31 August 2004

Become a mountain biker

Mountain biking is fun and a great way to get fit. Here is a guide to what you should do if you want to perform at your best.

Mountain biking requires a high level of overall fitness, both aerobic and anaerobic, as well as strong muscles and bones. It also requires a fairly good level of flexibility.

Typical build
It is advantageous for mountain bikers to not carry extra weight, and they are pared-down like most endurance athletes. However, they need to be stronger and somewhat more robust than road cyclists, so that their bodies can handle the shocks and bumps (and frequent falls) that come with uneven mountain bike course terrain.

The techniques mastered by a mountain biker are more varied than those of road or track cycling, for example negotiating uneven surfaces and obstacles, making tight turns, quick dismounts and remounts, passing in a narrow track, and making fast descents. Mountain bike racers need extremely high levels of biomechanically efficient pedalling, especially when they have to apply high force so the rear wheel won't break loose in steep, loose terrain.

Training programme
There are different skills a mountain biker needs to develop, and coaches advise cyclists to spend more time on whichever of these are weakest in an individual athlete’s case. This is thought to result in better overall performance than trying to perfect a strength does.

Some of the key training focus areas include climbing inclines, technical skills such as those mentioned above, endurance, and performing repeat hard efforts at high speed with little recovery in-between, such as riding hard on short steep inclines, accelerating quickly and sprinting. Training schedules therefore need to include both endurance and strength training, and plenty of practise negotiating different rugged trails.

Cardiovascular fitness
A top mountain biker has excellent cardiovascular fitness.

Speed drills
Speed drills are often incorporated into the general training programme, as rapid acceleration and sprinting are frequently needed.

Reaction time
Reaction time is vitally important in mountain biking; given the uneven terrain, the rider is continually presented with ‘surprises’ and has to constantly make split-second choices about the correct speed and angle to use to maintain balance.

Endurance training
Mountain biking requires high levels of endurance, and most of these athletes attain this by putting in many hours on varied rough terrain.

A mountain biker’s eating plan is often similar to a road cyclist’s i.e. it follows the degree of training intensity, and increases carbohydrate and calorie intake as the peak season nears.

Mental Mountain
bike racing requires a combination of constant alertness and control. Pre-event preparation is perhaps most important in this type of cycling event, as the circuit contains such a variety of different challenges. A thorough familiarity with a particularly track is invaluable.

Mountain bikers may make the mistake of experimenting with some of the drugs that have caused havoc in other cycling disciplines recently, such as EPO. The 1996 World Champion mountain biker Jerome Chiotti recently confessed that he had used EPO.

How to start
You need to be young and fit to consider taking on some of the more extreme mountain bike routes, but anyone who can ride a mountain bike can try riding on untarred roads. Start on easy routes and gradually work your way towards more rugged terrain. Taking on a mountain bike trail that is too difficult can be dangerous as well as demoralising. As with road cycling, you can pick up useful tips if you join a group or club.




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