly entertaining. If you’re bored of idly prodding the internet or vegetating in front of the telly, I can heartily recommend learning to ride a bike on rollers as a diverting alternative for an hour or so. Some describe the sensation as being like riding on ice, but this is inaccurate. Riding on ice is horrible, because all it involves is slamming down onto the floor incredibly fast and hard, generally at speed, and then sliding along in a stream of slush and wintery road gunk for a few hundred yards. Riding on rollers feels very unstable, yes, but there the similarity ends, I’ve done it for a good hour now and not once did I smash my hip into the ground so badly that I’ll limp for a week, which is what happened last time I rode on some ice. And the time before that, too.

To learn to ride on rollers it is advisable to set yourself up in a doorway (see picture), which has the added benefit of giving anyone sharing your home with you something to laugh at. The first problem encountered is that the bike is higher up than usual, so you have to winch yourself up into the saddle by hanging off the door frame. You clip in, try to get comfy, and turn an experimental pedal. The bike veers off rapidly to one side, you push back to correct it and the wheels fly off the end of the rollers. You try again. The same thing happens. Clearly initial stability is the problem, so you grab the architrave and try to get some revs up. This works a bit better, and after a while you slowly release your deathgrip on the woodwork. After five minutes wobbling about you discover that you can apparently now ride the rollers, and no handed too! “I’ve cracked it!” you think, and reach forwards for the bars, at which point the bike immediately develops the tankslapper from hell and fishtails off the side of the rapidly spinning drums in a matter of milliseconds. Through some innate sense of self-preservation you are able to stop pedalling at this point and you don’t go blasting into the opposite wall or down the stairs at thirty miles an hour, by means of which action your life is preserved.

It is fittingly bizarre for such a strange activity as pedalling a bike indoors on aluminium cylinders that riding no-handed on rollers is actually easier than controlling the thing in the more customary manner, with the bars. You get back on and try again, building up courage to reach forward a few times, and wobbling off in the same manner again and again. You lower the saddle to see if that enables you to maintain a more optimal centre of gravity, or at least shift your weight a little bit without veering off into the radiator. Eventually you give up and resort to grabbing the fixtures and fittings again, one hand on the bars, the other grasping something predictable and solid. This works better, and after a few more minutes you are able to let go, and even start to think about putting both hands on the bars. There is some serious wobbling at this point, but you manage to regain equilibrium after the initial manoeuvre, and finally you are riding the rollers. A few triumphal minutes spent (mostly) centred on the newly mastered spinning contraption, and you feel that your evening has been most productively spent. Next time I’m going to try to figure out getting on and off the bike without the assistance of cosmetic joinery, that should keep me occupied for a good hour at least.