Is Mountain Biking the same as Road Biking?

I started riding seriously about nine years ago now, and it’s become a passion of mine. I’m a roadie and I usually average around 7,000 plus per year. Just enough, any more you tend to get labeled as obsessive.

Anyway, I’ve had the opportunity to ride a MTB a few times now, on single track and double. And I find it really enjoyable, and yes, it’s nothing like road riding. I like it because it’s different, it’s good for cross training, and there’s never a dull moment.

Here are some things I have noticed and the differences
between Mountain Biking and Road Biking:

This past Sunday, I rode 24 miles on a MTB, and I felt pretty good afterwards. But, only because I have a lot of miles on my legs, and because I do endurance cycling. When I did my first MTB ride years ago, it was difficult.

I guess my point is, if you can ride 24 miles on the road, don’t expect 24 miles on a single track will be the same effort. It will be much harder. Why is it harder? Well first you’ll be doing more climbing, then you’ll do on the road. Unless you happen to live in California or southwest Wisconsin. You’ll need to be a good bike handler too, so you don’t ride into a tree, etc.

There is no drafting, but at the slower speeds, and because of the terrain, drafting would not work anyway. And on a single track, you need to allow a lot of room between riders, unlike the road. So, if someone falls or stops on a climb for example, you don’t ride into them. Plus, the more room you have, the more control over your momentum. Stopping on a climb sucks, and you’ll probably have to walk the rest of the way. Because it’s almost impossible to clip in on a steep trail hill.

In regards to the slower speeds. Don’t assume slow means easy, when it comes to mountain biking. Mountain biking is more like endurance cycling, and of course there are 24 hour MTB endurance races too. Nonetheless, when I do endurance cycling, I’ll sometimes be riding at 13mph, and roadies will say, 13mph, that’s easy. Until you tell them that was during a 600K ride that took 35 hours to complete — and 24 hours in the saddle.

Unlike road riding, you use more of your body too. You have to be more like a gymnast. And this adds to the calories burned, and good for the upper body. Meaning, when you go down a hill, you’ll extend your butt way back over the saddle. Up hill, just the opposite. You’re also constantly using your brain to scope out the best line on the single track, and yes brain power burns calories too.

Don’t forget nutrition. You’ll more than likely burn more calories in 24 miles on a MTB, then you would on the road. Despite the slower speeds. Just like on the road, if you’re not eating something ever hour, you will bonk. Same goes for hydration. One thing I noticed on my Sunday ride, is a camel back is a must. Especially if there’s mud. Because my only water bottle was low to the ground, and it got dirty. You don’t want to drink dirty water, that might also have horse poop in it.

As a final note, and don’t misunderstand, riding on the road at race speeds is very hard. The same goes for endurance cycling too. But, if you’re interested in giving it a try, don’t have the attitude, “hey 24 miles (or whatever the distance) on a MTB, how hard can that be?” Because I hear crow doesn’t taste very good!

Written by Rick Cosaro (a road biker, who plans to do more mountain biking in the future)