Confusion on a subject starts when we start to confuse terms and use them interchangeably with each other. I have been as guilty of this as anyone in the past and much like I did with my Cardio vs. Endurance article, I feel I need to clarify my points on something, namely the use of road riding for mountain biking.
For most riders Road Riding = Riding a Road Bike on the Road. However, this isn’t the case and you can ride on the road without throwing a leg over a road bike. If you threw some micro-knobby or semi-slick tires on your mountain bike and went out for a cardio workout ride on the road then you are Road Riding, but not in the way that most riders would think of.
There is no law that says you have to be on a road bike when road riding
And that is the point – by forgetting that Road Riding can be done on a mountain bike as well we miss out on a chance to make better use of it.
I am actually a big fan of road riding for cardio workout rides – there are so many variables on a trail that it can be tough to do the workout as it was intended and to replicate your efforts the next time you do the workout. On the road you don’t have to worry about as much as you can just get down to business, plus it is much easier to compare workouts from a road ride than a trail ride.
However, I don’t like to have riders use a road bike for those workouts. There is not law that says you have to be on a road bike when road riding and to be honest with you I am not sure why a mountain biker would want to. Remember that you are not trying to improve your aerobic fitness for its own sake – you want to improve its ability to fuel a very specific type of movement effort.
I have written a 3 part article series on why you should Leave the Road Bikes to the Roadies where I go over the differences in body position and how that affects the results you get from your workouts but there is one more thing I’d like to add to the discussion…
I’ve often wondered were the logic behind riding a super light bike in off season training came from. I would think that if you rode a bike that was at least as heavy, if not maybe a bit heavier, than the bike you ride trail on then you would get much more out of it. I think that this is one of the main reasons that riders feel that hours and hours on a road bike just don’t translate like they should to the trail – what good is a being able to power a 20 pound road bike when your mountain bike is significantly heavier?
The point is that you can do any cardio workout you need to on your mountain bike and the more specific body position and weight of the bike will result in better transfer of your improved cardio conditioning to the trail. Road Riding can be a very valuable part of your training program but only if you understand how to separate the road bike itself from the equation and look at the best ways to use it as a mountain biker.