How can something so similar, be so different?
Cycling takes many forms, with road and mountain biking sitting at the top of the leaderboard. But although they are cut from the same cloth, there are some fundamental differences between the two.
Each profess to have mastered the ultimate riding experience, and proclaim to be made up of the most hardcore of athletes. An ongoing debate that is starting to run dry.
So we thought we’d turn things on their head and look at what can each discipline learn from the other…
What MTB riders can learn from road cycling
Let’s cut the waffle and dive straight in!
Speed and fitness
Yep – on road training can help boost fitness levels of mountain bikers just as much as off-road sessions can help road cyclists.
Enhancing your speed in the saddle doesn’t always mean spending extravagant amounts of money to get the latest and lightest component. Instead, grab a bike and take to the road.
The change in physical and technical demands will challenge your body in new ways, breaking down barriers and pushing your performance to the next level. Consistent, leg-focused training will help build power whilst increasing your aerobic capacity.
And with just the open road ahead of you, there’s nothing to stop you from getting the miles in! You might cover just the same distance off the beaten track, but the road will make it much more accessible…
Targeting specific training zones, ramping up the intensity and focus on knocking time off your personal bests is so much easier on road. And it will all help to significantly improve your efforts when you return to the trails.
Climbing strength and skills
Roadies devote a lot of their time in the saddle to developing unbelievable power throughout their lower body. No wonder they’re so happy to show off their legs…
But whilst leg strength is key to taking on the intense climbs they come face to face with, it’s not always enough. And this is where MTB could teach them a thing or two.
Off road and out in the unknown, MTBs build up an impressive amount of upper body strength. It helps them control their body and their bike, and take on the trails they’ve always dreamed of. But it’s not just mountain riders who benefit from increased upper body strength. Roadies will have much better control of each and every climb so they can push their performance to the next level.
Upper body strength is not the only benefit of MTB for road riders. Handling and controlling a bike over uneven terrain – roots, rock gardens, twisting berms – and slippy surfaces demands unbeatable control. By nature, roadies don’t have as much necessity for control. This means, as their muscles starts to tire, their form often slips too.
Taking to the trail and challenging your control from start to finish will improve your endurance and skills when back on the road!
- Elliott Heap: “I perform better under pressure”
- Inside Wales’ MTB Trail Centres
- The mad world of mountain bike festivals
What road cyclists can learn from mountain biking
Now, let’s do a 180. How can on road cycling help mountain bikers perfect their craft?
Tweak your technique
From pedaling style to body position, the two disciplines demand completely different techniques and training regimes. But that doesn’t mean experimenting with MTB is a waste of time when trying to perfect your road cycling skills…
Mountain bikers are known for having extremely good pedaling techniques as they don’t have the freedom to grind through the gears like road cyclists. There’s no getting away with heavy pedaling whilst taking on unsteady climbs and sharp bends.
By ditching the skinny tire for a MTB every once in awhile, you’re investing quality time in your pedaling technique. What is now choppy and harsh will soon be smooth, effortless and consistent; generating faster riding when back on the road.
Heading off the beaten track comes with some intense challenges though. Unpredictable terrains, technical corners, and sudden obstacles; each challenge is guaranteed to test your riding skills.
And whilst road riding can often lead to lazy bike handling, heading off-road will quickly sharpen your skills and force you to fine tune the way you handle yourself and your bike…
This all translates into speed – off road and on.
Use MTB to help master cornering techniques and improve stability over the most challenging terrains, and immediately feel the benefits when you’re back on the road.
Power and speed
Road cyclists have unbelievable aerobic capabilities. And it’s no surprise as they often churn away for hours on end, week after week.
But to push your performance to the next level, it’s essential that you follow a training plan which combines a mix of power and cardio workouts. And MTB is a great way to introduce the power component.
Packed full of short, explosive bursts of power, mountain biking will naturally incorporate HIIT training sessions into your week – and we all know the benefits of this!
But don’t underestimate mountain bike riders – their endurance is up there with the likes of road cyclists. They take on long, gruelling trails over shifting elevations that demand ultimate levels of fitness.
The constant tweaks to body position required to counteract against a variety of terrains also bring lots of benefits to your performance when you step away from the mountains and back onto the road. Especially the strength of your core and upper body muscles.
Chalk and Cheese?
So, there is really is no reason why you can’t – and shouldn’t – enjoy both disciplines.
Ultimately, it depends on your end goal and the type of riding you enjoy. But if you’re keen to mix things up and test your skills, don’t let the rivalry between MTB and road stop you.
Instead, focus on your weaknesses and use the alternative riding style to boost your performance and become a more rounded – and better – rider.