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Rough Riding - Why you should include off-road riding in your winter training.

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Article posted: 08/01/2013

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One of the main training philosophies for developing young riders within British Cycling is to ensure they’re exposed to and compete in a variety of cycle sports. Mountain biking and cyclo-cross especially are seen as crucial for developing bike handling skills, strength and sound technique.

This philosophy extends into the British Cycling Sportive plan with off-road sessions regularly scheduled and, particularly during the winter months, hitting the trails is a safer, more fun and challenging way to build your cycling fitness.

Olympic Mountain Bike Coach Phil Dixon knows all to well the benefots of off-road riding.

“Training on a Mountain Bike regularly in the winter gives you the opportunity to improve all areas of your fitness and your technical skills within a safe traffic free and rewarding environment. I know from experience that riders who integrate off-road rides into their winter training programs improve their technique and confidence when  they return to their road bikes; Cadel Evans, Ryder Hasjedal, Peter Sagan have not done to bad have they......”

Escape Winter Roads

Icy, wet and dark winter conditions makes roads unpleasant and dangerous places to be. Getting off the road keeps you away from cars meaning you can concentrate 100% on your riding without having to worry about a lorry skidding out of control into you or the salt on the road corroding your bike as you ride. It’s also a hell of a lot more fun than toiling away on the turbo.

Fitness Boost

Off-road cycling gives a much more interval style workout than road cycling. This gives you a great top end hit and sudden steep climbs or slogs through mud are better than any gym session for building cycling specific strength and power. You’ll find that your upper body has to work hard on both descents and climbs. Finally the constant shifting of body position to maintain balance and traction is excellent for core strength and stability.

Pedaling Efficiency

Riding off-road punishes choppy and heavy footed pedal mashing. Try to muscle up a loose or slippery climb and you’ll soon spin out, be off your bike and walking. To maintain traction you have to develop an even, circular and smooth pedaling style. You can then transfer this pedaling technique to your road cycling where it’ll result in far smoother, more economical and faster riding.

Bike Handling

Hours spent road riding can result in a very static riding style and poor bike handling skills. Mountain biking forces you to constantly change your riding position, learn cornering and braking skills and to become an all-round better bike rider. This translates into a faster all round riding, especially on more technical roads, and a greater ability to cope with unexpected hazards such as falling riders or potholes.

Bike and Gear

You can get a decent lightweight hard-tail (front suspension only) mountain bike for £700-£800. You’ll get a far higher spec and lighter hard-tail for your money compared to a full suspension bike and it’ll require less maintenance and will encourage the development of superior bike handling skills.

A cyclo-cross bike is another option for a truly versatile winter workhorse, allowing you to explore small lanes and, if you need a competitive hit, take part in one the most fun and accessible forms of cycle sport. Most of your road cycling gear will cross over but you’ll need MTB specific shoes with recessed cleats for unavoidable “hike n bike” sections of trail.

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