When we talk about road training for mountain bikers, there is a bit of a confusion if it is good for the mountain athletes to take a cut away from the regular mountain biking schedule & go for some bit of road training with the saddle on the road. For a competitive mountain bike athlete who is on the lookout for improvement, training with a road bike may give you cloudy thoughts. However, it is not wrong to go for some bit of road biking in the training schedule as a little add-on to the training.
Let us find out if road training is good for mountain bike athletes.
Mechanical Differences of the Road Bike
There is a complete list of differences between a road bike & a mountain bike. It isn’t the difference in the biking genres only that differs but also its design, riding techniques, types of bikes, bike frame, etc. Compared to a mountain bike, a road bike is highly efficient in terms of energy usage. The tyres of a road bike are high pressure & hence it provides energy efficiency. The tyres are smooth as well with less lugs since the motive of a road bike is to give you good speed on tarmac. Talking about mountain bike, some of the power generated by the rider is absorbed by the bike via the front & rear suspensions. The tyres are kept at low pressure too, which again increases the efforts. However, when it comes to control & the ability to manoeuvre, mountain bike takes the edge.
Since there are a lot of bumps on the mountain trails, cycling on a paved road is good for a change of giving the rider a smooth experience. This seems to be a ‘just for a change’ reason but, in reality, it allows an athlete to train consistently with constant intensities so as to train to target specific training adaptations.
To not confuse things & give you a clearer idea on things, let us bifurcate the points as the pluses & followed by negative side.
The Plus Points
Talking about the positives first, the points are as follows:
- With sustained efforts on the road, there’s a very wide scope to push things with aerobic activities on the muscles. It enables the scope for gaining greater overall cardiovascular & muscular endurance which will significantly benefit all the training on the mountain bike. Since mountain biking needs more physical endurance, it is a good thing.
- Long duration efforts on the road at all levels makes it easier on the body to take the load of the physical efforts compared to long duration efforts on a mountain trail. The upper body especially, along with the core, takes a lot of damage. Upper body & core conditioning is very much important in mountain biking. However, the recovery is also needed & road biking makes recovering from large volumes of trail work easier. You’ll not just wear out slower but also recover quickly when it comes to road biking training for mountain bikers. Thus, improving the upper body endurance & strength is what is achieved without the body feeling fatigued. You’ll definitely allow the body a better rest & recovery time with road bike training while taking down the endurance & core strength issues. It will also aid in the all-round cardiovascular development needed for mountain biking.
- For mountain riders,a steady cadence isn’t something they come across quite easily. When going for a road ride, the cadence remains constant. As you include it in the daily training routine, you are sure to improve on the cadence figures which will help develop better & smoother pedalling for mountain bikes. Due to irregular smooth path issues, you don’t get much room for steady cadence. However, a smooth pedal stroke & good form matters always.
But, don’t forget…
Coming to the negatives, let us not point out the negative traits to you only but advise you on keeping things sorted & positive with the following:
- A road bike is not a mountain bike & a mountain bike isn’t a road bike. We admit that it can give you the power, strength & core to go for mountain trails, but, at the same time, it is going to make it tough for you to fulfil the specific demands of a mountain bike race like the thin logs, the sudden drops, the unexpected turns, etc. If your feet become too fast owing to the road bike habit, you are bound to bonk on some tree. Also, the posture, the control & the timing of the various situations don’t come to us in road biking. Too much road cycling, is injurious to your mountain biking skills.
- So how often should you ride on the road? Training on the road can play a larger role in training during the base & early build periods, when specificity is a lower priority. A good general guideline would be to spend two to three days on the road with at least two mountain bike rides per week in the early season.
- When the racing season comes, it is time to reduce your time on the road bike to one or two days a week. This will allow you to gain more form & train specifically for the mountain bike races ahead of you. Plan to spend the five to seven days leading up to your B priority race on the mountain bike, to gain a good feel for it going into the race.
- A month & a half before the first peak event of the season, you should spend the majority time on the mountain bike to finetune your skills. One or two road rides a week for variety won’t be a harm except for the final two weeks of the peak event’s knocking. At this point, switching over to mountain bike entirely is suggested as the body will also adjust itself to the bike.
The Best Road Workouts
Since we know now that road biking for mountain bikers is a good thing, we would touch on a few things to not leave anything uncovered. The focus must always be on longer duration efforts during the base & early build periods to improve cardiovascular & muscle endurance.
- LONG DURATION FORCE EFFORTS
This is recommended once or twice a week & can be a part of short or long workouts. Sections of uninterrupted road, hills & flats must be picked up for training & the gear ratio that makes you push a bit with a cadence of around 65-75 rpm is advisable. This exercise should go for 5-10 minutes & can be worked in both standing & seated position. To cool down in between, taking a normal spin for 10-15 minutes or longer (if needed) with a natural cadence & deep breathis suggested.
- STEADY TEMPO EFFORTS
This is again something which is for once or twice a week & can be used for short & long workouts. Here, choosing sections of uninterrupted road, ideally on hill grades of 4-7% is needed. One should sit & spin for 10-20 minutes or longer. The workout must be done only as seated & the cadence must be gentle. Spinning for 10-20 minutes with a natural cadence & deep breath should be done in between for cooling down a bit.
- SHORT STEEP CLIMBS
Again, this is a one or two days a week thing & is done for of 1-2 hours duration which is very short. Short & steep hills of around .5 miles long is recommended. Workout involves being seated as well as standing. Working each hill with either a fast seated spin or standing with a bigger gear is to be done. Between each hill effort, spin for 10-20 minutes with a low perceived exertion & deep breath.
It is time to wrap things up with a fair conclusion. Training on road bike is highly recommended for any mountain biker at professional level. It not only allows for greater fitness but also helps your body develop & recover quickly. Apart from this, a change of taste also takes place which gives you a good mental refreshment too apart from the physical advantages. It is not hard on the body & still works wonders. At the same time, if we want to ride with speed on mountain trails, it isn’t road bike which is going to help. Instead, it will be mountain bike & mountain trails where the improvement exercises & drills would be done. Thus, mountain bikers can do road training definitely as it is a plus for them on days where they don’t do too much of it. Remember this that too many cooks spoil the broth & if too much mixing is done between road & mountain biking, things can turn ugly for you. It is hence necessary to proceed with the requirements in mind.