Training: Get fit for mountain biking, part 1

Top tips from the pros

If you want to ride at your best this summer – whether it’s for racing or just so you can hold your own when you’re out with mates – you need to hit the trails hard now. You should be out there ripping it up in the woods, building your fitness and fine-tuning your skills.

The trouble is, your motivation can be low at this time of year and even though you know you’ll love it really, you can usually think of an excuse not to go. We’ve all been there. It’s too wet, dark or muddy. Ring any bells? Thought so. What you need is a healthy dose of inspiration – and that’s where we come in.

We’ve asked several of the biggest names in British mountain biking what gets them fired up to ride, especially when the temptation is to knock it on the head and stay indoors. What’s the spark that gets them off the sofa? What’s the buzz that gets them out of the front door and into the saddle?

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Gee Atherton: "Try new things and mix it up”

Animal Commencal downhill and four-cross racer Gee Atherton says you need to alter your approach to winter riding to get the most out of it.

“When it’s dark and the weather’s crap, you’re not going to have much fun if you try to replicate the rides you enjoy doing in the summer. You need to change something; you need to try new things and mix it up so that it’s a fresh experience and you’re not comparing it to your summer rides all the time.

“For me, that means instead of sitting on that same downhill track and hammering out runs using a shuttle, I go out on a short-travel bike and ride to the top. You get a lot more time on the bike and it’s only going to boost your fitness. You find you think about the downhill run differently if you know you’re only going to get three or four runs in, and the track will ride very differently on a different bike.

“Instead of trying to avoid the rain and mud, sometimes it’s better to accept that it’s going to be there and make the best of it. So instead of planning that four-hour cross-country epic that you normally do, change it to a shorter, more intense ride using routes that’ll be a lot of fun in the mud. When you’re drifting your cross-country bike round slick, muddy turns you’re experiencing something different to the summer, and it becomes a good reason to get out and ride.

“If you’re still struggling for motivation, hit the tracks on a motocross bike or ride the skatepark on a BMX. I guarantee both will put a smile on your face.”

Tip: Cut the length of your ride in bad weather but add intensity and make the most of the mud.

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Isla Rowntree: “Make sure you enjoy yourself”

Ex-pro rider turned bike designer Isla Rowntree reckons it’s all about having fun.

“I ride because I love it. I just really like the sensation of riding a bike – any type of bike. One of the benefits of being a little older is that experience tells me it’s rarely as bad outside as it seems from indoors. Some of the best rides I’ve done have been in the worst weather and I know how to dress to minimise the discomfort.

“Most of my riding at this time of year is done in the dark after work. I have a ‘minimum maintenance’ singlespeed rigid 29er that rarely gets washed but keeps on working regardless of how much abuse it gets. This removes the chance of you making excuses like ‘I haven’t got time to wash my bike’ and ‘It’s not working because the cables are full of mud’.

“Pausing on top of your local hill after an endorphin-inducing climb and imagining everyone else slouched in front of the TV below is always a great feeling – and it’s further enhanced if you’re sharing it with a couple of riding buddies. There’s something a bit surreal about being out there in the dark when everyone else is indoors – something a bit primal. I feel closer to nature, maybe a bit more vulnerable… in a good way.

“Riding in the dark improves your bike handling as you rely less on sight and more on feel and reactions. Add a slimy layer of mud and the effect is magnified. You also come across all sorts of unsuspecting wildlife – badgers, foxes and various owls regularly appear in my headlight.

“If you still need more inspiration, imagine how much more you’ll enjoy those all-day summer rides if you maintain your fitness through the winter. But for me, I don’t need that reason; riding in the dark, wet or cold – or all three – is as good in its own way as a summer ride.

“I also ride to work every day on a Kona Ute long bike – it’s completely different, will carry a vast amount of stuff and puts a smile on my face every morning.”

Tip: You’re much more likely to get out and ride if you arrange to meet a mate.

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Tracy Moseley: ”Organise a muddy ride with mates”

World Cup downhiller Tracy Moseley says you need to learn to love the mud.

“The inspiration for me at this time of year is organising a ride with a group of mates and just getting out there on some really muddy track. You need to learn to love the slides, crashes and all that mud in your eyes! I love the sensation of battling to control my bike in the slippery conditions. It’s something that you don’t get all year round so relish it while the opportunity is here.

