It's no secret that we love road cycling. Not much beats getting out on the weekend for a ride into the countryside with friends, stopping for coffee and massive slabs of cake, before returning home both knackered and revitalised.
That being said, variety is the spice of a good Dirty Wknd! Whilst the road is our home, flirting with the trails every now and again helps to keep our passion for two wheels alive. Not only that, going off-road can actually improve your overall cycling ability. If it's good enough for Sagan and Van Avermaet (broken ankle aside), then it's good enough for us...
1. Bike Handling & Reactions
Bike handling is a skill which comes easier to some than others, but it is certainly something that can be learnt and improved upon. There's a reason that one of the best bike handlers in the pro peloton is Peter Sagan (aside from just being generally awesome). Sagan grew up on the dirt, and that's easy to see when he's one handed wheeleing a road bike! Getting to grips with a mountain bike on a trail, cornering in the mud and learning to shift your weight with the bike is all key to off-road riding. When transferred to the road, it makes you more 'at one' with the bike, improving your handling ability.
The very nature of road cycling means that you should not come up against many obstacles whilst out on a ride. Yes we know that there are plenty of potholes, road debris and other delights to keep you busy, but compared to off road it's really very little. Therefore, as road cyclists we tend to 'switch off' sometimes, particularly when tired, leading to accidents and crashes. A session on the trails will help to keep you alert and also improve your reaction times, as you hop over tree roots and avoid rocks! Putting some time in on the dirt will improve your ability to react quicker to obstacles and other road users. Who knows, give it some time and you might even master the fabled 'bunny hop'!
2. Mix It Up To Keep Things Fresh!
We know that a whole season on the road can be hard on the body, but it can be equally hard on the mind. Getting into a bit of a rut of riding similar roads, distances and speeds can easily lead to inertia, often manifested in hanging up the bike for winter entirely. A change is as good as a rest, and switching disciplines can help you to rekindle your romance with the road, helping you to keep on the bike through the winter.
Other options to spice up your riding are cyclocross and track; both excellent fun and well worth looking into. However where mountain biking beats other forms is just how easy it is to do. Head along to your local trail centre (more details below), hire a bike and off you go.
3. Total Body Workout
Whilst road cycling is a better cardiovascular workout, mountain biking will give you more of a total body workout. Off road is more anaerobic, meaning that your muscles aren't able to use oxygen in the same way as they do during an activity like long distance road cycling. Peddling on uneven and often boggy terrain and going up and down hills engages more of the major muscle groups, giving you that all over burn. Requiring a lot more arm, chest and shoulder strength, Off-road is also a great option if you don't want an upper body like Chris Froome!
Unlike road cycling, off-road requires short sharp bursts of energy to keep your momentum up on uneven ground. The closest you can get to this type of workout on a road bike is a sprint/power training session. This means intervals at your maximum effort - and how often are you going to do that on a Saturday morning ride?! Adding a bit of off-road to your riding is a great way to add an anaerobic workout, or 'power' session to your arsenal, again making you an all-round better cyclist.
4. Something For Everyone!
Whilst we are massive champions of cycling being for everyone and encouraging beginners to join, we understand that there are some barriers, especially to road cycling. Thinking your not fast enough, that you'll hold everyone up or get left behind are the most common fears we've come across. However with off-road cycling this isn't such a problem if you go to a dedicated mountain bike centre that caters for all abilities.
Somewhere like Swinley Forest in Surrey has bike hire, multiple trails for all abilities and tuition for anyone who wants a quick lesson. A centre like Swinley will have multiple routes and trails starting and finishing at the main hub, meaning you'd have to try really hard to get lost! Not only that the routes are all colour coded (just like skiing) so you can pick your level and set off safe in the knowledge that you won't come across anything really advanced. Once you've mastered the beginner trails you can start working your way up the levels, improving your riding as you go. Find your closest centre on the British Cycling Website,
5. Fun, Fun, Fun!
If like us, you grew up riding a mountain bike around the countryside, building jumps out of cupboard doors and bricks, then a day in the dirt will instantly transport you back to childhood. No thoughts of whether or not your kit is in fashion (you'll be too muddy for anyone to notice), or if your wheels are aero enough - a day in the dirt is a chance to forget about all of that and jut get back to nature.
Mountain biking is arguably more relaxed than road cycling; you only have to head to Peaslake on a Saturday to see this in the mud-splattered smiling faces to see that. Maybe it's the memories of childhood or being closer to nature, but off-road riding just looks more fun! Either way, taking the very best of both road and off road cycling and using them to improve your overall performance, fitness and happiness sounds like a pretty good plan to us.
If you want to try out off-road in a relaxed and friendly group environment then join us on our next off-road ride. We'll take you to Swinley Forest, organise your bike hire and lead you on some of the best trails. It's a great way to try it out and see what you think.
If you want to find out more about off-road cycling near you then please visit the British Cycling website (click here).