Are you a mountain biker or a roadie on dirt?

All right, it’s been a while but I feel a rant coming on. Every once in a while I have to get something off my chest and sometimes people get offended in the process. Good, it’s been a while since I’ve pissed someone off…

One of my biggest pet peeves in life is when someone asks me “is your program for XC or is it geared more towards DH because around where I live we have a lot of XC riding.” There are 3 reasons this makes me want to slam my head into my keyboard.

1. I have a lot of XC riding where I live as well. Anyone who has been to the Grand Junction/ Fruita CO area will tell you that even the shuttle runs have a good bit of pedaling on them. I write programs for how I ride and how other mountain bikers I know ride so I assume that you are going to be going on longer trail rides –you wouldn’t be much of a mountain biker if you didn’t, would you?

2. There is feedback from XC riders/ racers on my website. In fact, I have testimonials posted on my blog from 24 hour riders, marathon racers, MegaAvalanche racers and many other types of riders. If the programs didn’t help endurance based mountain biking I wouldn’t have over 50% of my testimonials from them.

3. My biggest headache comes from the confusion between “XC riding” and “road riding on dirt”. The real question should be “are your programs for mountain biking or road riding on dirt”? Not sure what I mean? Here is a quick breakdown so you know which category you fall into:

– Mountain Biking: This is riding a bike on singletrack that contains rocks, ledges, roots, stumps, jumps, drops, berms and steep pitches (both up and down) or some combination thereof. It also entails actually riding said features and not simply walking everything that intimidates you or, worse yet, changing the trail so you don’t have to dismount. Mountain biking requires a tremendous amount of upper body, hip and core strength as well as technical skills, balance and anaerobic endurance.

– Road Riding on Dirt: Road riding on dirt is characterized by long, uneventful miles on double track or jeep roads/ fire roads. All you really need to be able to do is keep your legs spinning – just like on the road. Technical features are avoided and seen as an annoyance in the quest to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. Road riding on dirt requires more “sit and spin” endurance and doesn’t require the core strength, upper body strength or technical skills needed on a mountain bike trail.

Now, most of you are reading that list saying that the mountain biker sounds like you, or at least you would like it to. Therein lies the problem – you’ve been lied to and lead to believe that programs geared towards road riding on dirt are the best way to get better at mountain biking. The truth is that mountain biking, even regular trail riding, is a much different sport than road riding and programs heavily influenced by road riding will get you better at road riding on dirt but not real mountain biking.

I am writing this so that I can help riders, especially XC riders, understand that in order to see significant results on the trail you have to train like a mountain biker, not a roadie on dirt. You can’t simply pedal your way to being a great mountain biker, you have to work on specific strength, power, mobility and technical skills just like any other athlete would. Just because they both take place on a bike doesn’t mean that road riding and mountain biking require the same physical qualities and technical skill level.

So, in answer to the real question, my programs are for mountain biking. If your main goal is to improve your “sit and spin” endurance so you can pound out boring mile after boring mile then they probably aren’t for you. However, if you want to ride trail faster, longer and with more confidence then nothing could be a better investment for you.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Pa Pa Sinsk says:

    Yes very nicely put James! Oh yeah another favorite saying around where I live and yes mountain bike is PIN IT YOU FAIRIES!!!! Hee heee!!!

    Reply • January 25 at 9:23 am
  2. Christian says:

    I’m using your definitions here…but I think like a lot of XC riders, I am both a “mountain biker” and “rider roader
    on dirt”.

    A typical XC Enduro where I live consists of about 60% single track, and 40% fire road/double track.
    Those percentages very from race to race, but “road riding on dirt” by your definition always makes up a
    significant slice of the pie.

    I think your comments a bit divisive. Should riders feel invalidated for not riding gnarly terrain 100% of the time?
    I’ve benefited hugely from your program since starting it…regardless of the type of terrain I ride
    on any given day.

