Although many cyclists and triathletes train through the winter months using trainers, there is nothing like a set of rollers to develop bike handling skills, cadence, and top end speed.
By using trainers, cyclists can get away with horrific technique. Not with rollers. On rollers you need to have a smooth symmetrical pedal stroke, the ability to shift your weight only slightly to make minor adjustments to keep the bike on the rollers, as steering is not an option. On rollers you cannot get away with anything. Training on rollers – in time – develops a relaxed grip, loose arms, technique which has power generation beginning at the core, plus symmetry in body position. To take bike handling skills to a new level – by eliminating bad habits such as steering to correct a line, riding with a white knuckle death grip, powering only from the hips and only on the down stroke, as so on – rollers are the investment to make to becoming better.
Just watch the form of these riders as they take their cadence up to the low 200s…
Track riders train and compete on bikes which have only one gear – one chainring in the front, and a single gear on the back hub – hence the term ‘fixie‘. The only way to accelerate, decelerate, and for that matter to come to a stop is by the rider changing the speeds at which they pedal (i.e. turnover or cadence). Instead of the bike having gears, it is the rider who must have ‘gears’ by having the ability to pedal at different speeds.
You can train on rollers with a fixe, but it isn’t mandatory. You can train just as easily on rollers with a regular road bike, but instead of changing gears on the bike, train your own ability to change gears (i.e. pedaling cadence) to go faster and slower.
Why train turnover? Because you simply cannot achieve your potential as a cyclist being able to ride only one cadence. The ability to drop the hammer, attack, drop the peloton or another rider efficiently with the ability to recover while holding a new pace comes from the ability to maneuver throughout a wide rpm band, not by pounding bigger gears. This is no different in swimming and running. Olympic level swimmers have not only different gears, they have entirely different strokes depending on whether they are racing short course yards or long course meters; this is no different than crit cycling requiring a different setup and technique then tour riding or a TT competition.
Note how smooth the rider is in the video and how the bike remains still despite the fact that he brings his cadence up to into the low to mid 200s, and then back down. This ability requires a tremendous amount of flexibility and a relaxed effort so that the rider can turnover at an incredible rate without vibrating right off the rollers. Novice riders bike at low metronomic rates in the 60s or 70s. Experienced riders can manage a cadence in the 80s or maybe even the 90s. Pro riders can easily run up and down a massive range, can hold a cadence in the low 100s for a Time Trial (e.g. Bradley Wiggins during the World Hour Record), and can hold on a track a turnover of 200+ in the final lap of a race at a velodrome (watch the video in post titled “Bike Handling Skills“).
Novice riders lack the fluidity and the ability to ride relaxed. Their rigidity is revealed in the pattern of stabilizing with their upper body while their lower body painfully grinds out each and every stroke believing that muscling the downstroke is the goal. It feels hard to ride this way, and it is: it is an inefficient, unproductive, exhausting, and an unpleasant way to ride.
Top cyclists rotate smoothly through the length of their spine and into their lumbar-pelvic universal joint, allowing them to use every joint and muscle from their wrists to their ankles to generate power and to provide dynamic stability. Top riders don’t grind away as they cannot afford to ride inefficiently. Top riders need to be able to scale long gradients aerobically during mountain stages and simultaneously have the slack in their system to be able to attack not once but numerous times. Top riders need to be able to hold high turnover rates for prolonged periods when they break away in the final kilometers of a key stage in a tour to outpace the peloton.
Same applies to triathletes as being loose and relaxed off the bike is key to being able to run efficiently and effortlessly to the final finish line of the event. If you want to run a cadence in the 90s then wouldn’t it make sense to be able to bike at such a cadence comfortably? If you come off the bike and have difficulty changing gears into running mode, you may want to review your cadence profile from your last triathlon… it may provide interesting insight into your ability (or inability for that matter) to run in competition.
Interested in becoming a better rider:
- A set of rollers will put you on the road with skills that will allow you to weave around road furniture, hold a line, manage rolling hills with ease, the congestion around T1 and T2, and do so with less effort, with confidence, and an edge over your competitors.
- A mountain bike and some off-road training is another option for road cyclists interested in developing agility, balance, and coordination plus higher turnover. Climbing steep inclines, traversing exposed rock, man made obstacles, crossing fallen trees, and balancing lengthwise down a log do not forgive riders with poor skill, form, or technique. Plus, loose, wet, and rounded surfaces do not accept gear grinding, riders need to identify the appropriate spin of their tires to maximize grip thus power transfer.
- Sometimes the way to faster riding is not on the bike but in dryland training. Developing flexibility, balance, and reaction speed of the bike can translate into better skills and greater efficiency in power transfer when on the bike. Investing time with a coach who can evaluate and retrain your flexibility, balance, reaction time, and technique can provide an equally valuable payoff not only in faster splits, but by riding becoming much more relaxed and enjoyable.
Interesting side notes:
- 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and winner of over 40 Tour de France and Giro d’Italia stages, sprinter Mark Cavendish both started out as track cyclists.
- 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans and 2015 Tour de California winner Peter Sagan are both former mountain bike racers who switched to road racing.
How about no hands & one leg riding on rollers…