Can roadies learn something from mountain bikers? You bet! Here are some lessons from the RBR vaults, with examples from a world championship mountain bike race way back in 2001. Although the specific race was a long time ago, the concepts are just as valid today.
The importance of a steady pace.
Mountain bike races require about two hours of steady effort right at a rider’s limit (lactate threshold). Go too fast early and you blow up. Go too slow and you’ll be so far behind you’ll never get into contention.
Example: American Alison Dunlap parceled her energy on early laps at the 2001 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, saving just enough to mount a last-lap charge for the gold medal. This is the right tactic for road time trials or hammering your way to a century PR.
Supernatural bike-handling skills.
Mountain bikers push the limits of traction and control because they’re less afraid of falling than roadies. Off road, speeds are slower and dirt landing places usually are softer than pavement.
Example: American Walker Ferguson, just 19 years old back in 2001, won the bronze medal in the Under-23 race even though he suffered an early crash.
“I got a little excited, fell into some bushes 15 feet below the trail and lost about 20 places,” he said. Then he settled down and worked his way back. He didn’t let an early calamity destroy the rest of the ride — a good lesson for us roadies, too.
A fast and supple pedal stroke.
Riding on slippery surfaces requires smooth action all the way around. If mountain bikers push too hard on the downstroke, they break rear-wheel traction and lose valuable time.
Example: On the steep climbs at Vail that year of the world championships, it was fascinating to see top riders smoothly pedal up the rocky chutes. In fact, a study has shown that pro mountain bikers have a pedal stroke that’s even smoother and more efficient than fast-spinning pursuit riders on a velodrome. You can never put too much time and effort into improving your pedaling.
How to love a dirty bike.
Most roadies hate to get their bikes messy — so they don’t ride in rain or on roads made muddy by farm machinery. You can’t ride off-road without getting your steed dusty, muddy or both, but so what? Mountain bikers know that it’s easy to make a bike as clean as new. The same goes for your much-loved road bike, too.
Example: At pro mountain biking events, you can watch mechanics hose down dirty bikes and re-lube them, taking only 10 minutes for each. The cleaned machines look like they just came off the showroom floor. Your road bike won’t get nearly as dirty even on the sloppiest days, so get out there!