Those of you who know me, will know that as well as being a lover of road cycling I’m also devoted to my mountain biking too. You’ll find me regularly tearing through local trails like a mad man, and competing in many a MTB X-Country event.
So, much like being asked that impossible to answer question; who’s your favourite child? When it comes to Road or MTB, I equally love them both.
Now, perhaps back in the day when it came to cycling, you used to be either a road cyclist or a mountain biker. But these days I’ve noticed more and more of us cyclists are neither one nor another – we’re both. It’s a trend ever growing, and it recently got me pondering as to the reasons why. As a result, I jotted down some thoughts as to why I think this is, and so also showing just why the road cyclists out there who aren’t yet mountain bikers, should really be.
First up, MTB is great way to tighten up and enhance your road riding skills.
The ever changing nature of your cycling route when navigating the trails, and the very different off-road terrain, means you have to be constantly responding to your shifting riding position. Consequently, the relentless braking and cornering – on the challenging terrain - will unquestionably force you to become a better all-round rider.
Therefore, when you get back onto the more familiar smoother roads you’ll notice an ability to not only ride faster, but also to handle the trickier and more technical roads, better - as well as being well equipped to steer your way through any unforeseen dangers that the road has a nasty habit of tending to throw your way.
One other thing I’ve noticed is how my pedalling technique when on my road bike has become much smoother over time, which has translated into me being able to ride faster and far more efficiently. I owe a great deal of this improvement to the time spent honing my pedalling technique when on my mountain bike. Sheer brute force is generally not the answer when it comes to trying to ascend a slippery MTB slope – doing that will very likely result in your wheels spinning crazily out of control, and you running the risk of ending up face down in the mud.
Instead, a more measured consistent approach to your pedalling is required. Which is of course ideally suited to the firmer roads too.
You can’t argue with the fact that MTB provides you with much more of an overall workout, than that of road cycling alone. The dynamic, constantly body shifting nature of mountain biking means you’ll rely more heavily on your core and upper body to help you retain your balance and optimum riding position. It is the sort of cycling fitness workout that you just can’t replicate when out road riding - but the type that will help you no end, when you do indeed return to the road.
As mentioned earlier, when on your mountain bike there is a need for a smoother and more consistent pedalling stroke. However, naturally there is also a need for shorter more explosive bursts. These shorter bursts of higher intensity help to create an interval style of workout – a workout that does tend to be harder to do when riding the roads. I for one know that I prefer to build my cycling strength and power by spending time hammering it around on my mountain bike, rather than having to always slog it out in the gym. I’m pretty sure you will too.
For me, the main reason I do mountain biking is for the sheer joy of it. I find it near enough impossible to not have fun when I’m out on the trails. Every time I’m out there I get utterly lost in the moment, with my cycling surges through the Dorset countryside, giving rise to the more natural, intangible surges of happiness felt racing through my body.
Now, not that I don’t have fun when I’m out road cycling – far from it - but it’s a different sort of fun. And I’ll be the first to admit, that sometimes ‘fun’ in its truest sense, is something that I can be somewhat guilty of neglecting when I’m out riding the roads, with often an overemphasis on performance rather than simply enjoying the ride. When it comes to mountain biking, it is far harder to fall into this trap – making it the perfect tonic to your slightly more serious road cycling approach.
When out on my mountain bike, I’ve unwittingly unearthed some hidden gems of locations; spots of our beautiful country that I simply would never have discovered when road riding. It’s not only given me a newfound appreciation for my local area, but also new routes to ride – for both MTB and Road Cycling – and new hidden paths and corridors to explore by foot – and paw – when out with the family.
Furthermore, mountain biking allows you to escape the – what can be – busy traffic filled roads. The absence of cars means you can concentrate solely on your riding and only the natural obstacles in your path. You wont find any road rage in the hidden depths of the countryside.
And as I alluded to under ‘explore’, mountain biking will provide you with the opportunity to experience different scenery to what the traditional British roads can offer you.
I do hope I’ve made my case effectively, as to why you should add mountain biking to your cycling life. But when providing the case ‘for’, it’s only fair to provide the case ‘against’, too.
You’ll need to buy another bike.
Any serious rider will of course know that you can’t have too many bikes. But your bank account, and your other half for that matter, may well not share these same beliefs.
Much like road bikes, and well for anything in life really, the more you spend the better. A higher priced bike will give you greater specifications; leading to an improved ride, higher levels of enjoyment, greater ability to improve your skills, and will generally require less maintenance over time. I’d always recommend spending as much as you can afford, and then a tiny bit more. Just don’t tell Deb’s that…
I won’t hide from the fact, injuries do happen when you’re out mountain biking. But during my many years on my mountain bike, I’ve never experienced any injuries too serious. Remember, any possible crashes will not involve cars; at worst you could hit a tree. But generally the only injuries I’ve experienced have been cuts and bruises.
As much as I love sailing close to the wind, I always make sure I never lose that feeling of control. When you cross over this line, you can almost guarantee you’ll likely come off your bike. To guard against this, if you’re unfamiliar on how a trail may ride, either do a slow test ride, or walk it at an earlier date.
‘I’ve never experienced any injuries too serious’. Luckily I’m typing this up while sat at a wooden table, so yep – touch wood.
I’m sure some people may well suggest sticking clear of mountain biking, but this reasoning tends to really only be worth considering if you are solely focussed on reaching the upper echelons of the road cycling world. Often citing the threat to injury and the physical demands mountain biking places on the body, as the reasons as to why.
Now I don’t know about you, but while I’m as competitive as the next man, I’m not exactly reaching for the very top, and I’m guessing you probably aren’t either.
So while I do recognise the physical stresses mountain biking can place on you, this for me is far outweighed by the fun that can be had and the opportunities available to help improve your road cycling abilities. Mountain biking basically just requires more recovery time than road riding. That’s why I’d suggest that more miles should be done on the road, with shorter less frequent bursts to be done on the mountain bike.
I couldn’t chose one over the other; both are vital in my cycling life. And so you wont find a stronger advocate of mountain bike riding than me. If you are not already doing so, then go give it a go and I’m sure you’ll very quickly be a convert too!
I love it so much, and think it is so beneficial for you road riding, that we run a mountain bike retreat weekend here at On the Rivet. It includes all of the luxury elements of our normal road riding retreats, but instead you’ll be navigating the amazing natural trails found in our beautiful location, as well as tackling the brilliant man made trick parks that have been purposely built.
I hope to be riding a trail and teaching you some tricks in our park, very soon!