Okay, so you’re passionate about mountain biking and not so keen on jumping on a road bike. But I’m going to try to convince you to add road riding to your routine so that you can improve your fitness, as well as your mountain biking.

Loving the Bike

You may have heard words like “fast twitch”, “slow twitch”, “power output”, and “anaerobic” thrown around when people describe the fitness differences between riding road and mountain bikes. But I’m not going to bore you with the science behind it all. Sure, these things have merit and can help explain how each affects your body differently, but it’s so much simpler than that.

It all comes down to speed and distance. Argue with me if you like, but the average person can ride faster and go longer on a road bike than on a mountain bike. This is partially due to terrain (road vs. trail), and partially due to equipment (thin tires/light bike vs wider tires/heavier bike).

By mixing in some road rides, you’re able to expand your cardiovascular threshold and push your body in ways that are so much different from what it’s used to on a mountain bike. Yeah, here’s another one of those terms… “cross-training.”

Switching things up is good for your training in so many ways:

Muscle – Work muscles that aren’t generally used in your primary sport of mountain biking.

Cardio – Improve your endurance by adding in a different type of cardio routine.

Mind and Soul – Give your mind a mental break from what it’s used to.

The Bike – Although you’re getting off the mountain bike to cross-train, you’re still riding two wheels on a frame.

Whether it’s once a week or once a month, crossing over to a road ride will do your body and riding performance a great deal of good.

What’s your experience? Have you already been mixing things up by adding road riding to your routine? Let’s hear about what it’s done for your mountain biking.

Loving the BikeDarryl Kotyk runs the cycling lifestyle website, www.lovingthebike and is the co-host of the Cycling 360 Podcast. He’s a road cyclist at heart, but often gets out for a blast on the mountain bike. Darryl owns a bicycle cafe on the Caribbean island of Grenada called Mocha Spoke. He invites all the Singletracks readers to visit him any time to ride bikes and drink coffee.

# Comments

  • slipfinger

    Great points!
    Road cycling gives you the ability to stay on the bike longer and build “saddle time” which in turn transforms itself into endurance. Most people don’t have access to miles and miles of trails to do a long training session but they can ride on endless roads until there legs fall off.
    Some of you are just plain lucky and have miles and miles of trials just outside your front door to train on and for that I don’t like you!!!!

  • lovingthebike

    Thanks for your comments, slipfinger. Yeah, it can be tough to find enough trail riding to build up the saddle time…..plus getting out on a road bike is just a nice way to switch thing up and stay fresh.


    • slipfinger

      Being a long time roadie I was starting to lose interest. Looking down at miles and miles of pavement with the odd smelly road kill to distract you can take its toll, not to mention the amount of ahole drivers that nearly drive you off the road every other ride. I decided to give MTB a try and fell in love with it. There’s just something different about flying thru a tight section of singletrack with trees on both sides, sometimes just as dangerous as cars on the road but the trees don’t honk or yell scaring the sh*t out of you. I still do a fair bit of road riding, but I think its closer to 50/50 split now.

  • dgaddis

    Road riding has GREATLY improved my MTBing. It’s all about saddle time – it’s way easier to get some on the road than on the trail. I can road ride from my house without wasting time driving to the ride, whereas to get in a decent MTB ride I’ll have to spend at least 20mins in the car each direction. In fact that’s a rule – I don’t drive my road bike to a ‘local’ road ride. My roadie has fenders and means I can ride rain or shine, as long as visibility isn’t low anyways. So when the trails are too wet, I can still log some miles. Using the roadie to commute to work a few days a week means even more saddle time than I’d get without it. Obviously it’s not as much fun as MTBing, but when time is short, and the weather is nasty, it’s a great tool. Plus it’s just a good workout – you never get a break, you’re always pedaling.

    There’s a reason pro MTBers spent a lot of time training on a road bike.

    • mtbgreg1

      Great points everyone! I’ve really been enjoying my new road bike as well. Like dgaddis said, it REALLY helps me to get a lot more time on the bike than I would otherwise.

      Quote: “you never get a break, you’re always pedaling.”

      Unless you live in the mountains 😉 I can spin out on some of the descents around here pretty easily.

    • dgaddis

      Biggest descent I’ve found (which is part of my morning commute 😀 ) I top out at 40mph, and there’s still some gear left.

    • mtbgreg1

      It’s nice to have some fun downhills on your daily commute, isn’t it?

      So far fastest speed I’ve recorded on Strava is a little over 58 mph… and I’ve heard there are some bigger climbs and descents that I still haven’t ridden.

