If you are a regular road cyclist this winter may be the time to give dirt a chance. Whether its cyclo-cross, mountain biking or gravel rides there are plenty of benefits to be gained from leaving the tarmac behind.
Taking to the trails makes a lot of sense in winter; the slower speeds mean less wind chill helping you to stay warmer and on icy days when the roads are treacherous it means you can still get your cycling fix. There is a huge network of tow paths, bridle ways, gravel tracks and cycle trails that are traffic free and perfect for cycling, perfect for exploring our beautiful countryside in peace and quiet. Off-road riding can also be beneficial for your cycling skills and fitness.
If the majority of your riding is on a road bike or you enjoy indoor training such as a spin class or turbo session it is easy to adopt a very static riding style. Riding off-road teaches you how important shifting your weight around the bike is for maintaining grip, powering through mud or up a steep bank or even lifting your wheels off the floor to clear an obstacle.
If you are more used to perching on top of your bike and being a passenger than pushing your bike around this will teach you some useful skills that will transfer to the road and can even help make you a safer, more confident rider.
Sliding around in the mud is very low consequence if you fall off, unlike on the road. Riding in slippery conditions teaches you to stay loose and relaxed on your bike and if it does start to go wrong how to recover it. This is a great skill to have in any cycling conditions. Even on the road a damp corner, or wet drain cover can cause you to slip a little. Some safe, off-road practice, will teach you the skills to handle it.
Several studies comparing the pedalling technique of different bike riders have pointed to the same result, that mountain bikers have the smoothest pedal stroke. If you pump the pedals like pistons, straight up and down, your rear wheel will slip and slide. Riding off-road on slippery or loose surfaces means that you have to keep constant power through the rear wheel to maintain traction and this can improve your pedal stroke when you go back on the road.
Yes, there are some serious benefits but the best reason all is that cycling off-road is fun! We challenge anyone to come home from a wet, muddy ride and not be grinning ear to ear.