Kurt Begemann (USA Cycling Level II Coach) February 2009
I first learned how to ride rollers in 1988 when I spent a good portion of the South African winter sitting in front of the television watching Pedro Delgado destroy his opponents in the Tour De France. The hourly evening coverage for 21 days straight gave me plenty of practice, and by the time the Tour was over, I was quite confident that I had mastered rollers. Not without incident mind you, as riding one-handed while going for my water bottle often resulted in me sprawled out on the carpet, and the cat running for cover. Needless to say, over time, I became quite adept at riding the rollers one-handed and operating the VCR remote while watching Tour videos.
Since then I have owned three different pairs of rollers, all made by different manufacturers and I've ridden even more while warming up at Track meets around the globe. For the most part, traditional rollers aren't that much different from one another. They're all designed to do one thing in particular, namely offer you the most realistic sensation to riding your own bike indoors while on a stationary platform. It's no wonder that Track riders around the world prefer rollers over traditional indoor trainers for warming up. They give you a very accurate feel for what it is like to have your bike floating freely beneath you while forcing you to recruit the skills and coordination required for balance. Furthermore, they also accentuate any "untidiness" in your pedaling style, and thus "force" you to perfect a smooth and efficient pedal stroke. In fact, it is fair to say that rollers are universally renowned for forcing you to "clean-up" your form. This makes them challenging to learn, and often puts people off from trying them in the first place.
THE SUBTLE DIFFERENCES IN TRADITIONAL ROLLERS:
Most frames are made of aluminum and are foldable, which makes them lighter and easier to transport, too and from race meets. Some older rollers like the ones used in roller race tournaments, often have nonfolding steel or wooden frames that make them very sturdy during vigorous and constant use, but heavy and cumbersome to transport on a frequent basis.
The two most popular materials used to make roller drums these days are PVC and aluminum. Aluminum rollers are very concentric and offer a very smooth ride. PVC rollers aren't always very true in their roundness but are more economical to manufacture. The diameter and shape of a PVC roller can also vary, creating a specific shape to the roller drum itself, such as the "Elite Parabolic," or the "Tacx Antares" which have a conical shape to them, helping to prevent one from riding off the edge of the rollers themselves.
Some older rollers like the ones used in roller race competitions were made of steel drums, or lathed out of solid wooden blocks. These are incredibly smooth to ride, but costly to manufacture, and too heavy to facilitate frequent transport.
The most common size of roller drums these days is roughly a 4" diameter. These offer what some riders might consider to be a "neutral" resistance. Some rollers come in a 2.25" diameter and these offer more resistance to the rider. Typically larger roller diameters of 6 inches or more are often used in roller race tournaments because they offer little resistance, and once they get moving, carry their momentum very well.
As far as width is concerned, most rollers are about 38" wide, except for the "Kreitler Mini's" which are only 15 inches wide. These require much focus and a very smooth pedal stroke to stay centered on the roller drums.
Other than these subtle differences, most rollers do the same thing.
Enter Inside Ride's E-motion Rollers
"E-motion Rollers" are a new roller design, based on traditional rollers, but floated within a fixed framework. This design allows more forgiveness when it comes to riders who don't have perfect pedal strokes or form on the bike.
Riders with untidy pedal strokes tend to "bob" up and down on the bike (particularly at high cadences), and this encourages the bike to move back and forth, as well as up and down which triggers the bike to want to hop off the rollers, often resulting in mishap. Getting out of the saddle on traditional rollers can be tricky too, as one tends to move the bike backward beneath them, as the rider stands up and comes forward. This too can result in the bike wanting to come off of the rollers.
The other way riders tend to fall off rollers is by drifting sideways and riding off the side. E-motion Rollers are designed to prevent both situations from happening.
In the first two instances, the fact that the rollers are built to glide or float within a larger framework, allows the rider to make erratic or untidy movements, without drastic consequences. Even getting out of the saddle is a breeze, as the E-Motion Rollers themselves glide back and forth within the mainframe. Riding single handed while going for that water bottle is always a little more difficult, but still much easier as any jerky moves or abrupt changes in balance are buffered by the gliding motion of the rollers. I've watched complete novices who could barely ride traditional rollers with both hands on the bars, ride no-handed within an hour or two of trying "E-motions."
In the second situation, riders on E-motion Rollers are kept "within bounds" so to speak by horizontally laid, "inline-skate" wheels on either side of the front roller drum. As the rider drifts towards the side and rubs up against these wheels, they are gently "bounced back into play," so to speak...pinball style! Man...I wish I had these things years ago, as most of my mishaps watching TV were results of me drifting off the side.
Apart from the fact that these rollers are easy to ride for a beginner (in or out of the saddle), and that they have a guide that keeps you within bounds, there is a third advantage to E-motion Rollers. They have 4 different levels of resistance!
This is truly the selling point for me, as I never found traditional rollers had enough resistance to do a good hard workout. Traditional rollers will allow you to get warmed up before events by doing lots of leg-speed drills which are a favorite for "trackies" (Track riders) but don't offer enough resistance to do vigorous training sessions. That's why for years I always recommended to my indoor clients to have both rollers AND an indoor rear wheel mounted trainer. The rollers for perfecting pedal stroke, doing low resistance leg-speed workouts, and easy/easy recovery rides, while using the trainer for hard, intense workouts. But honestly now the E-motion Rollers take care of both situations and they are also made incredibly well.
The roller drums are aluminum and concentric, offering a smooth and quiet ride. The frame is also made out of aluminum, which makes for a fairly light rig when you consider that there are actually two frameworks in this design. If there is one drawback to this product, it is that they don't fold like traditional rollers do, which makes for tricky transportation in smaller vehicles. But that's a small inconvenience when you consider what a versatile and quality product the E-Motion Rollers really are; interesting to note that each E-motion has its own serial number and are made here in the US, just outside of Portland, Oregon.
After just my first session on these rollers, I could instantly see the benefits to the resistance characteristic and the front wheel guides. But I was concerned that the product's ability to disguise riders' poor pedal strokes or buy riders room for error, would, in fact, negate the one important characteristic that rollers are universally renowned for, namely...forcing you to become a smooth pedaler.
But with a little creativity in your workouts, such as one-legged pedal drills, riders can force the recruitment of core strength and other stabilizers to facilitate better form. A favorite of mine is the one handed / one-legged, 30-second pedal drill. (Make sure the glass coffee table is in the other room, and that other obstacles to fall on, are out of reach!)
Although I might still take my trainer to the local road/cyclocross race to warm-up on, and my foldable rollers to the Track, I know that I'll be spending 100% of my winter indoor rides on my new E-Motion Rollers. And come that first day of spring, I'll not only have better fitness but also better riding form!