Why You Should be Riding the Road
by Karl Etzel, Wenzel Coaching
A common question I get from mountain bikers looking to make the move into ultra endurance racing is "Do I need a road bike?" Recognizing that preparation for an ultra-endurance event probably requires an increase in their training discipline, they naturally start looking around for ways to step things up. My answer to this question is always the same - it doesn't matter. The reason, of course, is that this is the wrong question.
The right question is "Should I be training on the road?" The answer is an unqualified, resounding "YES". I am sure the bike industry wants me to tell you to buy another bike, but the fact is, you can do just fine with the MTB you have, although I do recommend investing in a set of slicks for the MTB, if for no other reason than to spare your off-road racing tires.
Let's look at a few reasons why you need to incorporate road training into your preparation for the ultra-MTB season:
1) Time management: The road comes right to your front door. Unless you are independently wealthy, or retired, those hours you'd spend driving to the trail every day are better spent training. The kind of volume you will need, especially in the early season when you are building your endurance base, makes it virtually impossible to fit in time for driving to the trail every day.
2) Training precision: Your ability to control the critical factors in your training (heart rate, cadence, exertion) is much greater on the road. We've all come across trails that are handled one of two ways - ridden at a high intensity, or walked. Gnarly technical terrain and super-steep fire roads do not lend themselves to maintaining the cadence/HR zones needed to advance your fitness properly.
3) Wear & tear: Your body and your bike can only take so much thrashing. If all of your training is off-road you will find your upper body getting worked over more than is really needed. You'll also spend a lot more time doing bike maintenance (see item 1 above).
4) Speed work: Road riding opens the opportunity to take part in group training rides. These are the best way to get in the high intensity speed work that you need to incorporate into your training. Besides, if you can hang with fast roadies on your MTB you win major tough guy points.
Every serious MTB racer I know spends many hours training on the road. If you haven't yet worked road riding into your regimen, don't delay. You will see the benefits in the dirt, and maybe even discover that road riding can be just as satisfying as riding off-road.