Roadie, MTB… Both?! Don’t Let a Tribal Mindset Limit Your Cycling


, by Nikalas Cook

Photography by: Christopher Stricklen

Cycling can be a tribal activity. Road bikers often aren't fond of mountain bikers, mountain bikers don't appreciate roadies, and what about gravel bikers? But if cyclists can put tribalism aside, moving between disciplines can have real benefits for everyone who enjoys being on two wheels, as coach Nik Cook explains.

I don’t understand tribalism in cycling. Roadies diss mountain bikers for their baggy clothes, and MTBers look down their muddy noses at road riders for being lycra-clad road-cloggers posers. It’s not good from an advocacy perspective - there are enough people hating on cyclists without us all having a beef with each other.

It’s also not good for your own cycling development to ignore other disciplines within our sport. I’ve always made a point of trying to do a bit of everything and it hasn’t been unusual, within a week, that I’d have ridden road, track, MTB and Zwift. I’ve always known intuitively that each benefits the other and, in turn, with riders I’ve coached, I’ve always encouraged them to do the same.

If you look at some of the pro peloton’s current crop of stars, you’ve got riders such as Tom Pidcock, Wout van Aert, and Mathieu van der Poel who all come from mixed discipline backgrounds. These riders are re-writing the rulebook as to what’s doable on a bike, and their refusal to be pigeon-holed as one type of rider comes from the bike handling skills and hugely adaptable physiology that riding on and off-road has given them.

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So, whether you’re a roadie or a mountain biker, if you want to improve your cycling, it’s time to ditch those labels and dip your toe in the water of another cycling discipline.

Why all road cyclists should mountain bike

Boost your bike handling skills

There’s no doubt that mountain biking will fast-track improvements to your bike handling. Getting used to the bike moving underneath you without tensing up, how to shift your weight, cornering technique and even bunny-hopping obstacles will all make you a calmer, more efficient, and less “crashy” road rider.

Photography by: Real Sports Photos

Instant intervals

Hit the trails and every ride is a high-intensity interval session. There’s no getting away from it, even with the plethora of gears on a mountain bike, the trail dictates your effort, and, most of the time, there’s no option for steady cruising. If I look back at similar length road and MTB rides, average power might be similar but normalized power, training stress and intensity will inevitably be far higher.

Develop cadence tolerance

If I look at my data from a typical MTB ride, I’ll see cadences ranging from sub-50 RPM grinds to spin-outs over 150 RPM. Road cycling tends to expose you to a very narrow cadence range and, while this isn’t necessarily an issue, not being so cadence-sensitive will make you a more robust, resilient, and adaptable rider.

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Upper body and core

Road cycling does very little for your upper body or core whereas mountain biking is far more of a total body workout. Not only is this beneficial to general overall health and resilience but it will also benefit you on the road - especially when the gradient kicks up.

Whether you’re a roadie or a mountain biker, if you want to improve your cycling, it’s time to ditch those labels and dip your toe in the water of another cycling discipline.

Pedaling technique

Studies have shown that, in terms of a smooth and efficient pedal stroke, mountain bikers consistently have the most souplesse. This comes from the fact that to maintain traction on steep and slippery surfaces, power has to be delivered to the pedals in a smooth, even, and sensitive way - there’s no place for mindless pedal mashing! Spending time riding off-road will help to smooth out your pedal stroke and is far more effective and fun than dubious pedaling drills and scans on indoor trainers.

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Why all mountain bikers should ride on the road

Endurance fitness

Mountain bike rides, especially at most trail centers, tend to be relatively short affairs so you could maybe argue that you don’t need the epic steady-state endurance that riding on the road can give you. However, I’d argue that, in terms of fitness, without that solid endurance base, any higher-intensity fitness will be built on shaky foundations. Yes, you could build this endurance fitness on the trails but it’d be brutally hard on your bike and body, and finding suitable routes on the road is far easier.

Photography by: katyapulka

Climbing strength

Check out the legs on a roadie and, once you can get past the lack of hair, you can’t deny that they tend to be pretty impressive pistons. A big part of this is the bigger gears and longer climbs that you’ll tackle on the road. This climbing strength will significantly enhance your off-road ability, will mean you won’t freak out when faced with a long road or fire-road climb and, if you can climb more efficiently and faster, that means more downhills.

Training convenience

If you’re not lucky enough to be able to ride trails straight out of your door and have to go through the rigmarole of loading your bike into the car and then driving to ride, it’s going to impact how often you’ll get out. Having the option of a road bike means you can make the most of those shorter midweek time windows, at least turn your pedals, and build some fitness for when you can get off-road.

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I’ve already outlined when talking about the benefits of mountain biking for roadies that the high intensity and total body demands are practically unavoidable. The flip side of this is, if all you’re doing is mountain biking, your body is going to be taking one hell of a battering and, because of a lack of recovery, you might not be getting the fitness gains you should and are putting yourself at risk of burnout. With a road bike, you can go out for a genuine recovery ride, spin your legs out, and still get some pedalling done but be fresher and ready to hit the trails the next day.

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