One of the frequently asked questions at our Ergon Kliniks are, “Do you train on the road or mountain bike?” If you’re a mountain biker, this is a pretty legit question. I normally tell people that they should do what they like to in order to avoid burn-out. However, finding a good balance is important. A lot of us are mountain bikers because we LOVE the trail. Will it hurt you if you never ride your road bike? It depends on what your goals are. For the weekend warrior who rides for the pure joy of mountain biking, road biking probably isn’t necessary unless they really love it too. So, as a mountain biker, why would we also road bike?
1. It’s easy and simple. You open your garage, get outside and go. The bummer about mountain biking is that most of us are not fortunate enough to live close enough to ride to a trailhead. If we have time, we definitely will put our coffee in a to-go cup and head to the trail. (Skiing is even worse!) However, weekday schedules make mountain biking a little more difficult, especially with family and full time jobs. A quick jaunt on the road bike can preserve or build your cycling fitness so you’re stronger when you hit the trail with your buddies on the weekend.
2. It gives you a different kind of workout than the mountain bike. This is the biggest for me. I don’t particularly love road biking, especially out and back on flat roads in the winter. I do like climbing a canyon or big hill on my road bike. I simply don’t get the giddy feeling on my road bike that I do on my mountain bike. If someone gave me the choice between a road bike ride or a mountain bike ride, I will almost always choose the mountain bike. I noticed that the lack of time I spent on flat roads on my road bike was having an effect on my stage racing performance. I was missing something…. sustained power. Mountain biking requires large bursts of power and effort to get up short, steep climbs, or get through a technical section. It’s a lot of pedal pedal, coast, pedal, coast, coast. You get the idea. Road biking… is a lot of pedaling and continuous power output. The road is hopefully nicely paved and there aren’t a lot of obstacles. It’s relatively easy to ride one speed and put out the same effort with minimal coasting. This is very effective for winter training to build a base. From there, you can begin to fine tune the workouts with hills, intervals, etc.
3. If you ride too much road, you start to lose your technical edge on the mountain bike. Cornering on dirt, looking ahead, riding over rocks, climbing a technical section and choosing your line, feeling comfortable with off camber, loose, or soft ground are all components of mountain biking. Trail time is important. It’s also good to have the jumps in power that are demanded by the terrain. These can be done on the road as well, but they are normally in the form of a forced interval, or better yet – attacks on group rides.
4. Mountain biking requires more upper body and core strength than road biking, simply due to more demanding terrain. To improve on the mountain bike side, it’s important to ride on dirt because you get the upper body workout, or it can be supplemented with weights, yoga, or other sports that require a more active upper body.
5. Let’s face it, the bikes are different. It’s the same idea, but road bikes are much stiffer and efficient due to lack of suspension and ride completely different than a mountain bike. The speeds on the road are also different. You can ride a mountain bike on the road for road training and get the same benefit, it’s just slower going from the bigger tires and geometry. I’ve tried to set up my road bike position to something similar to my mountain bike so I’m using the muscles in the same way on both bikes. A mountain bike position is traditionally more upright.
As a mountain biker, there are multiple options that need to be considered for effective training. There are extra physical demands that require a nice balance of the two disciplines.
Bikes? Yes please!