As triathletes, most of us are cycling enthusiasts as well. If you’re looking for a way to fit more cycling into your weekly training, why not switch things up and get on a mountain bike. As a pro triathlete, I’ve found there are many benefits to incorporating mountain biking into my weekly workouts.
Riding on dirt roads, whether on a cyclocross bike, a mountain bike or a fat bike can help you improve your cycling abilities drastically. By learning to master tight corners, maintaining your balance on a narrow bridge and avoiding trees and rocks you’ll become more confident when you get back on your road or triathlon bike. This is even more important if you are racing draft-legal races because these abilities will help you stay calm in the peloton and avoid crashes. This is why most of the best ITU triathletes like Gwen Jorgensen and Richard Murray enjoy trading their road bike for a mountain bike once in a while.
Grinding up steep hills on a mountain bike makes you better at pushing high wattage at a slow RPM. This type of strength work is similar to doing lots of repetitions of squats and will help you get that bike leg PB. Riding a mountain bike is also more demanding on the upper body than riding a road bike or a triathlon bike so you will also improve your upper body strength as well as get a stronger core.
Riding through the forests on two wheels is so exciting and fun that you won’t even notice how hard you’re working up a hill. You can do a great fartlek workout without even noticing it. This is especially fun in the winter on a fatbike. Last year I did most of my three- to four-hour long rides on my fatbike instead of riding on the trainer. I got the same physical benefits but was much less mentally-drained after that long ride in the forest or on my lake. Therefore, my winter training was much more enjoyable and I begun my racing season much more mentally fresh.
At the end of your racing season or the beginning of your off season, the weather is much colder and it’s harder to stay out on the roads for hours on end. By riding a mountain bike or cyclocross bike on the trails you will be less cold because you are going at a slower pace so the wind doesn’t cool you as much. You are also protected from the cold wind by the trees.
French ITU triathlete Vincent Luis and American long distance triathlete AJ Baucco both did some cyclocross races during the off season. Racing against cyclists is ideal to improve because the top cyclists are more physically and technically talented than most triathletes. Also, the mix between riding and running during cyclocross races is great training for triathletes. For a long distance triathlete like AJ Baucco, these above race pace (half and full distance) intervals are great training to improve on the bike. As your season winds down or even if you’re feeling a mid-season lull, try getting on your mountain bike for an exciting and fun workout.