In this three part series I have been exploring if riding a road bike is a good idea for moutnain bike training. If you missed parts one and two you can find them here: Part 1        Part 2

Here is the conclusion to this series plus how it should impact you…

3) It takes skills that MTB riders are not great at –

Riding a road bike takes a different set of skills than mountain biking. We all have seen the stud roadie get on a technically challenging trail and crumble. We’ve also seen mountain bikers that can ride anything on the trail loose focus and control on their road bike and end up a bloody mess.

Being able to negotiate traffic, grates and other road obstacles requires a distinct awareness and skill. Being able to keep your head up while in the lower position a road bike puts you in is also a specific strength endurance possessed by true roadies. Dealing with the speed and handling characteristics of a road bike are skills that must be learned and honed just like the skills you practice on your mountain bike.

This basically puts you at a disadvantage that increases your chance of wrecking. Now, taken by itself this may not be enough of a reason to avoid the road bike. I’ve been known to do things on my mountain bike that “increase my chance of wrecking”.

But when you think about everything I have brought up in this series, it does call the inclusion of a road bike in a mountain biker’s training program into question. Just to recap, here are the 3 reasons to leave the skinny tires to the roadies:

1- May create a competing neural blueprint. The specific kinetic chain needed to pedal a mountain bike is different than the one needed to pedal a road bike. This means that any time spent on a road bike is not helping to ingrain your fitness onto the specific movement patterns needed for mountain biking.

2- May increase risk of overuse injuries. Even though riding a road bike isn’t an exact replica of mountain biking (which is why the nervous system does not benefit) it does cause the same muscular imbalances brought on by mountain biking. The position of having shortened hip flexors, pecs and deltoids with elongated upper back muscles is something that must be controlled and counteracted. The best way to build cardio while avoiding overuse injuries is with training rides on your mountain bike (with slicks on if you need to ride on the road) and with true cross training (basically any activity other than cycling).

3- It requires skills that mountain bikers don’t practice. As I already covered you put yourself into a different position on a different bike that requires different focus and skills. That’s a lot of different stuff to deal with. Perhaps you’d be better off just throwing slicks on your mountain bike if you need to hit the road. You help ingrain the patterns you need on your bike and you are in a more familiar, and safer, position.

So here’s the thing – I am not saying that you should never ride a road bike. If you enjoy doing it then fine, for the most part I would not discourage you from having fun. We train so that we can live life and ride on our terms and if that includes throwing your leg over a road bike then I can respect that.

However, the true definition of the word “training” centers on the acquisition of a skill. If you are a mountain biker who is looking to increase your on trail performance then using the road bike as part of your training program may not be a good idea on a few levels.

And this is where having training rides versus fun rides comes in. Every ride shouldn’t be a training ride but unless you are consciously working on acquiring a specific skill or fitness component needed on the trail then it isn’t a training ride. Learning the difference between the two is important in order to go beyond guessing about what to do and if it will work and knowing what to do and that it will work.

Long story short, if you have fun riding a road bike then go for it, just be aware that you need to keep the volume of miles in check and that you will need to address any imbalances the combination of mountain biking and road biking bring on. However, if you don’t like it then either don’t do it or, if you need to get out on the road, throw some slicks on your mountain bike.

I’d also like to say that I think that the more serious a racer you are the more you should avoid the road bike altogether. Racing is about honing your specific skills and fitness to the highest levels possible. Your bike is your weapon and having everything you do center on the specific skills and fitness needed to effectively wield it in battle should be the essence of your training program.

I do not know why but riding a road bike has just become an accepted, and almost expected, part of our sport. From my perspective I don’t think that the road bike offers anything to us that simply throwing some slicks on our mountain bike can not deliver and may on fact be counterproductive on some levels. Just some points to consider next time you are wondering whether to buy a new road bike or just buy some training slicks for your mountain bike and have some more money for upgrades.

-James Wilson-

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