      If you ever want to come up here and ride, just let me know! 5.5 hrs planned for tomorrow, but you’ve got a race, right?

    • lovingthebike

      Good to see you out there loving the road bike. It’s nice to hear mountain bikers talking about having good times out there on the road.


    • mdavisga

      Road riding is how I got faster than my buddies on the trails even though they were better in the technical sections … being able to just keep cranking meant I could suck at downhills, etc. for a while, and once I got better at descending, it helps to be fit, certainly on a hardtail. Now, I would ride my road bike even if it didn’t help out much, because I love me some road cycling

  • jfflyboy

    I will typically do two mountain rides per week with a road ride somewhere in between. I personally chose to ride a singe speed on the road due to the challenge it provided in the climbs. By doing this I have greatly improved my climbing performance on my geared mountain bike. It makes me feel like down shifting is a luxury. We also have about 60 miles of fairly flat bike path. So on the single and can just set in for a long spin. This has also helped my endurance. I am a super mountain bike fanatic. I never really liked road, and I still dont enjoy it as much as mountain biking, but I do feel that it is a necessary “evil”. It makes my mountain biking all that much more enjoyable.

    • arvi

      I completely agree with using a SS road bike to help develop torque for climbing. I also love being able to focus on just pedaling and not worrying about terrain or shifting gears.

  • Spartan

    Bought a road bike to do TRI’s with last June.. The road work is just constant Quad building even going downhill. Unlike MTB where you are up out of the saddle coasting downhill. For me that extra muscle mass in my quads from road make the uphill MTB sections much easier. Regardless of the benefits its just plain fun as hell. You literally feel like you are flying. A beautiful crisp sunny morning rolling through the Georgia hills and backroads without traffic will give many a singletrack a run for its money.

  • GimmeAraise

    Just purchased my first road bike yesterday, mainly to get on the rollers and to train before the Trails here in CB melt off! I really wanted to get a fat bike instead but in order to get my training in I decided to go with the road bike! hehe, can’t wait to get on it! YAHOOO

  • cteteacher

    Like one of the previous replies up above, I go road biking because that is at least 40 minutes of riding I can add because I can leave straight from my house. It is great for fitness and it helps you to squeeze in some miles when you are limited on time.

    Here is my plug too as I am a member of TeamCF for my second year now because my nephew has Cystic Fibrosis. The Ride For Life events are all road events so it is great to have a road bike to support a great charity that I am personally connected to.

    P.S. I ride a Walmart Road bike and it gets the job done just fine!

  • Doomed

    I have a “road” bike. It’s actually a CX with road tires. I found that the time spent on a road added alot to my MTB skills. I climb alot better and can stay in the saddle longer than the people I ride with that are a decade younger. I can ride right from my front steps without having to drive the 30 minute minimum one way to the trail. I was actually thinking of trying a CX race for, Old, out of shape, people this year.

    • Bwpaulk

      This is my situation in almost every detail. Living in the mid-west we can go for weeks at a time with wet, muddy trails. Bought the cross bike to ride on gravel and group road rides. The following spring I was able to ride trails longer, faster and with more skill as my fitness increased. Road riding is convenient, without the need to gear up and drive to the trails. I love the variety and the option to get a quick work out and bike fix when time is limited.
      Did my first cross race this weekend; 50+ masters.
      I finished way back but still ahead of some 40yos.

  • lovingthebike

    Keep the comments coming, everyone. It’s nice to hear what all you mountain bikers have to say on this one.


  • ngilbert

    Normally, I alternate my weekend excursions between mountain biking and road biking. I agree that road biking improves general biking skills like pedaling technique and breathing control. But I also think mountain biking has improved my performance on the road, especially in sprint triathlons. It helps with my acceleration, handling, and, most of all, climbing.

  • Frosty_905

    Bought a road bike mid August 2012 because a friend convinced me we needed to ride in the New York Century which takes place the second weekend in September. We signed up for the 75 miles but when we arrived I said ‘what the hell we’re here lets do the full hun.’
    The farthest either of us had ridden was 60 miles or 100 km. Did 115 miles that day due to the extra distance to the ride start and back, as well as a few missed turns. Hell of a great way to see that town by the way.
    Now I’ve been MTBing for 25 years and I couldn’t believe that bit of road riding boosted my performance as much as it did. We ride a lot of technical rock trail here on the Niagara Escarpment and it helped with that as well. Probably going to split my time between both this year.

  • stillfat

    If I start road biking, am I still allowed to drink beer and eat ice cream?

