Monday, January 4, 2010

Rolling with the Rollers

I'll get this out of the way right up front - many triathletes and cyclists have lousy pedaling technique. It's not their fault - they got the bike, the gear, and right away started riding hard and long. Triathletes , because of the time-trial-push-a-big-gear approach that many take from the get-go are particularly bad at this. What they didn't do was take the time to develop a smooth and efficient pedal stroke - something that will make them a better and faster cyclist. Indoor bike trainers, which many are riding on at this time of the year can, depending on the unit also contribute to cycling in squares as opposed nice round circles.

What to do? Get a set of bike rollers and work roller riding into the routine. Now, many cyclists and triathletes are terrified of rollers. All they have heard are horror stories about them and what a waste of time they are. Many rollers are bought, tried once and then left to gather dust in the basement. I'll be honest - it does take a bit to get the hang of riding rollers, but if you stick with it, the rewards are significant.

Here's a few tips to get you going.

1. A road bike is "better" for riding on the rollers. However, you can use a tri-bike if you wish. The problem is that many triathletes are ill-positioned on their tri-bikes and have poor weight distribution - in short too much weight too far forward on the bike. This will make the handling of the bike on the rollers a bit squrrily. Proper tri-bike fit should not have the weight grossly shifted forward. Suggestion: Look into your fit in the off season.

2. Set the rollers up in a door-way. This way if you start to fall, you can hold yourself up by grabbing the door frame or leaning with elbows or shoulders on the sides of the door frame.

3. Get up on the bike - this can be a bit awkward, but once you are and you are clicked into your pedals, put one hand on the door frame and one on the bar( holding the top bar of a road bike just away from the stem - this is more stable). Note - the back wheel sits on the two rollers and the front wheel on the single roller on the front of the roller unit!

4. Start pedaling using a gear in the middle of your range. Keep one arm on the door jam and one of the bars and try and keep the front wheel in the middle of the front drum. At lower speeds it will wander a bit but as you build up speed . . .

5. . . .The faster you pedal and the higher the speed of both the wheels and the pedals, the more stable you will be - this is the centrifugal/gyroscopic effect at work. That being said - compared to riding on the road, it will seem like you are riding on ice!

6. Whatever you do - keep pedaling. Unless, you do come off. Then stop!

7. The moment of truth - let go of the door frame and put that hand on the handle bar tops. Look ahead - not down. See how long you can keep it going straight.

The first time will be very frustrating. You may only keep it going straight and not off to one side, for a few seconds, but keep at it. If you are well positioned in the door way, you should not go anywhere. Click out of the pedals, if you have to and set up and try it again. The learning curve for rollers is very steep, but short. Thus, it seems impossible at first, but it will come and in a much shorter time than you think - you just have to hang in there and keep trying.

Benefits: You'll figure out pretty quickly how smooth your pedal stroke is almost right away. If you have a herky-jerky pedals\stroke, you'll know - as it will seem like you are almost bucking yourself off the bike. Every little flaw in the pedal stroke is high-lighted when riding the rollers. Via your own feedback you should be able to fix some of this on your own.

Balance is key both forward and back and side to side. You quickly find out, again, that a lot of the weaving you may have been doing on the road, is due to shifting weight on the bike from side to side. Being quiet on the bike is key. The only thing that should be moving is your legs! If you are still riding in the door frame and you drift too far to one side, you can just stick an elbow out, lean on the door frame with your shoulder, or quickly and quietly put a hand out, and keep pedaling. The key is to not over-react and then get back centered again and on your way. This is a key group-ride or road racing skill - you do, from time to time, touch shoulders, elbows, even handle-bars with other riders in a pack/peleton - what causes crashes, is people panicking and OVER REACTING in this situation. If you remain calm and just focus on keeping balanced and the bike going forward, you'll be OK. Regular roller riding will give you that balance and that confidence

Roll On!