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A Guide for Road Bikers moving to Mountain Biking

How road bikers moving to mountain biking? For many road bikers, the sight of gravel can strike fears into their hearts. So the idea of riding on trails with gardens of rocks, loose dirt, and other obstacles is understandably a nightmare. While the potential for injury is high when mountain biking, it’s no more dangerous than the descent of a mountain pass on the half inch of rubber provided by your 700c tires.

road bikers

Transition from Road Cycling to Mountain Riding. First of all, how is mountain biking more difficult than road bikingThese are the three main factors I considered:

Obstacles on the trail.

The number and size of trail obstacles can vary wildly, and generally come in the form of rocks and roots. Paved roads, by comparison, are generally smooth and obstacle-free. Trail obstacles slow riders down and increase the amount of physical effort required.

The trail surface itself.

Dirt and vegetation slow riders down compared to solid, high-traction pavement.

Tire resistance and aerodynamics.

Fat, squishy tires add resistance over skinny, high pressure road tires. Road bikes place riders into a more aero position and generally cut a narrower overall profile as well.

In order to help road bikers transition to mountain biking easier, let’s look at some tips for success.

1. Eating and drinking properly can make a big impact on road bikers riding

Okay. This one might seem particularly farfetched for some mountain bikers, but a good diet can not only help you feel fresher in the mornings, it can improve your riding too. A big part of mountain biking for many folk is the pint and the pie afterwards at the pub, and rightly so. That’s fine if you’re a social rider, or if that’s just how you do your thing. Keep at it.

If you’re going to be really serious about your riding though, and be at your best each time, you should probably eat a bit better. It may surprise some to learn that a hangover is not actually conducive to furthering your mountain bike skills.

A lot of middle-level roadies even go all out on this stuff – recovery shakes, meal plans and all. You don’t necessarily have to follow that same programme. But eat and drink better and your legs and head will be fresher for your next ride, thus, you’ll probably enjoy it more.

2. Begin on Easy Trails

Well-intentioned friends may be eager to get you on their favorite non-beginner trail — and while it may seem like a blast to dive in, resist the urge. I’ve seen this happen time and time again, with disastrous outcomes.

It’s almost certain that you will have a better experience if you begin on a relatively easy trail and increase difficulty as you improve in skill. If you do find yourself in a sticky situation, swallow your pride and be willing to walk your bike across the scary, cliff-to-the-left sections.

3. Clipping in is not just for road bikers

Riding with clipless pedals is becoming more and more common in mountain biking, but whereas in road cycling they’re pretty much omnipresent, off-road this isn’t the case, and some people even get a bit squirmy if you bring it up.

It’s not too hard to find an “I’m slightly scared I won’t be able to unclip and I’ll look silly” look in the deceptive eyes of a riders. “I’ve just always ridden flats”, they’ll say, but while flats have plenty of benefits, and are definitely better for beginners, it’s well worth at least trying out clipless riding to see if you do prefer the benefits it brings out on the hills.

You get more power return for your pedal strokes when you clip in, and you know your foot will stay on the pedal even if it’s slippy too. Which might just help keep the rest of you on the bike when it’s wet and windy.

4.Equipment Selection and Set-Up Makes a Big Difference

After you find a bike that fits correctly, get your local shop to help you set up the fork and shock pressures. If your suspension system is set up correctly, you’ll be capable of riding much more of the mountain — and you’ll do it more comfortably. Know that your suspension set-up will likely change as you gain more experience riding, improve your skills, and increase the difficulty of the trails you ride. Some riders have to change their suspension settings during the season as their fitness evolves.

In addition to suspension, tire selection and tire pressure have a big influence on your ability to ride different types of trails. Of course, a larger and more aggressive rider will want to ride higher tire pressures on technical trails compared to a smaller and more timid rider that is staying on easy terrain.

If you feel exposed and less confident on technical descents, a dropper post will help. It is a seat post that lowers at the press of a button. Lowering your body position and being able to easily move back — possibly behind the saddle — can help you navigate descents with confidence. No matter the terrain or your riding style, you want to set up the equipment for you. It’s all about optimizing performance and making it easier to ride the terrain that makes you smile.

5. Set yourself targets

A lot of road cyclists focus pretty heavy on the whole fitness side of things, or on upping their speed every time they’re out riding. They set goals and monitor their progress in order to do this. It’s a great way of making sure that you’re going in the direction you want to be going in if you’re consciously trying to improve on your bike, rather than just riding for fun.

In mountain biking terms, you can do this in a bunch of different ways. You could set yourself a target of riding on a certain amount of days in a month or a certain distance each week, or set yourself the goal of learning how to jump and slowly build towards.

Setting a goal is incredibly simple, it doesn’t have to be fitness or speed related, and it’s a sure-fire way to guilt trip yourself into riding more than you normally would!

6.A Mental Break From The Road

Change can be as good as a rest. Riding in the dirt can be beneficial for triathletes, time-trial specialists, hill climbing specialists and any dedicated roadie. Venturing into the dirt will give you more training options, which can be psychologically refreshing. In my county there are only four good pavement road loops.

When you are training five to six days per week, those routes get old. We have hundreds of miles of graded dirt roads and trails. The longest and steepest climbs in my county are all dirt roads.

By expanding their riding scope into the dirt, athletes can access many more training routes and opportunities. Most regions have an infamous “radio tower climb.” A quick search online will help you find where the popular dirt rides are in your area.

7. Increase Bone Density

A health benefit to spending some time on rougher terrain is increased bone density. Cyclists are notorious for being very fit but having low bone density. In studies comparing road cyclists with mountain bikers, bone mineral density was higher in mountain bikers.

The added impact sustained while riding off-road has a stimulatory effect on bone density. Switching out the road bike for the mountain bike during the off-season may make your bones stronger.

The gap between road cyclists and mountain bikers is closing with the rising popularity of gravel grinder events like Dirty Kanza. At races such as Crusher in the Tushar the best bike for the course is always a hot debate resulting in a mix of gravel bikes and mountain bikes on the start line.

A rider with mountain biking experience has the upper-hand in these types of events where the surface conditions deteriorate regardless of which bike they choose to race on.

Mountain biking can take you to beautiful new places not accessible by road. Having an adventure and solid training are all rolled into one day on the mountain bike.

8. Having the Patience to Enjoy Dirt

If you are a strong road rider, you can be a strong mountain biker — with a bit of patience. Implementing some of these tips will help speed up the learning curve. Also, riding with other people that are interested in helping you succeed can make a big difference, and watching other riders navigate a technical section of trail will make it less intimidating. Riding off-road is not only fun, but it will also make you a better road rider. Now go get dirty!

mountain biking

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