It was one of those “Well duh!” sort of moments. The times when you suddenly realize something that, in retrospect, should have been obvious all along. And once I did I knew that riding my mountain bike on the streets was going to make me ride better on every bike.
It all started with a rather unfortunate and poorly timed mechanical failure on my road bike. Just weeks before my planned 200+ mile weekend, I went and broke my left brake assembly. So off to the shop with the road bike, with an estimated 2 week turn-around for warranty approval from and parts shipping from SRAM.
With only 23 days to go until Seattle to Portland, I couldn’t really just stop riding. Plus I was still doing my daily commute. That left me with two other options – my cargo bike and my mountain bike. Looked like me and the Breezer MTB were going to be spending some quality time together.
I’ve experience some frustration riding this bike on the roads. It just seems…. so…. slow….
I don’t hold it against the bike. It has some ridiculously knobby tires and front energy-sapping suspension. It is, after all, a mountain bike. It isn’t really designed for road riding. But man, it always feels like I’m riding through molasses.
Obviously I was aware of the rolling resistance issues. And it weighs more then my road bike. There has also always been a grinding sort of noise at speed that I’ve assumed was my disk brake rubbing in a way I couldn’t seem to prevent. All things in my mind that were simply dragging me down.
In all fairness, the brake was actually not an issue (I later learned.) I’ve yet to identify exactly what that grinding sound is. It only happens when I am pedaling at a steady rate, and the brake would obviously be a more constant sound. So no brake hangup. Scratch that off the list of “why the hell does this feel so slow.”
That of course left the tires. Those damn knobby tires. Awesome in the loose dirt. Terrible on the pavement. I pondered this as I was again out of the saddle attempting to get the bike back up to cruising speed.
Heeeeeeey….. wait just a second.
Why exactly was I up out of the saddle? I was on flat ground, riding in a straight line. I should have been spinning steadily.
That was when it hit me. The issue I was facing with this bike wasn’t really about overcoming the rolling resistance of the tires while I was pedaling. Sure – there was added drag and inefficiencies there. But the real problem had a whole lot more to do with my poor pedaling style.
I tend to coast a lot. It is something I’m working to try and overcome. In most of my efforts on and off the bike I tend to favor my fast twitch muscle. I’m naturally more inclined to sprint – something very much augmented by how much time I spend sprinting from stop light to stop light in traffic. On my road bike, I can pedal pedal pedal, then coast for a couple of seconds with minimal loss in speed. On this bike, as soon as I stop pedaling speed drops quickly. The increased fatigue and effort I was experiencing weren’t so much from what it took to keep the mountain bike at speed, but rather what it took to continually struggle to get the bike back up to speed.
Once I realized that, I started to focus on maintaining an easy pedaling rhythm. The ride got a whole lot easier.
Turns out this little mountain bike that I was being critical of on my commutes was actually going to help me overcome my poor pedaling technique. This was something that I’d gotten away with for so long on my road bike that mentally I just no longer thought about it any more. I was conscious of this bad habit and wanted it to change, but just couldn’t seem to focus on correcting it when on my training rides.
Basic fitness and muscular gains aside, this little mountain bike was going to help improve my riding over all on any bike.