Rollers are those awkward humps, often spaced around a bike length apart, that have a tedious habit of upsetting your balance and disrupting your progress however you approach them. There are three main techniques to tackle them, and happily, none of them involve sitting under a hair dryer reading Woman’s Own. Simple and safe, it involves pumping the terrain — forcing the bike to follow the profile of the terrain. With more practice and greater speed, you can loft the front wheel up and over in a textbook manual. Finally, if you’re feeling really confident, turn the humps into jumps and double them up.
The easiest way to dispatch a set of rollers is to pump through them. Even though there’s not a lot of gradient to the trail, such is the beauty of pumping that you can use it to actually increase your speed. The basic idea is that you unweight the bike as the ground rises up and push down and forward when the trail drops. This works the downs and reduces resistance on the ups. It tends to work better at slow to medium speeds — the faster you go, the more difficult it is to get the timing right. In this example, the rollers come not long after a corner, so Andrew’s speed is limited.
He approaches the rollers out of the saddle, as he will need to use his legs as shock absorbers. As he rises up the hump, he moves his weight back over the rear axle pulling back slightly on the bars. Don’t try and lift the front wheel, just ease off.
With his front wheel over the obstruction, he begins to move his weight forward over the bars and bend his knees to force the bike down the backside.
The bike gathers momentum as the front wheel descends, and Andrew pushes down on the bars until the rear wheel reaches the top.
Because the gap between the two rollers is so short, the next step must be done quickly but smoothly. The front wheel is now starting to roll up the second hump, so he eases back on the bars again and reduces his weight from the front end.
With the front wheel at the top of the roller, Andrew’s weight is moving forward and he is beginning to push down on the bars.
His body is continuing to move forward, and he is now bending his elbows.
As the front wheel nears the top, he is almost crouching down over the front end, knees bent.
The manual is a more advanced, but invaluable, technique, not only for negotiating rollers, but small ditches, drops and trail debris such as fallen branches. Learn the technique on a smooth, gradual downhill surface (such as grass) before transferring it to a trail situation.
Approach the rollers with a finger covering the back brake. This is a vital lifeline should you pull the front end too high and feel yourself falling off the back; tap the brake and the front wheel will drop back onto the trail. As Andrew nears the roller, he pulls back on the bars and kicks forward with his ankles to lift the front wheel in the air. His bodyweight is moving rearward to bring the balance point back. If you imagine a rowing machine, it’s a similar movement.
When the front wheel rises, be ready to tap the back brake to arrest the manual at the balance point. As is often the case, this is easier said than done, and don’t expect to get it right away. The rear wheel is still climbing the hump, so the front wheel wants to drop. To counter this, Andrew must lean right back.
Now the rear wheel has dropped into the dip the bike accelerates and tries to dump him off the back. So he kicks down with his ankles, pushing the rear wheel into the ground and standing up to bring his weight forward.
Riding up the second hump, the front wheel wants to drop again, but so close to the end of the section, Andrew can use this to his advantage. He leans back just enough to keep the front wheel lofted until the he coasts over the crest.
As the rear wheel catches on the crest of the second hump, Andrew uses this resistance to pitch his weight forward and bring the front wheel back onto the trail. Ideally you want to finish the manual without touching the brakes to maximise forward velocity and take you into the next section at speed.
Jumping the rollers like a set of doubles is usually the fastest option, but it requires careful timing and confident handling. If you are confident doing bunny-hops, then you will find the movement and timing transfers easily across to jumping.
Keep in mind that the aim here is to match the take-off and landing attitude of the bike with the angle of the terrain. Not only is this silky smooth, but you will actually accelerate away from the rollers. Look at the top of the lip as you approach — this will help you get your timing right. Pull back on the bars as you roll up the hump, but keep your bodyweight central.
With the front wheel in the air and the rear wheel reaching the top of the hump, pull the pedals up by bending your knees. This will get the rear wheel off the ground.
Once you can be sure your front wheel is going to make it across the gap, start letting it drop to meet the angle of the downslope. Keep tucking your feet up by bending your knees. This continues the arc of the rear wheel, so that it closely (although not exactly) follows the arc of the front wheel.
The rear wheel touches down at the top of the downslope and Andrew bends both elbows and knees very slightly to soften the impact and keep his speed up.