    • jfflyboy

      NO! It’s granola, yogurt, and wheat grass shots for you. Maybe the occasional blood transfusion and growth hormone injection.

  • luv2mtb

    I refuse to ride on the road cuz I don’t want to die. That said, I ride a rail trail right near my house (WOD-northern Virginia) for endurance training. I hate the boredom and monotony of spinning for two hours straight but I always notice a difference the next time I hit singletrack.

  • brianW

    You can also get a cyclocross bike or similair frame that has clearance for larger tires and do gravel rides. Many areas have miles of gravel/dirt roads that are not ideal for road bikes and get far less traffic then paved roads.

    • jfflyboy

      Or you could mountain bike???

    • mtbgreg1

      Haha yes, or that!

    • dgaddis

      Fat-tire road or CX bike is way faster.

    • mtbgreg1

      Re: speed: most of the time, but it can depend on the terrain. For instance, up here in Dahlonega, last year at the Southern Cross race the first place person was on a cross bike, but second or third was on a mountain bike. There wasn’t a ton of time difference, either. For the average rider, lots of times the steep, loose, rocky, rutted gravel road descents are much more manageable, less terrifying, and much faster on a mountain bike.

      That said, I would love to own a ‘cross bike to throw together some massive 50-75 mile loops of like 50% gravel and 50% pavement… that would be fun.

    • lovingthebike

      Yeah, a cross bike is a good option for cross training as well.


    • Dirtyrig

      I find it way more fun mixing gravel, road and sometimes single track on a Gravel bike like a GT Grade rather than a CX bike, CX bikes are twitchy on the road and not as stable on gravel roads, the gravel bike is awesome on paved and gravel roads!

  • Jonnycat

    Started out as a Mt. Biker and stated to get tired of breaking bike parts and body parts. Road ride is a great way to get a quick workout in because you just leave your house and hammer for a couple hours. There is no packing the car, driving to the trail, riding, drinking beer and then driving home. Both are great.

  • stumprider

    I am riding my mtb daily to and from work all year round in iowa. And am wondering if i would benefit from purchasing a second set of wheels and smooth tires, rather than purchasing a new road bike?

    • rickmccann

      A road bike is the way to go but I’m sure just buying thinner, smooth tires would make a huge difference. I’m currently riding my old Gary Fisher hard tail w/ 2.1 mtb knobby tires. I’m sure this bike/tires are holding me back a bit but at the end of the day, it’s just more exercise. I can only imagine how my avg MPH will increase once I have a lightweight road bike w/ tiny tires.

    • lovingthebike

      I once put thinner tires on one of my mountain bikes and it worked great. If you’re not going to be going on some serious trails, then it’s a good way to go.


  • rickmccann

    Yes, I also want you to ride a road bike (or a hard tail)! I have been mtn biking for like 15+ years now. In the past year, I have been slowing adding 2-3 road bike rides per week…in addition to my weekly Sat mtn biking trip (my passion is definitely still mtn biking). I do 20 miles of mtn biking & now I’m up to 45 miles on the road each week. Only negative is that I’m doing the road miles on my old hard tail. Oh well, it’s only more exercise, right??? The road biking has TOTALLY helped my mtn biking. I’m faster, have more endurance, etc. I definitely recommend it. I hope to get a road bike this year, which will make the road rides even more fun.

    • lovingthebike

      Good to hear it, Rick and thanks for sharing your experience.


  • gar29

    Road bike during the week for fitness, mountain bike on the weekend for fun! I’m lucky to have an awesome bike trail near my home to stay off the streets as much as possible. I got punted over a car once, and it didn’t feel good! I’m 6’4″ 200lbs, picture that flying over your car, still clipped in, bike attached!

  • dlzook

    I ride road at least twice a week. It has made a world of difference for the other 3 mountain bike rides I go on.

  • UrbanWarrior

    I often get told I’m crazy for wanting to ride a mtb on the road. But if you have ever been to NYC, you know the roads are like bombed out fields in Iraq! Throw in some old cobble stone streets downtown and streets always being under construction, and the idea of riding on a skinny tire road bike seems crazy to me.

    Does anybody else have similar conditions on the roads around their homes?

  • tridiesel

    I 100% agree with this article. Epecially when your are training for and MTB marathon race.

  • johnk

    Just bought a road bike to train for the lutsen99er. Can’t wait to get on it! Anyone seen the salsa Fargo? Looks like a mountain bike with a rigid fork and drop bars. Looks like a gravel eating machine

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