“My two favourite muddy rides have been in Leigh Woods in Bristol with a few guys from [bike and component distributors] Paligap, and around Brighouse in West Yorkshire, riding with my boyfriend around the local loops he used to do as a kid. It was so slippery in the woods we just had a slide on the whole time. I would probably go out for a couple of hours and then head straight for a warm shower.

“Be subtle and light in your movements when you’re riding in the mud and look really far ahead on the trail to pick good lines. That also helps you stay balanced. I often don’t bother using mud tyres as I like to have to work really hard to stay upright. I really think that helps with downhill skills because when you get back on your downhill bike with full mud spike tyres it all seems really easy.”

Tip: The key to riding in the mud is to stay relaxed and don’t try to fight the slide – you just have to go with it.

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Bernie Shrosbree: "List your weaknesses and work on them"

Coach, extreme sports expert and mountain bike racer Bernie Shrosbree says planning is the key to improving your riding.

“Whether you’re a top-end racer or somebody who struggles to stay with a group of mates on an enduro or a fun ride over the weekend, ask yourself where you’re struggling – the areas where you’ve underachieved. Is it your endurance or your strength? Are you overweight? Answer these questions honestly and write your answers down. This way you’ll have a reference point for what you need to work on if you want to achieve your goals in the spring and summer – which should make it easier to get out the door and do it.

“With your weaknesses identified, write down what you need to achieve this weekend. It might be a steady-state distance ride of three or four hours, or two hours working hard on the hills, or going to a technical area and improving your descending. Whatever it is, your motivation will come from your planning, so don’t be fazed by anything else – you need to go out and do it.

“A training plan can’t be set in stone but I teach people on my training camps [Bernie runs mountain bike and road training camps based in Poole, Dorset throughout the winter: www.bernieshrosbree.com] that if you know what you need to achieve, you’ll go out and do it. You’ll bash it out and get what you need to get out of it and come away with money in the bank rather than a shopping list of excuses.”

Tip: Write down the weakest areas of your riding – and then plan how you’re going to tackle them.

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Oli Beckingsale: "Enter an event to boost your motivation"

Professional cross-country racer Oli Beckingsale says committing to a race will keep you focused

“I have to be fit enough in April to shred in World Cup cross-country races so that means getting time in the saddle in the winter. Once the new year has kicked in there can be no excuses and the training has to be done. Yes, I could hide out in Spain riding a road bike all winter but where will that leave me on the first technical, muddy mountain bike race of the year? I’ll tell you where: on my arse or wrapped round a tree. You might not be racing World Cups, but if you’re looking for motivation then entering an event and making a commitment is going to get you off the sofa.

“I’m also out on the trails simply because it’s my passion. I started riding because I love it and this beast in me is still alive and kicking – whatever the weather. There’s nothing better than heading over to Afan for a day trip with a load of mates, going for a sociable ride on my Trance X, riding the downhills fast and swapping stories in the cafe after. Happy days, rain or shine, wet or dry chamois.”

Tip: Get an event on the calendar to give you a goal.

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Julie Dibens: "Go out and find a totally new route"

Three-time X-Terra off-road triathlon world champion Julie Dibens thinks bike riding is all about being adventurous at this time of year.

“My off-season rides are all about finding new routes. This keeps things interesting – new scenery, new hills, new descents – and that gives me the motivation to get out there and have some fun. It also means I’m less pressured to go fast or set a new course record, which I’m often tempted to do. Try to get away from this. You may be missing out on a great ride you never knew about right on your doorstep.

“Setting yourself a challenge is another great way to help you get out there. For example, you might challenge yourself to ride for at least an hour a day every day for a month, or you could set yourself a mileage target. A challenge that’s realistic yet hard will undoubtedly push you on.

“Getting a new piece of kit is another huge motivation for me – probably my favourite. I’m fortunate in having some great sponsors who give me new kit every once in a while and they often want feedback on it, so I really have to try it in all kinds of conditions. You might not have that incentive but new kit is a great way to feel good about yourself and there’s nothing like it to get you out there.”

Tip: Get a good group of friends together on the weekend and plan not only a great long ride but some other fun activities as well.

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