I was waiting for my riding buddy to get ready for a ride and started thumbing through a local outdoor magazine. I came across something that made me stop and take a closer look – it was an ad for a race series called Fire Road Racing and it contained a quote from a high level tri-athlete that I thought was very honest and telling.
To paraphrase, she said that she liked Fire Road Racing because she loved getting out and riding on the dirt and the non-technical courses were perfect for her lack of technical skills. She literally admitted to having little technical skill and that played a role in her decision to do the Fire Road Race series.
She was, in effect, saying that her cycling fitness and skill set that she built through road riding were more suited to pedaling intensive, non-technical trails and she wanted to race on venues that played to her strengths.
I loved it because it was so honest. This may ruffle some feathers but the truth is that a lot of “mountain bikers” fall into the same category and aren’t willing to admit that their taste in bikes and trails is shaped by the fact that they have the fitness and skills of a roadie, not a mountain biker.
Mountain biking demands that you are blending fitness and skills that are different from what you get from riding a road bike. Standing pedaling, low RPM grinds, terrain and trail features, cornering, manualing, jumping, drops and body position are all fitness qualities and skills that you need on the trail in different proportions than what you need on the road.
Bring the roadie fitness and skill set to the trail and don’t be surprised when you start looking for ways to apply them, like riding fire roads and featureless trails and riding a fat tired road bike.
This is where people in today’s PC society get squeamish because we shouldn’t point out differences and make distinctions but I think that this subject needs to be addressed. There is a large influx of roadies into mountain biking for various reasons and their money is shaping the direction that XC Racing and mountain biking are going.
For example, last year I spoke with one of the course builders for the Super D track at Bootleg Canyon when I was out there riding. He told me that a lot of racers had threatening to pull out of the last race because they felt that some of the switchbacks and other features were too technical. The course was changed to make it easier so that they didn’t lose the money from those riders who were complaining.
I had another report from someone about how all of the roots and rocks were spray painted bright orange on a local trail when it was used as an XC race course. Apparently there was enough concern from riders who were not used to dealing with them that they had to be highlighted.
On some level I know, who cares, everyone is just trying to ride and have a good time. And on some level I agree with you – as long as you’re riding your bike on dirt and having fun then who am I to say anything about it.
However, in Oklahoma we have a saying – Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. In other words, please don’t insult my intelligence. What I described above is not mountain biking and while I’m not passing judgment, don’t tell me that it they are the same thing.
The reason I care about this is because I think that it causes confusion when you are talking about the types of bikes and training you need to excel at Fire Road Racing versus Mountain Biking. Its kind of like Cyclocross Racing – it is its own category because it is neither Road Riding nor Mountain Biking and if you did not distinguish those differences you would have trouble developing bikes and training plans to excel.
I feel like the Fire Road Racing branch of mountain biking has developed to the point that we need to do the same thing with it. I would love it if we could add another category in the Road – Mountain Biking Continuum:
Road Riding – Cyclocross – Fire Road Racing – Mountain Biking
That way when you tell me that you want to get better at Mountain Biking I’ll expect that no matter what your specific discipline you will need to navigate technical trail features, grind up steep and loose climbs, know the basic trail skills and work on core and upper body strength. Pedaling is important but it is not going to be the end-all-be-all of what you need to excel.
If you tell me that you want to get better at Fire Road Racing I know that strength and skills don’t need the same emphasis and that your ability to sustain a higher RPM pedaling cadence will be important. Also, strength and mobility work will need to focus on off-setting the long hours in the saddle as much as it does on performance enhancement.
I’ve often said that mountain biking is not road riding on dirt and I think that Fire Road Racing helps make that distinction. It will help riders filter advice based on what type of riding the person giving the advice likes to do. If we could make a better distinction between mountain biking and the less technical, more road riding influenced side of things it would benefit everyone.
Of course, at the end of the day this is just one man’s opinion so take it for what it is worth. I’d love to hear what you think, though, so please leave a comment letting me know your opinion…