Has anyone had much success doing outdoor workouts on a Mountain Bike?

And maybe more specifically southern CA (read: mostly a lot of short-ish ups and downs)/ I wouldnt mind trying to get a SSB started again but doing them mostly outdoors and since I have great mountain bike riding right out the door from my work thats mostly what I do for lunch rides. But knowing how the SSB plans generally are I think it maybe be tough to do them with any amount of accuracy in >1 hour.

Yes but I have extended climbs which make it easier.

  • I stick to gravel roads when doing the workout, and take trails back to the car for the skill / fun factor.

  • I can put out considerably more power while outdoors and on my mountain bike so if I need to feel good mentally this is usually a good plan for me.

  • I’ve tried structured intervals on trails, it’s pointless and nearly impossible.

  • For me, nothing replaces work on the mountain bike. If I spend too much time inside or on the road bike I lose the snap, so I think the ability to nail workout on your mountain bike is gold.

It’s doable but you have to change your mindset obviously. With short climbs, time it when you need to do some VO2 max or anaerobic efforts. I have some great roads out my front door that are all short punchy efforts that are great for VO2 Max repeats. If I need longer intervals off road, I make the choice to drive to those extended climbs available not too far from me.

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Southern California is a big place that covers San Diego all the way up to Santa Barbara.

Where are you at?

Orange County has plenty of trails that are suitable for interval work in the form of hill repeats. You’re basically looking for unrelenting climbs.

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True, Im in OC and more specifically Whiting is my lunch loop. Mustard/Borego is a ok climb but really its fairly surgey until the last section.

I started doing a few more outside workouts on my MTB, and in my experience it will take both some getting used to and also some hit/miss finding routes you can accomplish certain workouts on.
I’ve been able to do some aerobic rides and VO2 with pretty good success. Sweet spot is a bit harder - both due to the trails I have easy access to and the nature of MTB in general.

An advantage to the outside workouts that wasn’t obvious to me at the launch was choosing a workout for a group ride and using that to structure my ride. I see myself doing more of this - having a target on my head unit rather than in my head adds purpose, which I like a lot. It both helps me with holding consistent power, and also holding back a bit in sections I might otherwise not.

What are your thoughts?

Workout instead of group ride? Yes. Workout during a group ride, no.

As far as using power to meter efforts on the mtb that’s very difficult. I’ve used that to gauge efforts on gravel sections perhaps but single track is too variable

I have a PM on my MTB and have only been able to get proper intervals on gravel roads. Singletrack is just too variable in my area, so days on trails I just try to generally match the power zone intent of the workout and overall TSS.

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My experience has been the opposite. Fire roads at a consistent grade are gold, and the only terrain that seem to work for me.

One benefit of ‘trying’ to do outside workouts on the mtb have been an increased awareness of how much effort is really required by different terrain. This is even on trails I’m very familiar with and thought the effort was at one level, and it turned out to be another. The flow of the trail sometimes brings your effort up (or down?) to a level that is quite surprising, as you get carried away.

Momentum is everything with mtb, so religiously staying on target may be what’s needed for training, but on the day letting fly with a surge before tech pays dividends.

Doing a sweet spot low intensity workout for only the first hour of a 2hr dirt ride was also really interesting for two reasons.
The first was that doing this kept my effort really, really low for an hour (compared to what is normally required on the mtb!). Then for the second hour I was so fresh yet alert that I cleaned a long climb (world cup track, very tech) better than I had ever done.

The second was that I found it was possible to actually get up the 3 minute 15% climbs at an effort level that was under FTP. Good to have this knowledge now up my sleeve to know that in a future event if I need to, i can keep moving and recover even if the hill is really long and steep.

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I basically modify every plan to account for MTB-ing.

if an MTB ride replaces an endurance ride, i try to keep it easy, session stuff, focus on skills, avoid the steep hills (where you have no choice but to jam it otherwise you won’t make it up)

if an MTB ride is going to replace a hard day, I don’t worry about the specific intervals but just try to hammer as much as possible. Try to make the NP equal what it would if you did a low-priority XC race or very fast group ride. Strava segment hunt, etc.

Many MTB-specific plans are already designed this way. One of the hard days won’t be an interval prescription, it’ll just say “go hammer and shoot for X KJ of work yadda yadda” or whatever, somethign along those lines.

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Don’t overthink it. Mtn bike fine for intervals but just pick a hill and go as hard as your target duration dictates. Unstructured but hard and hilly mountain bike rides will give you fitness gains that you can later quantify when you test on your trainer. Just my 2.


Since you are right here in OC, might I suggest places like Maple, Harding and even BStar as longer climbs to get a long climb in?.
Not so lunchable, but longer climbs.
Also, in Whiting, go the other way on Mustard and climb to the viewpoint. And, give Dreaded a go.

I live in Colorado where in have two 3800 ft climbs out the door. Even then, riding on singletrack is more “surgey” than ideal for consistent power / structured workouts. And better to ride on the forest roads.

When I ride on singletrack, I don’t try do any specific structured workouts. I just ride and get miles in my legs and have fun. If I ride to the top of one of the mountains, it’s both a pretty epic workout and epic descent.

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I put a power meter on my mountain bike and plan on using it for trainer road but I’ll be using it on a paved, 40 mile long, perfectly flat, perfectly straight bike path we have in town for effective training. (While leaving some of my weekly rides to have fun/learn skills on single track of course) no matter how much trainer road I do, I always get significantly faster once I start chasing koms on the singletrack.