3 reasons why an MTB cyclist should train on a competition bike
A coffee in Moraira, beautiful images for social media posts, and a dozen of hours spent on a road bike. In winter, everyone wants to be in Calpe, especially cyclists from cold and snowy, at that time, Poland. However, when back in Poland, something seems to be wrong. Corners in the field are taken really stiffly, fear of going downhill appears, and there is some trouble controlling a mountain bike in difficult terrain - these are the most common issues faced by the majority of amateur cyclists who have just come back from a training camp on a road bike in warm climes.
While it may be reasonable to build the so-called “baseline” of an MTB cyclist on a road bike in January and February, in the pre-start period of more intensified and specialized training sessions, athletes should use their competition bikes. Moreover, both the work-outs and grounds ought to be similar to the conditions that athletes will be faced with in races.
Thus, why is it that an MTB cyclist should train on a competition bike?
Biomechanics. There are numerous differences between those two types of bikes. One of them is a wider handlebar in the mountain bike where the body position on stand-up riding is completely different from the one on a road bike (where the handlebar is narrower), and as a result, body balance is also different. Another difference is the distance between pedals, where there is a wider Q-Factor in MTB bikes, whereas in road bikes there’s a narrower one. What is more, there are also separate types of pedals and shoes designed for road and MTB cycling. This is particularly important in XC competitions, where the brain’s memory has to immediately recognize the fulcrum and shoe block, and synchronize them quickly. A road cyclist’s body posture is rather aerodynamics-oriented, thus the cyclist’s skeletal system seems to be slightly closed when compared to MTB posture, where the cyclist seats more comfortably, and their breath is deeper. Finally, total body condition has a greater role in MTB cycling than in road cycling, so gym work-out (gymnastics, functional work-out, TRX tapes) should supplement MTB cyclist’s training and be performed throughout the entire year.
Mathias Fluckiger’s training session on MTB with sleeks behind a motorbike - the so-called Swiss riding school.
Generating 350 W on an uphill in MTB terrain for ca. 5 minutes is much more difficult than maintaining the same power output on asphalt uphill on a road bike. The difficulty in maintaining equal power output results mainly from natural obstacles and great diversity of terrain. Frequently, the VI (Variability Index - the ratio of normalized power output to the average one) is slightly higher and amounts to ca. 1.02-1.04. Thus, traction is of utmost importance in MTB. Even the most expensive tires may turn out to be worthless when their pressure is not suitable for a given surface. Every route and surface requires specific tread and proper pressure, and the right balance between the rolling resistance and the tires' grip in terrain should be maintained.
This diagram presents an uphill ride up the St. Dorothy Mountain in Będzin, Poland. We can observe some fluctuation of the generated power output at nearly linear increase in heart rate.
You should train downhill rides on your competition bike. Even if you are able to take corners rapidly on a road bike and you excel at turning at higher speeds, it does not necessarily mean you will manage drops, bands, and rock gardens in MTB terrain. Amateurs often seem to forget that the advantage they gained during an uphill trail may be lost in the last downhill trail just before the finishing line. In mountain biking, factors like W/kg or FTP are also important, but excessive focusing on relative and total power values may lead to a decline in the ability to control the bike when going downhill or in more difficult terrain, and as a result, it will prevent us from riding as well as we are really capable of.
To develop downhill skills, athletes may use Strava software and perfect their downhill technique by improving lap times till reaching perfection. Tackling a difficult section fluidly should enhance our self-confidence, and gaining new skills will enable better control of the bike on unknown trails.
Thus, what should the role of a road bike be? Athletes with poor riding technique should use it for compensation and aerobic training sessions. This type of bike can also be used for speed and speed endurance work-outs. In other cases of specific training a competition MTB bike should be used to fix the optimal riding patterns.