Mountain vs. road biking

I went out for a bike ride this morning. My normal route these days is to head out up and over the Piedmont hill, down to Montclair, and then up Snake Road up to Skyline. This is close to an hour of climbing for me (although I’m getting better). After that, then I bike around up there for a while, and then bomb back down. Today I rode down Skyline to Redwood Regional Park, and for a lark, I decided to ride along the Ridge Trail there. This was a bit treacherous since I had slick instead of knobby tires on my bike right now because I’m doing mostly road riding, plus the trails were a bit muddy because it rained this week. But the ridge trail doesn’t do anything too extreme so I figured it’d be okay.

It was an interesting reminder of the difference between mountain and road biking. Climbing a hill on the road is more about brute strength – just put your head down and pump your legs as hard as you can. Going down on a road is even easier. Going up and down little hills on the trail though was a totally different experience, picking my way through the rocks and roots, trying to avoid hitting the mud puddles too hard, things like that. It was a lot harder work than a corresponding hill on the road would be, because so much of my energy was being exerted on control and balance.

I realized that it was similar to the difference between free weights and machines in weight-lifting. Lifting with a machine isolates the muscle, so it’s just brute strength, like road biking. Free weights require control and balance, meaning that you can’t lift as much weight as you could on a corresponding machine. But I like free weights because you are using the muscles in a more realistic way; you’re getting better functional strength. I think the same thing may be true in biking. I’d forgotten what mountain biking felt like (and this was a pale imitation – just big fire road trails, nothing hard core or anything) because I’d been riding on the road since the rain started. I may have to get more into it again this summer. We’ll see what happens. But I just wanted to record the comparison of biking to weight-lifting because it amused me.