Is Mountain Biking Good For Road Riding?

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Photo by TommyP – Mountain biking extraordinaire and Polish hardman. I can hardly hold his wheel!

I’ve been going absolutely nuts on the singletrack lately and am loving every minute of it. Mountain biking was the original genre of cycling I seriously got into.  When I moved to Australia I sadly left it for a few years while concentrating on road racing.  Now that I’ve re-discovered the sport of mountain biking I can’t get enough of it.

Many people ask me if I think that mountain biking is good for their road riding.  I think this one is definitely a “yes” and a “no” type of answer, but it’s pretty clear cut.

I’ll start with the “no” because it’s quick and easy:  No –  Not if you’re trying to get really good at road racing.  You might see Lance on the mountain bike from time to time but he’s more the exception than the rule.  There’s lots of stuff Lance does that you don’t see any other human beings do.  I guarantee Cadel didn’t ride his mountain bike for training leading up to his world title yesterday.  It has everything to do with specificity.  If you want to maximize your potential for road racing you have to do things in training that mimic exactly what you need to be doing in racing. Needless to say road riding is better at preparing you for road racing than mountain biking is – period.

Now for the fun stuff:  Yes – Very few of us reading have the dedication and ambition to be world class roadies (well, maybe Gerro, Kempy and Jono do).  Therefore I can definitely recommend you get out mountain biking to keep things fresh.   The only caveat I’ll say is that you shouldn’t replace your road training with the mountain biking if you have upcoming goals on the road in the near future.  As a priority event approaches you should do less mountain biking and concentrate more on the specific demands of that road event.

Here are a few reasons why I say YES to mountain biking (thanks to Tim for prompting this list):

  • Excellent practice for pedaling technique.  You cannot grind and stomp those gears like you can on a road bike.  Mountain bikers are known for having extremely good pedaling technique.
  • Excellent training for your power component of fitness (MTB’ing contains lots of short explosive bursts)
  • More use of core and upper body muscles.  You gotta keep those working from time to time.
  • Improved bike handling and excellent cornering techniques that can be transferred to the road bike.
  • Riding enduro events solo is — not surprisingly — great for endurance
  • Riding enduro events in a team is like doing 40 minute TT efforts
  • Pleasant change of scenery
  • No need to worry about traffic. Kangaroos are the main hazard to be careful of!
  • No need to ride indoors when the weather turns miserable. Wind is never an issue on a mountain bike
  • The opportunity to beat the blokes who you can’t get near on a road bike
  • Mountain biking is generally considers to be a much friendlier and more inviting social scene than road.  Easier introduction to start racing than road racing
  • You can get a good solid workout in in less than 2hrs that will leave you completely spent
  • Unless you hit a tree or fall off a cliff, wiping out a mountain bike is usually harmless.

I see from the survey that 32% of you reading own a mountain bike.  That means that as many as 68% of you may be $3,000 poorer by this weekend if you take my advice to heart.  Go ahead and do it – you only live once!   I also know an amazing mtb skills coach if you’re interested.   I’m not too shabby a mountain biker (if I do say so myself) and he’s improved my technique and hence speed by a tremendous amount (probably 20%) through only one session.  Sometimes an old dog needs to relearn those basic tricks…


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