    It’s unnecessary to force people to categorise themselves, then decide whether they are “hardcore”
    enough for your programmes. It may not have been your intention but I think it would be pretty easy
    to perceive it that way, and you could be alienating a good segment of your potential audience.

    As for people asking whether your programme is XC or Downhill oriented….I think that’s a reasonable
    question. People that aren’t familiar with your programmes are just trying to guage whether or not it’s
    for them.

    Reply • January 26 at 3:17 am
    • bikejames says:

      I disagree – divisions aren’t all bad. This whole politically correct, “don’t offend anyone” BS that has infected our society makes us think that they are but they aren’t. If you don’t know that there is a difference between the two types of riding then how do you know how to improve?

      It has nothing to do with being hard core or only riding singletrack, it has to do with recognizing what you want to improve upon. Getting better at riding the more “hard core” elements of mountain biking takes a different mindset and approach than getting better at pounding out the long, boring miles. If you don’t know that there is a difference then you may take the wrong approach. Many riders have “done the right thing” and not seen improvements on the trail and that is because they were training for the wrong type of riding.

      If mountain bikers don’t recognize the influence that road riding, and road riding on dirt, has had on our sport then we’re doomed. XC racing is turning into a weird hybrid that I think is more in line with Cyclo-Cross racing (although half their courses are more technical than your average XC course) and Super D is on its way as well. If you think I’m being harsh have a conversation with Trek’s Ross Schnell or the guys over at Decline about the state of XC racing and you’ll quickly find out I’m not the only one in the industry who is starting to wake up to the fact that there is indeed a difference between the types of riding.

      Glad that you’ve seen good results from the program but the fact remains that most riders don’t see the value in strength training because they think that you have to “sit and spin” your way to being a better rider. I’m just trying to shed some light on the fact that they have been lied to and anyone who wants to get better at riding real trail needs far more than a roadie.

      Reply • January 26 at 6:26 am
      • Torren says:

        Hey James, I completely agree and I’m also sick of this taboo on saying anything to the contrary whether it be related to mountain biking or anything else, however, I do think your underestimating XC racing. I’m not sure what the tracks are like in the USA so maybe your right there and you are definitely right for most of the courses where I live(Australia) and I would love to see XC tracks become more technical, that said I think most if not all of the courses on the XC world cup circuit are plenty technical. I’d also like to make a point as to why I do alot of training on the road for XC racing and that is, I simply don’t have the money to pay for tyres and repairs that go with riding my mtb all the time(i’m a uni student). Check out this photo from one of the XC national rounds in Australia, this is the first of 2 rock ledges within a few meters of each other that come just after a massive climb so you would be hitting these well above your lactate threshold and with only a few meters in between them it would be extremely challenging. http://benhenderson.com.au/site/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/MG_8286.jpg

        Reply • May 6 at 12:38 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          Thanks for your insights, I agree with them all. The funny thing is that World Cup XC courses are pretty technical but most of the XC race tracks here in the states are just glorified dirt roads, leaving a big disconnect between the top level and other levels of the sport. When roadies can show up to a mountain bike race and complain about it being “too technical” and force the race promoters to change it up for fear of losing their entry fees there is a problem with the soul of mountain biking and we need to speak up before we lose it altogether.

          Good luck with your training and riding, that ledge does look like a gut grinder…

          Reply • May 6 at 10:02 am
          • Torren says:

            Exactly, the gulf between the technicality of world cup courses and club XC corses is far to big. My suggestion to race organisers when dealing with people complaining about courses being too technical would be to put in a b-line for them but make it have a big time difference so that those who aren’t technically skilled enough to ride the main/A line lose 5 or so seconds. This would mean that you couldn’t do well with just road fitness because the course is too simple. I think race organisers make courses simple also so they can advertise it as family friendly and beginner friendly for which b lines would also work.

            • May 7 at 10:16 pm
          • bikejames bikejames says:

            Now you’ve opened up a whole other can of worms, namely the mountain bike industry’s desire to subtly dumb down what “mountain biking” really means to attract the more casual rider. If you had the real course and then the b-line (I think having course judges assessing penalties for not attempting to ride every section of the course would work as well) then suddenly a lot of riders wouldn’t be as competitive and that would discourage them from racing.

