I have a question for the more fit. I recognize that road biking helps with mountain bike fitness, in part due to the more prolonged cardio efforts usually involved in road biking. But can't you get a similar and even more useful mountain bike fitness by riding roads and inclines (such as a double Mt Diablo climb for the Bay Area folks to consider) with your mountain bike? Just keep up the cadence and effort. I ask because the road bike I have is not as comfortable as my mountain bike and I really like my mountain bike.
Bike fitness is simple: Time in the saddle.
Hills will help develop strength endurance
Offroad will help develop handling skills
MTB will feel a lot more comfortable to ride but its obviously slower than your roadie. A compromise might be to put slick tyres on your MTB for road cycling
My understanding of that "rule" has been that you can't spend all your time on technical single track if you want all round mountain bike fitness. You need to spend time riding in a less technical environment too, typically roads or rail trails. Not only is it easier on your body, this lets you work on speed, long hills, endurance, etc. without obstacles that prevent you from working at a chosen level of effort. While a road bike is one way to do it, I don't think there is any reason you can't do that on a mountain bike. You'll work harder to get up a hill on a road but that's good training anyway!
I'd be very much of mind that you need to train specifically for specific results.
We don't race on road bikes which have a different geometry setup to mountain bikes. I've limited my road bike training to turbo sessions only and ride the MTB as much as possible on all surfaces.
I agree that how you ride impacts your fitness much more than what you ride. I found that riding a fixed gear helped my conditioning and my legs quite a bit. When you have to pedal all the time, you get a very different work out than when you can coast and relax, even if just for seconds. Having to get up hills in a bigger gear than I would have used on either the road bike or mountian bike made my legs feel pretty strong. Needing to use my legs to contain the speed on downhills used muscles much differently than riding anything else.
It isn't for everyone though. You could choose to do some rides in one gear and make a point of keeping the pedals engaged. It would still just be one element of a larger program - including what others have said already.
Thanks everyone. I've been interested in what others do to train for the big "A" races. I've always used my mountain bike on mixed surfaces on long days to get strong, but I can see where my new-to-me road bike can be useful in a monthly program.
x4 what Bash said.
I train on road bike (long weekend rides, hill intervals and turbo) and only race on MTB (Adventure Races and MTBO). However I do race MBO every 2-4 weeks on average so keeps my MTB balance/technical/instant power skills maintained.
hey afseen, I definitely don't put myself in the category of the 'more fit', but for what it's worth...
Previous years I've always tried training MTB by going on long "rambling" rides at a moderate pace on mostly trail (race pace I'd use for a 12-24hr).
But this year since we have a new baby I've had to cut back training time so I built a 45-60minute road loop with some hills and have been riding that loop at max effort (and timing it). And even though my time in the saddle is less it feels like I have better bike legs than I have before.
So all in all...one more vote for riding fast and hard on road to train for MTB...
I've always been time pressed at weekends and have 45 min drive to trails. When I do get to them I make it worth the trip and put 2-4hrs climbing and descending in.
Time on the road bike is never meandering or rarely with groups (you are stuck to group pace) I keep my own honest pace.
Bang for buck over the years has been the trainer at home or turbo as we call it. Particularly for less than ideal winter conditions. You plug all sorts of interval sessions into 69-90 mins to improve stamina etc..
Nothing beats the road. Thing about trails is you are not always pedalling which is why a couple of hours on the road is good honest work. So as others said build fitness on road and build your bike handling skills off road.
Just one word of caution. If you neglect your MTBing for a while, you will lose some upper body strength. I found this out when I did a 6hr MTB ride after only doing road training for a few months.
You use some upper body muscles on steep ascents in MTB and to balance on technical sections too.
Kyle - is that your response to the original question which was:
"But can't you get a similar and even more useful mountain bike fitness by riding roads and inclines (such as a double Mt Diablo climb for the Bay Area folks to consider) with your mountain bike?"