Mountain Bike as a Training Tool

Question for those who mountain bike. I purchased my first one about a month ago and I’d like to use it to prep for cyclocross season. I live in the Twin Cities, and we have a lot of good singletrack, but there are no sustained climbs. A lot of short, (5-20s) sharp punches and good technical flowy trail that can help hone handling.

I’m trying to figure out how to use this new bike of mine as a preparatory tool to make me a better cyclocross racer. How can I utilize it to work on building anaerobic capacity in a more organic, real-world situation (as in, not doing intervals)…I’ll still do those, but I like the idea of mixing it up with the MTB.

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When I started MTBing 4-5 years ago, it really helped my CX riding. I didn’t really do anything different as far as my training goes. Everything you said is true that riding single track and the built in short bursts are organically great for CX. One thing I would say to pay attention to is that an MTB is much more forgiving on rougher stuff (duh) and I’d say it’s important to get used to your CX bike again prior to the season as it will handle differently i.e. no suspension and way narrower tires.

All in all, it’s a great training tool that you don’t have to do anything special on to help your CX riding, never mind a ton of fun


I like to do a circuit many times over. For example, have a 5, 7, 10, x-min course that I do a particular amount of continuous reps on (like a CX race or a long-er MTB Short Track). This lets you focus on sections of the route and improve your lines. Then when your confident take it up a notch and try to string together a few sections hard. Handling at high speeds / effort is much harder than slower. You might need to take a totally different line or modify things, etc.
MTB singletrack isnt really like CX (in US or Europe). Keep that in mind. But repeated accelerations are similar in the sports. MTB singletrack is way more technical (with or without climbs).

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Go out with a fast friend for a couple of hours. Make sure you fuel well, it’s really easy to forget to eat as you’re having so much fun. Lots of carbs in your bottles can be best (you can stash one in a bush if you’re doing laps or repeating an ascent).
2 hrs of blasting around the place and your whole body will be wasted. Go home and recover well.
Awesome training!
P.s. I race cx too. Spend my summer on mtbs, both racing, going for long days out and blasting around singletrack.


Yeah just repeating but if you’re not working on sustained climbs, but rather 20-30 sec bursts, that sounds perfect to compliment CX. Work on power out of corners. And like Jeff said be sure to reacquaint yourself with the curly bar bike well ahead of the season. It’s always a shock to me riding my drop bar bike off-road after a season of MTB.

Then, try an XC or even a short track race if you can find one. CX and short track go hand in hand.

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There aren’t any sustained climbs here where I live but since I’ve added a powermeter to the MTB it’s easy to see how my rides here involve repeated short bursts and to me are very applicable to CX. Of course the short rises and few climbs but on the flats accelerating out corners etc. I think it is very applicable to something like CX or racing crits.

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MTB and CX have a ton in common in terms of general body conditioning that isn’t addressed with road riding. Shoulder mobility/strength, bike/body separation, lower back conditioning during really hard off-road efforts, and off-road bike handling are things that are very very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate without doing them directly.

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While I have done CX racing, I consider myself to not be a CX racer at all. But I am a mountain biker.

But I would think as a training tool the MTB would be most useful as a skills tool first, fitness tool second. I do most of my fitness work on my road bike, with my MTB being used for endurance and/or skill.

Makes sense. And really I’m hoping that riding a MTB instills more confidence on a cross bike. I will say though, riding single track and letting the terrain dictate power is going to pay off whereas on the road, I don’t have the same type of loose punchy track.

Thanks all

100%, I also tend to climb out of the saddle more on my MTB than my road bike, which really has revealed some upper back mobility strength issues.

I won’t beat the dead horse of MTB improving CX skills, but hopefully add to @JSTootell comment

I see the trainer and road as my primary form of fitness too, but when I mountain bike I’ll focus on really short, high power bursts out of corners or other trail features. If you’re moderately intentional about putting out a few high power efforts throughout the ride, you can get a lot out of MTB rides too!