Life is more challenging for bicyclists in the winter.
Obligatory warning: This post is rife with video clips. (Okay, three clips, but that's rife in my book.) With each clip, a text explanation has been provided for those who might be bandwidth-impaired or attention-challenged, or who simply don't like watching videos on a blog.
It is possible to bicycle in the snow. But if you really want to try it, we recommend a trip to Alaska. Bicycling in snow, or over ice, is not really recommended when you're in traffic. (Ever try to put chains on a bike?)
The trouble is, riding a stationary bike is the second most boring exercise ever invented. To keep riding while waiting for the weather to improve, a lot of cyclists spend the winter riding on rollers.
What are rollers?
Rollers are simply a metal frame that sits on the floor, with cylinders across the frame. When you put your bicycle onto this frame, the cylinders align with the wheels on the bike. You get on the bicycle and start pedaling, and the cylinders spin with the wheels. Basically, you're pedaling while staying still. Like a stationary bike, except really, really different.
Rollers are not the same as stationary bicycle riding. You have to concentrate on what you're doing. If you've ever watched someone try this for this first time, they're all over the place. Not only is this a lot more challenging than a stationary cycle, rollers make you a better cyclist. Assuming you can stay on them.
Riding on rollers -- how to do it
This rider shows how it's supposed to be done. Looks easy when he does it, right?
[TEXT: Man making riding rollers look very easy. So easy, in fact, that after a minute or so I zoned out. Recommended viewing time: 1 minute, unless you're really, really, really into the technical aspects of cycling.]
(I have to confess, even though I think this guy is really good at showing how you should ride rollers, I still couldn't watch this for the whole 10 minutes. Unless you're really into the minutiae of cycling, you might want to skip the last 9 minutes and 30 seconds of this video clip. Trust me, he doesn't fall off or doing anything silly, even if this is a YouTube video.)
Now look at this video of a newbie trying to ride rollers:
[TEXT: Man who clearly has not done this before. Spends most of the video riding with one hand clinging to the door post or falling to one side or the other. However, his girlfriend/spouse thinks he's doing a great job. (Call me cynical, but I suspect if the woman were a sister she would have gotten bored and stopped filming him after his first few attempts.) He does get the hang of it, for the most part. I found that encouraging.]
Rollers can be the same sort of daredevil escapade -- don't do it like this cyclist:
[TEXT: Man acting silly while riding on rollers ("Dad, you are such a dork," a young voice says off-camera) with music in the background.]
(It took almost the full five minutes, but I finally did laugh at one of his attempted stunts. Don't try this stuff with your eyes closed.)
So what's the point of riding with rollers? Just to entertain your friends & family?
Riding on rollers instead of on a stationary bicycle can make you a much better cyclist:
Rollers help you develop a smooth cadence. A smooth cadence means your legs are working more effectively; you're not wasting energy pushing to the side, or making jerky start-and-stop/push-and-coast movements. Because the least jerkiness results in noticeable wavering, you get instant feedback to improve your movements.
Rollers really help you improve your balance. Like riding a bicycle on the road, you're using your muscles to keep upright. You end up making little correcting motions throughout the ride. (Or really large, wild correcting motions, depending on your skills.)
Doing this clipped in, i.e. with your feet clamped to the pedals, is, in my opinion, insane. At least until you get the hang of it.
One of the more depressing aspects of winter is the thought that you're losing your edge, your fitness and ability while you're cooped up indoors. Rollers would be a great way to get ready for spring.
On the other hand, you might want to consider wearing a helmet when you're trying this, unless you're really confident about your balancing ability and superior reaction times. And don't let people follow you around with a video camera unless you want to end up on YouTube!
If it doesn't kill you, riding with rollers does improve your cycling skills. And it's not boring. You're too busy trying not to fall over to be bored.
This might seem a bit extreme, but it's one way to keep the winter blahs at bay. A helluva lot more exciting than a stationary bike.
Well -- how you do you plan to keep exercise interesting over the winter? Ski jumping?
Oh crap... where's the snow?
Snowbike courtesy of vomsorb.