Why Every Mountain Biker Should Hit the Road
There is no denying it, mountain biking is super fun. Crisp mountain air, the sound your tires make as you whip through that berm, it’s all quite intoxicating and part of the reason people flock to the trails year after year. But, if you have any desire to race your mountain bike, be it enduro or cross country, or even just want to get stronger on the bike, you could be missing out on some serious gains by sticking to the dirt and avoiding the road.
I know there is some old school beef between mountain bikers and roadies. A deeply rooted rivalry between two surprisingly similar cultures that has been around for so long that no one knows exactly why they hate each other (it’s not the lycra, I’m pretty sure). But the truth of the matter is, if you want to be a better mountain biker you should be logging some miles on the road bike, and here are a few reasons why.
Here in Utah we are incredibly fortunate to have perfect trails pretty much within a stones throw at any given moment. However, not everyone is so lucky. For some, it can take an hour or more of driving to get to even a mediocre trail. For those who suffer from a lack of trail, the road may be your best bet to maximize your limited time. If you’re short on time think about hopping on the road bike and going for a quick spin in the neighborhood to maximize training time.
Perhaps the biggest reason to invest in a road bike is to maximize your fitness. Riding on the road, though at times may seem less exciting than the trail is typically more consistent as far as terrain, and therefore much easier to hit and maintain target heart rate or power zones for training. On the road you can control the intensity far easier than you could on the undulating terrain of most trail systems. This is where you can elicit the greatest aerobic adaptations that will benefit you on the road and on the trail. Logging some time on the road will also help to dial in and smooth out your pedal stroke. A smooth pedal stroke is often overlooked by many riders, and a wonky pedal stroke could mean disastrous losses in efficiency on the trail or in a race.
This one seems odd, I know. You’re probably thinking “how will riding on a flat road for hours help me with my bike handling more than ripping down a winding trail full of obstacles”. The answer is a bit cloudy, but stay with me. It will absolutely help, and it also won’t. There’s no getting around it, mountain biking teaches some amazing skills in terms of bike handling, skills you could never learn on the road. But, time on the road bike may be one of the most beneficial tools to a beginner mountain biker. Yea, there are no crazy obstacles to dodge (aside from the obvious, cars), no tree trunks, no huge drops or kickers to worry about, just the open road. It’s not uncommon on the road to hit speeds upward of 40-50mph, this is the best place to learn how to maneuver a bike and gain the confidence that will transfer into more technical riding on the trail.
Finally we arrive at my favorite topic in mountain biking, inclement weather. There is a constant debate raging at most local trails of how wet is too wet to ride. On a road bike anything goes, if it’s raining throw on a shell and hit the road without the fear of trashing your local trails. Furthermore, training in the winter can be relatively hard for a mountain biker with many of the local trails being caked in snow and inaccessible. For most cities in the U.S. and especially here in the Salt Lake area even when the trails are shut down, more often than not you can still log some quality miles on the road. But for the greatest benefit you can also invest in an indoor bike trainer. Typically you can mount your road bike or your mountain bike and build up your fitness throughout the winter months.
So there you have it, as fun as it is on the trails there are some hard hitting reasons to look into spending some time on the road this season. And if these reasons weren’t enough to convince you, consider that the majority of pro mountain riders also cross train on the road bike. You might have to dig deep into their Instagram archives but you will see that pro riders like Katie Holden (Liv/Giant) spend a bit of time on the road, and who knows you might actually enjoy it and turn to the dark side like 2006 Tour De France winner Floyd Landis who got his start by climbing his way up the mountain bike ranks. Either way, head over to your local bike shop (my vote is Summit Cyclery) and see what they have to offer in the roadie department.
White Pine Athletics - Coach
Kyle McFarland, an avid competitive cyclist and triathlete is also the owner and head coach of White Pine Athletics. Kyle got his start in sport as a professional rock climber and spent many years competing on the national and international level, as well as earning a spot on the U.S. Climbing Team. Kyle has dedicated a great deal of time to the study of kinesiology, and the study of the human body and how it reacts to sport and exercise. This has made him a very successful athlete and coach and has allowed him to work with athletes all over the world trying to achieve their goals in the realm of mountain sports.