            And then you could get into if serious racing is compatible with the true spirit of mountain biking. Mountain biking is kind of the anti-sport in a lot of ways and while racing some buddies to see who buys the beers after the ride will always have an important place sometimes I wonder if “racing a mountain bike” and “mountain biking” are even the same thing. To me mountain biking is about far more than getting from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.

            Anyways, thanks for the interesting discussion so far, it is great to see that there are XC riders who get what I am trying to say and aren’t offended by calling things what they are.

            • May 8 at 9:28 am
  3. Tubby says:

    James, it sounds like you are contradicting yourself. You state that XC racing is more like road riding on dirt then real mountain biking and also say that XC riders have had success with your programs. However you also say you need to train differently based on the style of riding you do. I have done DB 1.0 and 2.0 and they are both one size fits all programs (Is the Ultimate package different?). I don’t see how the question of what type of rider the programs are tailored to is not valid if both types of riders need to train differently.

    I am more of a XC racer (our courses do have plenty of thechical sections so not fully road riding on dirt) and essentially I am doing the same program as the Dowhiller that bought the program. I can’t imagine we will both get the same benefits from it, nor do we want to.

    Reply • January 26 at 9:56 am
    • bikejames says:

      I’m not really sure how to respond because your answers are already in your question. The fact that a DH rider and an XC rider would benefit from the same general program speaks to how a program geared towards increasing your ability to navigate technical trail benefits mountain bikers.

      And I’ve never said you need to train differently based on your style of riding, in fact I have a podcast titled “We All Need the Same Thing” pointing out how mountain bikers need similar strength and mobility programs, it is the cardio programs where the big differences lie (and yes, the UMWP does have specific cardio programs).

      The point still remains – the question isn’t XC rider vs. DH rider, it is mountain biking vs. road riding on dirt. If you want to sit and spin then fine, if you want to get better at navigating trail then great – they are not the same goal.

      Reply • January 27 at 12:47 pm
  4. Keoni says:

    OK first of all you guys need to stop putting Jamesʻ post under a microscope. The bottom line is if you ride 100% road on dirt, and want to keep it that way, then his programs arenʻt for you. But if any percentage of your riding involves terrain that is not as flat as pavement and you want to get better at riding said terrain, follow his guidance. XC riders, DH riders, and anyone else that want to get better at riding challenging terrain follow the same program because their basic mobility and strength needs are the same. The core MTB skills for all categories of riding are the same-cornering, attack position, bunny hops, wheelies, drops (whether 2 inches or 5 feet), etc. all require the same mobility/ flexibilty/ strength needs.

    Does a XC rider need to know how to huck a 10 foot gap? Of course not. Unless he also rides trails with those types of features when heʻs not riding cross country. But even if he only negotiates nothing higher than a foot, he still requires the same core skills. The Freerider who regularly does the crazy stuff uses the same skills as the 1 footer, but on a bigger scale.

    So while the strength/mobility/ flexibility needs are the same for all Mountain Bikers, the difference is in knowing how to apply the same skill to different magnitudes in speed, obstacle size, etc. Thatʻs why thereʻs no specific strength training system for each discipline of MTB, but there are different skill application lessons per discipline.

    Iʻm not a customer of James, but I have been doing my research on training for a long time and have found that his philosophy, along with Lee McCormack, make the most sense of anybody out there. I donʻt make a lot of money but I know for sure that I will be investing in the Ultimate workout some time this year. I just makes no sense to be an athlete without sport-specific strength training.

    And I donʻt know about you guys, but I donʻt consider myself a XC, DH, or whatever type of rider-Iʻm a Mountain Biker.

    Iʻm sure Iʻm going to get put under the microscope for posting but whatever.

