My cycling upbringing was a dirty one. I don’t mean “dirty.” I mean dirt-y. Long before I joined the staff at Cadence, I was riding into the woods behind my childhood home, shovel in hand. When of age—15 to be exact, and started working in the local bike shop, I took that same 20-inch BMX bike and started riding the local singletrack. It wasn’t until I came to Cadence that I started riding bikes with skinny tires and shaving my legs. So it’s only natural then, that I would write a post extolling the virtues of our fat tire friends. But you’ve heard it all before, right? Yet you still haven’t tried mountain biking.
I’m about to lay down a serious list of reasons why you should—nay, must—try riding off road. I won’t even bother with trying to just tell you how fun it is. I am going to tell you how you can use mountain biking to help drastically improve your road cycling—guaranteed. After reading this, cast your fears and doubts aside and get into the woods.
Angela Lansbury, I like your dress, but that is not the “into the woods” I was talking about. But seriously folks, let’s get down to brass tacks. How can riding in the woods help your riding on the road?
Diversify your fitness – Road cycling and mountain biking require a very different kind of fitness. While the types of efforts required in each are very different, they are mutually beneficial. Introducing mountain biking into your training will help against reaching any plateau in your fitness. After doing the same type of training and intervals for a whole season, your body adapts, and you will get less and less benefit from doing them. Mountain biking efforts are usually short and explosive—you either go as hard as you can, or you walk up the hill. You will go deeper than you want to—but those explosive efforts help build power. But forget the specifics of it—getting a change of pace that your body will react to is the biggest performance benefit.
Drive that bike – I’m just gonna say it: Many road cyclists and triathletes are poor bike handlers. It’s ok—really, you’re not alone. Don’t worry though; there is help to be had. Get on a mountain bike and head into the Wissahickon! Mountain biking requires more agility and bike handling than road cycling and the effects of the practice you get on the trails will be immediately transferred to your skinny tire bike. Hoping curbs, avoiding road debris or other cyclists will seem like absolute child’s play after you have taken some trips through the woods.
Get off that trainer – Winter training on the road bike sucks. Let’s just be honest about it. Riding a trainer for hours is no fun. We got lucky this winter with some very mild weather, but during a normal January, you are not going to get much time outside, unless you are a total juggernaut and are willing to ride through some freezing cold winds. Here is the good news: While you are freezing your toes off on the road, those of us in the woods are warm. On any given winter ride, the woods will feel 10-15 degrees warmer than riding on the road. The trees knock down all of the wind. No wind = still feeling your fingers and face at the end of a ride. Snowy winter MTB rides are a load of fun, while your friends are stuck inside on the trainer, you can come with me into the woods and get one hell of a workout, and have some fun to boot.
Beat that burnout – Cycling is fun, but be honest, sometimes you’re just over it. As people get more competitive, the cycling calendar seems to extend further and further from both ends, until you have no time off between the end of your season and starting to train for next year. At that moment you want nothing to do with cycling. You’re burnt. You need a change of pace. Mountain biking can fill that void. It’s extremely fun and much less straight-faced than road cycling—just what the doctor ordered at the end of a long season, all the while maintaining your fitness. So instead of slogging through another off season (or mid season) with low motivation because of burnout, change it up—relearn how fun it can be to just go out and ride. Jump off some stuff. It’s a hell of a good time.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I want to get the point across that trying mountain biking isn’t like some kind of religious conversion. You won’t automatically stop shaving and start wearing baggy shorts—not that there is anything wrong with that. You can keep your spandex. Mountain biking can be a tool to improve yourself as an athlete—in a multitude of ways. It may seem that mountain bikers and road cyclists exist in two separate worlds, but it’s just not like that. You can have both. You can learn from both. And who knows, you might just like it in the woods.
Shameless Epilogue Plug: We have Orbea demo mountain bikes. If you want to try before you buy—which I highly recommend—you should take advantage of them! They are here to be ridden. Plus, all any of the demo fees can be applied towards the purchase of a new MTB. Bam.