Welcome to the Dark Side my son…

20 Feb 2021

Reading Time: 5 minutes

‘Welcome to the dark side’ were the thoughts that went through my head as I opened the box and pulled out the road bike. It seems I had turned my back on my mountain bike and bought a road bike, svelte and fast. Evil, pure evil. At the end of the day though, with me riding all but one ride a week on the road it was an inevitable purchase.

But I have this theory. No, really I do. Just hear me out.

I think riding a road bike makes you a better mountain biker. I can hear you saying rude things under your breath at me now, but I really mean it. I think it does. How does this theory work? Well it goes something like this: mountain biking is an all out physical activity. Your upper body gets a thrashing, the legs get hammered and your mind is working overtime to pick the best line, keep you upright and keep you going fast on the trail. You might not realise it at the time, but when you stop there is a good reason you feel completely screwed – because you are. Now this is where my theory kicks in. By increasing your strength and overall ‘bike fitness’ it makes the job of controlling the mtb a whole lot easier. How? Well because you are stronger in the legs, you can dedicate the grey matter to more important things other than convincing your legs to keep going.

I came to this conclusion about a year ago when I was riding a lot on the road (on a slicked up hardtail). I rode with my wife to work and picked her up in the afternoon (all up four trips for me as I had to come back into the city). All up about 2 hours a day on the road. We did this three or four times a week. What astounded me was on the weekends when I’d hit the trails was that my riding improved three fold. Now that was odd as I was riding off road less, so one would well assume that I would get slower. That’s when I noticed it. My legs were on auto drive and almost all my grey matter was concentrating on controlling the bike off road. As such I was riding a whole lot better than, better than I had for a very long time. Bike control it seems takes up well more than 50% of the thought processes, if it’s getting less you will not be riding at your best.

Riding a road bike is the easiest way to build up this strength. 40 or 50 road k’s in the saddle is not an ordeal like it is on a mtb and unlike riding an mtb, all energies are focused on propelling the bike. As a result doing 200 k’s a week is not such a big deal as it might otherwise be. The net result is that you are going to get a lot stronger and a lot faster/fitter, and hey that’s not a bad thing

See, it does make some sense.

So what about this road bike thing?

Well, without a doubt there is something about it. Quite a few of my fellow cohorts seem to be thinking the same thing, with almost all of them riding or entertaining the thought of buying a road bike these days. Road bikes are fast, no two ways about it. Get out of the saddle, honk on the pedals and they take off. While mtb’s are about skill, road bikes are about speed. It’s a rush really. But what’s really interesting is that it makes you smooth, something that many mtbers out there are pretty crap at. Your legs spin in a smooth circle and deliver power in a completely efficient manner. With time the smooth motion becomes instinctive. Many mtbers mash their pedals in an untidy and inefficient manner, not great for conserving energy. For some reason riding a slicked up HT does not produce the same results. Interesting….

What’s better is that you can find out any physical issues relating to riding and work to fix them, something VERY hard to do off road. I blew my hip at the 24 last year. It was an ongoing thing that was causing a lot of problems. Well this time it got so bad that I took a month off the bike and spent $600 bucks at the physio. While he was good the problem kept on coming back and had me quite stummped. Last week we did a mild road ride and on climbing a hill Chuck asks “do you have problems with your left hip?”. Well, yea I do. “Well, do you realise that your left knee is throwing out when you climb, especially out of the saddle?”. Damn, he was right. No one on the mtb had ever noticed, guess we are all to preoccupied with other things. On the road bike it was as plain as day. Suffice to say, I have been working on keeping the knee in (thus building up the weak muscles) and guess what? The problem is going away!

But you want to know what the biggest hoot is? It’s now being able to take on and at times beat those roadies who used to make a point of walking away from you when they saw you were on a mtb. Childish really, but hey, a lot of fun. Just this morning some guy was a little incensed that I passed him so he sat on my wheel, refusing to take his turn. Simple, wait for the hill and then sprint away. I could never have done that on the HT. He must have been pretty tapped out as he did not give chase. You also get to plug into the ‘road scene’. Pass a guy and he takes your wheel. If he knows the deal you can get an even faster pace going, swapping the lead in order to maintain and build the speed until it almost becomes a controlled sprint. It’s sort of the same as someone setting the pace in single track, but now involving gobs of speed instead of gobs of skill. Lastly you can do some great rides such as the Akuna Bay ride in northern Sydney, something that on a mtb would be an awful, slow and somewhat dull thing to do. It’s a different but equally interesting world.

But what sucks, it can’t be all good can it?

Riding on the road blows. I went for a ride on the 2nd of January (when it should have been quiet on the roads) and I nearly got run over four, count it, 4 times in the space of two hours! Sydney drivers are complete shitheads. Hell this morning at 6.15 a turd in a truck would not give me an inch on an otherwise empty road. Road bikes are no where as sure footed as mtbs. They are light, whimsical and completely incapable of getting you out of trouble. Their brakes are a complete joke, at least when compared to my Hopes. As par of the course I will not ride in Sydney unless I am out the door by 7am at the latest (a downer right there) and even then I pick routes that are free of box tops.

More gear. Yup another bike to maintain and this time with parts that can not be swapped the the mtbs in the household. That blows. Smartly I bought another pair of Egg Beaters and have them on the schmoad bike, so at least I do not have to use those really silly road shoes. I also refuse to dress up like some sort of pro Euro rider, what a toss. I still have not figured where to the bike either….

At the end of the day though, riding a road bike can be fun and beneficial. It’s a different world with new skills and thrills and a required level of fitness that is hard to achieve riding only a mtb; especially if you are urban bound. Perhaps best of all, riding one will not make you a worse mtber, rather a better one (you did read the first bit, right. You know, my ‘theory’).

Ultimately there should be no stigma attached to riding a road bike. A certain Crash Carden said to me when we were talking about the rifts in the cycling world, “I ride bikes”. Rightly so. As long as you are on two wheels and have the right attitude, you are part of the clan no matter what you ride.



Copyright 2023 Gerard Thomas. All rights reserved.

I've run mtb events, distributed some legendary brands, ran my own cycling clothing brand, designed bikes and was a GM and head designer for a famous but sadly now extinct mtb marquee; and after 20 odd years I decided riding bikes was more fun than working with them.
Over that time though, I wrote (and some wrote for me) a lot of stuff about bikes, on blogs and the like. Some was good, some, well... not so much. Rather than loose it all when I shut everything down once and for all, I have kept some of my favourite, and more popular pieces here for... prosperity?
I also am working on new pieces as well...

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