I suspect I find you in a difficult situation, where the nights are drawing to a close just too soon, the weather is way too cold and the pleasure of riding your road bike has become, well, less pleasurable. However, despair not, I’m here to tell you about a form of cycling that will save your fitness over these harsh winter months. I think you know what I’m talking about, and no I’m not asking you to trade in your fashionable lycra* and high tech carbon roadie for soft suspension and baggie shorts. I am however going to persuade you why you need to consider it and have a go at ‘the dark side’ of cycling this winter.
*Disclaimer: You will remain fashionable in the Spokesman Cross Jersey, no baggies required.
So here are the four big reasons why you need to hang up your slicks and head out on that trail this winter.
It’s a whole body experience
It’s the truth, when you go out on the trails for the first time you’ll wake up the next day with jelly arms. Those long road miles have not done your bicep definition any favours, but thankfully after a winter off-road your definition will challenge that of a seasoned body builder (results not guaranteed). In all seriousness, that added strength from mountain biking does wonders for you physique and will help keep you at a lean race weight even through mince pie season.
Best bang for your buck
Four hours out on the road? Half that. On the trail you’re going to be working a lot harder than usual. Up, down, on, off, left, right, that constant effort you’re become accustomed to will be no more. So not only do you have to concentrate more on what’s coming up, your legs will be going through a hell you could’ve never quite imagined. By the end of a big ride you’ll have that wobbly leg feeling that can only be replicated by a 200kg deadlift.
Skills to pay the bills
Want to be wheelie good like Sagan? (I couldn’t resist) We all know he’s a magician on two wheels, but it’s not all by chance. Prior to his road cycling career, Sagan was the Junior XC World Champion and also a silver medalist at the Junior Cyclocross World Championships. He’s also now casually the two-time world champion on the road, but yeah that off-road riding probably had nothing to do with it…. Once you hit the trails a few times, the skills you earn pay dividends on the road. Your descending, cornering and even climbing ability will be improving despite the fact the tarmac's freezing over.
It’s the most fun you can have on two wheels
Okay, you love road cycling and if you don’t, well, you’re obviously not a normal person. So now imagine if you could go out cycling in the snow, mud, rain, hail, sleet (you get the picture) and have fun, regardless. Well, weather makes little difference off-road, the trees surrounding you protect you from the harsh environments and more rain = more mud and more mud = more fun (possibly the most important point here). So next time you're getting drenched head to toe on that never-ending straight, trying to remind yourself why you put yourself through it, think of me with a grin on my face sliding around in the mud on two wheels. Then, maybe, you might think that it is probably time to go off-road.
Ryan Whitney, Mud enthusiast, Triathlete and Trainer @movement_union, @ryanguywhitney