It’s inevitable – in time many road riders find the pursuit of pavement pounding on narrow tyres a little… plain. The enlightened cyclist chooses to ride both on road and off, and if you’ve seen the way and want to expand into the world of dirt, we’re here to help.
Mountain biking has a slightly different skill set to road cycling, but if you’re an experienced road cyclist chances are you’ve got great fitness, it just comes down to using your balance, fitness and strength a little differently.
If you are a road cyclist who wants to transfer to and excel in mountain biking then heed these tips from one of our MarathonMTB.com Team riders. Justin Morris raced as a professional for 5 years. But he started on a mountain bike, and joined the team again after retiring from professional road racing.
“Unfortunately roadies moving to the dirt is more difficult than the converse…” says Morris. “Many mountain bikers have made swift and very successful transitions to road cycling, think Cadel Evans, Nathan Haas, Neil Van Der Ploeg, Peter Sagan.. the list goes on.”
Strength and conditioning for mountain biking
One thing you need to consider is specific strength and conditioning, and how it can help your when riding off road.
“Start getting your core and upper body strength in order,” says Morris, who has recently set up his own coaching business. “These get used a lot more in mountain biking than in road. Forget that Chris Froome like physique, you’re going to need some guns to get the bike up and over gnarly mountain bike terrain.”
Body positioning for mountain biking
There are more changes than just flat handlebars when you switch from a road bike to a mountain bike. It’s really important to let your upper body relax, and think about all five of your contact points (both hands, both feet, and on the seat) and when each one needs pressure.
“You have to relax your upper body while on the bike, it is also important on the roadie but even more so on the mountain bike”, stresses Justin Morris. “You want to encourage fluidity and rhythm to become one with your machine. No straight elbows and clenched elbows… mountain biking is all about flow and rhythm.”
Eyes on the prize
One of the best things to remember off road, as well as on, is look where you want to go – not where you don’t want to go. When mountain biking, it’s important to scan the trail in front of you – from a short distance to further, so you can plan your lines.
“Look down the trail, not at the front wheel. This is not the morning bunchie, you don’t have to be ever frightened about brake checking from the roadie in front of you,” says Morris. “The mountain bike is about anticipation, look down the trail and prepare your moves with the knowledge of what is ahead.”
Get your bike setup right
Having your bike setup safely is paramount for any cycling discipline. But with lower tyres pressures and suspension, there’s more to play with on a mountain bike. We tested a range of Maxxis tyres that we race on earlier this year, which helped us work out as a team what we would favour for different conditions. Finding the right pressure for yourself is a worthwhile pursuit.
“Tyres and tyre pressure is going to be one of the biggest factors influencing your performance. This is a bit more complicated than just cranking the psi up to the MAX as is often the case for road,” explains Morris. “Read the tyres recommended range, if it’s dry, lower is better for more traction. If it’s wet and muddy higher is better to cut through the mud.”
Typically you will run a little less in the front than the back. And the wider the tyre, or tyre and rim combination, the lower you can run. Invest in a digital pressure gauge as 1 or 2 psi can make a big difference.
Feed the machine
“You are going to churn through way more calories on a solid mountain bike ride than you will on a road bike coffee shop cruise,” states Morris. “Remember this when it comes to nutrition, prepare to eat every 30-45 mins during a race to stay on top of your nutrition needs. As the old saying goes 1km on MTB = 2km on the road bike!”
Make sure you pack a little extra in your pockets or backpack, as when you’re suffering a hunger flat on the mountain bike your bike handling goes out the window. Stay fuelled up!
Enjoy the escape
If you are venturing off road after plenty of years riding on road, you might be frustrated at the rate of progression compared to you abilities on tarmac. Stop to remember the benefits of riding off road though, as Justin Morris explains – this is part of why you’re doing it.
“Enjoy it, you are entering a fully engaged sensory experience on a proper mountain bike ride. No traffic, just you, your bike and the trail. Mountain biking also offers you a unique opportunity to have a holiday from ‘thinking’. On the trail, going fast, there is no time to think, just react! Enjoy and appreciate this holiday from the thoughts or stresses of day to day life. Shred for the moment!”