Mud vs tarmac. Baggy vs skin-tight. Knobbly vs slick.
Mountain biking and road cycling may be just different disciplines of the same sport but sometimes they couldn’t be more opposite.
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That doesn’t mean that road cyclists should just ignore mountain biking. In fact, British Cycling recommends that road cyclists try some mountain biking as part of their winter training.
So, do mountain bikers know something you don’t? Could you learn from their mindset, skills and habits…? Let’s find out.
Riding for fun
Remember when you were a kid and you rode your bike because it was a fun thing to do? Without <gasp> turning on Strava? Without training for another, longer ride the following week? Well guess what? You can still do that now too.
So how about next time you go for a ride you ditch the power meter, forget about training zones and just enjoy being out on your bike in the fresh air?
Descending can be just as fun as ascending
Even mountain bikers can appreciate the satisfaction that can be gained from summiting a big climb. It’s a true test of man vs nature, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop at the top.
By all means test your limits on the climb, but try pushing yourself on the downhills too — tuck that little bit harder and brake that little bit later. The adrenaline rush you get from the added speed will bring a whole new dimension of enjoyment to your ride.
Watch: Four ways to nail any climb
How to corner
You may marvel at the skills of Sagan, Nibali and Cancellara as they swoop down Alpine hairpins, but to most mountain bikers they look like Bambi on ice. Not only do mountain bikers have to cope with far steeper gradients, but they also have rocks, roots and jumps trying to catch them out along the way.
The key, of course, is to lean the bike rather than turn the bars. So as you approach a corner let go of your brakes, search for grip by putting your outside foot down and lean the bike over while you keep your weight central on top of the bike.
It’s crucial to commit to the corner, trust your equipment and look through the corner at where you want the bike to go. If you do all this right, your bars should barely turn at all and you’ll be much smoother and quicker.
You don’t have to speak in French
Now here’s something we mountain bikers really don’t understand, why are you all speaking French? Here are some alternatives from mountain biking you may want to consider:
Instead of chapeau say: “Dude, you’re railing it.”
Instead of allez, say: “You’re super pinned. YYEEEEWWWW.”
Instead of pavé say: “Gnarly section.”
OK, maybe not.
There’s nothing to be scared about with new technology. Yes, it’s good to stick with what works, but it’s also good to push on and develop better equipment. Sloping toptubes? Single-ring drivetrains? Tubeless tyres? Suspension and frame flex? It all happens because mountain bikers are always looking for the next big thing.
And don’t be afraid of disc brakes — they have greater power and modulation and they actually work in the wet.
Make each ride an occasion
Mountain bikers like to shake up their riding a bit. One weekend they might hit their local trails, the next they might make a road trip to a bike park in South Wales or some natural trails in the Lake District.
Riding in new places gives you a chance to try new conditions and types of riding therefore turning you into a better all-round rider. OK so you have to pile into the car before you start riding, but at the end of the ride you’re always glad you did it. Finding adventure further afield is what life is all about — and you’ll get to see more of the gorgeous British countryside as you go.
Learn to be self sufficient
Mountain bikers can be miles from civilization and out of phone signal for most of their rides so they need to know that if something goes wrong they can still make it home. It doesn’t necessarily mean taking a big bulky backpack with you on every ride, but knowing that you have the tools you need to fix common problems definitely boosts your confidence.
Fitness isn’t just cardio
Road cyclists have better endurance than mountain bikers, but off-road cycling is much better for interval training. If you’re not already, then include some short, sharp efforts in your training rides to help you up the steep stuff.
Crucially, mountain biking also gives more of a total body workout as you have to constantly shift your weight on the bike. Core strength is often neglected by road cyclists but can be of great benefit to your overall performance — so get on a mountain bike or go down the gym (and you know which one is more fun).
Let women race the same courses as men
Whether it’s cross country, enduro or downhill, the women in any mountain bike race will always race the same course as the men, and on the same day.
We’re not suggesting that mountain biking is a bastion of sexual equality, but if professional cyclists aren’t competing on an equal playing field, how can you ever expect it to trickle down to amateur level?