Besides providing a way for cyclists to train indoors, rollers remove the variables of street training, and having a controlled environment is preferable for certain training protocols. If an itinerary calls for alternating two-minute bursts of pedaling as fast as possible with one-minute periods of slower riding to recover, rollers ensure a rider doesn't hit a stop sign during the sprints or a steep hill during the recovery.
While interval training can be a great workout, the primary benefit of roller training is developing correct pedaling technique. Proper pedaling involves driving down with one foot while using the opposite foot to pull up and back slightly. This technique generates constant power throughout each pedal stroke. By contrast, many cyclists do what's called pedaling in squares, an improper style where each foot drives the pedal from roughly 2 o'clock to 8 o'clock, rests on the pedal and ceases generating power until returning to the 2 o'clock position. The effect is an inefficient pulse of force followed by recovery.
Clean technique also leads to upper-body stability. Cyclists who pedal in squares tend to bounce off the saddle as they push through each stroke. "Rollers don't like you to be bouncy," says Ken McLean, technical director for Landry's Bicycles in Massachusetts [source: McLean].
Even successful, strong road cyclists struggle when beginning bicycle roller training plans -- in many cases, their strength may have compensated for poor pedaling technique. But, with practice and a lot of negative reinforcement, rollers teach the rider to stop flailing and pedal efficiently.
Newer riders should pedal slowly until they've mastered steering on the comparatively narrow width of the rollers. Pedaling in a straight line boosts pedaling efficiency and ultimately translates into improved finishing times during race season. McLean says that several cyclists have told him that after an offseason spent on rollers, they can pedal for miles along the painted lines on the road [source: McLean].
Read on to learn about early 20th century bicycle roller races and their modern-day counterpart, the Goldsprint.