    Reply • January 26 at 12:06 pm
  5. Tyler says:

    Your post didn’t piss me off. However, it seems curious that in this and previous posts you alienate the ‘roadies’. I definitely identify with your ‘mountain biker’ description, but I’ll still hop on my cyclo-cross bike and go for a rip on pavement when I feel like it. Interestingly I find your teaching and instruction very helpful even when I’m riding on the pavement…..I tend to go for shorter rides and incorporate more sprint intervals….I get out of my seat for uphill and sprint efforts….when I get out of my seat, I’m thinking about getting my hips back, dropping my chest, packing my shoulders, making each pedal stroke like a single-leg deadlift, etc…..when I corner I’m thinking about leaning the bike, shifting my hips, etc….when I’m in the seat, I think about packed shoulders, dropping the chest slightly towards the bars, keeping hips back, etc. Anyways, I think your programs and approach are awesome and my friends are surely getting sick of me talking about ‘bikejames’ all the time….I am a bikejames disciple! But why bother ragging on ‘roadies’, isn’t it about riding bikes properly rather than what type of bike you’re on? Why not make the ‘rant’ about whether you’re Riding your bike with INTENTION and properly and with a CAPITAL R, rather than if you’re riding your bike like you’re sitting on the shitter and just getting from point A to point B. Isn’t that the point?

    Reply • January 26 at 12:47 pm
    • bikejames says:

      I have nothing against roadies but unless we point out that they have a different set of needs than what you need on the trail we will continue to see riders who think that they can “sit and spin” their way to being good mountain bikers. I have to come off as a little “anti-roadie” to get people to see the heavy influence they’ve had on our sport and how to train for it. As long as your riding and having fun then fine but being aware of the HUGE differences between road riding and trail riding will help everyone involved.

      And I agree with your last point and it actually echoes mine – stop riding and thinking about the trail like its the road.

      Reply • January 27 at 12:36 pm
  6. chance says:

    @ Keoni
    Word, I agree 100% I’ve started doing the DB Combos work out and I think it’s great. I’m only a couple weeks in but I like it a lot and it’s a great deal. I use to have a trainer and she did a good job but Keoni is right, you need a sport specific training drill. I also agree that even if you are a roadie or a dirt roadie you can still benifit from James’ work outs. Upper body and total body strength can benifit anyone. Total body fitness is good for recovery and genral bike handling and roadies crash too and you’re less likely to get hurt if you’re fit! I can’t wait to see the results and hit the trails.

    Reply • January 26 at 1:01 pm
  7. to says:

    James doesn’t know everything, but it is probably safe for 98% of mountain bikers to assume he is god.

    Reply • January 26 at 7:16 pm
  8. electric says:

    I did almost all road cycling for a summer, got back on the trail – single track – and it was just AWFUL… never again!

    Road riding is really static and about the motor, build that motor and htfu. MTB riding is about the “machine” how does it dynamically flow? If you don’t do your turkish getups you can’t be a lean mean singletrack riding machine but you can always pedal harder on the road.

    If you don’t differentiate between what is road riding and single-track mtb’n you’ll never improve at the single-track mtb… ever – how could you??

    Reply • January 26 at 10:13 pm
  9. […] Dirt Road Biking vs Mountain Biking […]

    Reply • February 4 at 7:53 am
  10. Andrew Brautigam says:

    I think that the basic case you’re making is that, in general, mountain biker’s are better off with a wider array of fitness elements than roadies are.

    If you look at top level XC MTBers, those guys go downhill like downhill racers, and uphill like pro roadies. They have just enough strength and flexibility etc to get the job done, but nothing additional to weigh down the motor. That said, most recreational riders and even low to mid pack expert racers aren’t as generally fit as the super skinny top level racers – even though they are bigger and fatter. Because of the lack of general fitness, most riders are well served with a general strength program, like yours, or p90x, or crossfit. Top level racers, though, typically have *enough* of the non-aerobic/anaerobic fitness elements to be really, really good at all aspects of riding a bike through the woods.

    Reply • February 11 at 9:33 am

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