Inside Ride “Smart” Rollers

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Ride Inside

I have friends that lobby against riding inside. They think it makes you soft, but I disagree. I think trainers and rollers have their place and for folks that want to be strong for any event, whether it’s a mountain bike stage race or a multi day backpacking trip to South America or you want to do well at Dirty Kanza. You want to do the work and you want to know your fitness is ready to go when Spring rolls around. And the truth is that you actually get a better workout for the time you have available and there is no worry about distracted drivers or which route is good for the time of day. It’s always a good time to ride, and you get your concentrated workout in the convenience of your own home. And to address that concern that riding inside makes you soft, or a weather wimp, well I’d say that the mental toughness that’s required to make it through a hard indoor workout is just as character building as an outdoor ride in a downpour. You might just have more mojo available the following day to do yet another workout and less likely to get sick or burn out. You gotta take the long view and remember that good weather is coming again and those that have dedicated themselves to an indoor program are the ones that are going to be twice as prepared come riding season. They won’t be whining about how out of shape they are, they’ll be planning rad adventures with confidence.

My first introduction to Inside Ride Rollers was years ago in the gym. Upper Echelon (RIP) had a whole fleet of them and they did indoor training classes as a warmup for cyclocross season. That was cool, but they also had the treadmill ! The treadmill was created by the same brilliant inventor, Larry Papadopoulos. You should know Larry. He’s the inventor and maker of the Inside Ride rollers.

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If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I had rotator cuff surgery in March this year, which set me off on a journey that included getting up to speed on smart trainers. My first smart trainer was the Elite Drivo II, which was great - it was easy to use, just plug it in, link to your phone, sign up with Trainer Road, and start training. The only negative was that in the end it’s just a stationary trainer. The only connection to what you love about riding outside is turning pedals in circles. You put power into the pedals, but it doesn’t really feel like what I love about riding a bike. It’s just power training. Still, I was hooked. I really enjoyed the consistency and I love the work of sticking to a specific plan. I remembered that I had Inside Ride rollers collecting dust and I wondered if I could turn them into smart rollers. Frankly, I’m not sure why I wondered that. I guess I had heard that there was a cheap attachment to the Kinetic trainers and wondered if there was an equivalent upgrade for the Inside Ride. Some quick googling lead me to Inside Ride’s website and I quickly learned that they do in fact have a “Smart Power” kit that attaches to Inside Ride Rollers and those kits go for $365. $530 gets you both the Smart Power Kit AND the floating fork stand (more on that later) That seemed like a good option, so I loaded up my rollers and paid Larry a visit at their headquarters in West Union, Oregon, which is a bit outside of Portland, OR. It turns out my rollers were over 10 years old and not compatible with the Smart Power Kit, but Larry was kind and gave me a tour of the facilities, helped me with replacement belts, and set me up with his very own test mule, so I could get acquainted with his latest and greatest invention. 

Inside Ride rollers are quite simply the best ride experience you can have indoors. The reason for this is the floating feature that allows your bike to move side to side and backwards and forwards as you do your workout. It’s hard to explain the function in words, so take a minute and watch this video The big benefit of this is both improving your pedal stroke and greater comfort for long workouts. Also, it’s a whole body workout. You engage your core and use your upper body. My Trainer Road program had me doing 1 hour, 1.5 hour and even 2 hour workouts. Some would question the sanity of spending that much time riding indoors, but it becomes a reasonable option with the Inside Ride Smart Rollers. It’s not only doable, it’s comfortable and even enjoyable. That’s massive for people who live in cold climates and want to prepare for spring riding.

It mimics the actual dynamics of a road bike on the road. No other trainer on the market gives you this ride feel. But does the Smart Trainer aspect work well? For me it was flawless. I was able to synch my phone quickly and get up and running immediately. Next, the lag time that was present in the Elite Drivo II was nowhere to be found. When it came time for the workout to jump up in effort, the machine took about two seconds to adjust as opposed to the 15 or so seconds for the Elite. 

The other thing that’s noteworthy about Inside Ride is the fact that they’re made entirely in Oregon. We’ve gone on and on about how we want to promote local products, and it certainly helps that I got to meet Larry. I love knowing that if I have a problem, he’s a short drive away and I can have my product repaired rather than chucking the entire thing. Everything is built of quality aluminum and CNC’ed in house. So few things are made this well today!

The argument against an Inside Ride is that rollers are hard to ride. To that, I would say you’re more engaged in your ride and having to balance and stay centered is part of the challenge. Inside Ride has rollerblade wheels installed as bumpers, so you hit those and adjust quickly. Yes, it takes a bit of practice, but I think it’s entirely worth it for anyone that’s an avid cyclist and values the feeling of riding a road bike, as opposed to just jumping on a stationary trainer, such as the Wahoo Kickr. For me, half of the experience is balance and that ride dynamic that exists that makes riding fun, not just jamming on the pedals and sweating hard. Still not convinced? You like being able to stare at your device the entire time and/or watch Paris Roubaix replays as you jam out your indoor miles? OK, I get it - you’re on this thing for an hour or two a day and you want it more automatic…safer even. Well, Inside Ride has you covered. They realize that the current Zwift generation wants things a bit easier, so they’ve created a bolt on “Floating Fork Stand” (FFS) which, again, if you already have an Inside Ride rollers is a $195 add on item. If you’re buying new the complete kit, which includes the Smart Resistance Control AND the FFS, the total is $1345. They call this kit with the Smart Power AND the FFS “The Ultimate Zwift” So you’re getting all the Wahoo Kickr functionality plus a well built (USA designed and made) unit. As I said before, the big selling point is the ride dynamics and the feeling of riding outside, while still having all that functionality and connectivity to workouts like Zwift and Trainer Road. The FFS definitely takes the edge off the rollers and is a huge plus if you spend time staring at your screen. I think it’s probably the way to go, if you’re doing Zwift or Trainer Road. You still need to engage your core and upper body, but no longer worry about hitting the bumpers and coming off the rollers, which was a huge plus for me coming off of shoulder surgery. I’m not sure I’d use the FFS once I’m completely healed, but many folks will appreciate how it makes rollers much more accessible and easier. 

OK, no proper review would be complete without some constructive criticism. The first is that to get to the lower watts during the recovery phases in my workouts I had to actually shift down to get to the sub-100 watt levels. Not a big deal. Second, I wish there was a cleaner way to route the power cord. I suppose if I purchase the smart rollers, I would spend some time with electrical tape and secure all the cords. Finally, I’ve heard concerns about the lack of precision of the power unit. Many of us have power units that will negate that concern, and for the rest, what are you really doing with that Power data? Who cares? Am I doing 10 percent less work if I don’t have an exact readout? So not worried about it. For me the benefits of getting the upper body work and enhanced comfort for long workouts far outweigh any lack of power precision.

I only had this test unit for a limited time, so time will tell how they hold up. The only question would be the electronics, since I’ve had their rollers for years, and I know that the belts are easy to replace. The rollers themselves are bomber and keep rolling year after year. I liked this setup enough that it would be my top pick for indoor training. So, if you’re looking to get up and running with smart indoor training and want to support a small company that makes great product look no further than the Inside Ride with Smart Resistance Control. If you have a set of Inside Ride Rollers that you bought after 2010, then pop for the smart upgrade and get riding!