Road biking is an awesome way to amplify your fitness should you decide to add it to your training. First and foremost, I have always been a mountain biker, with cyclocross being a close second. I much prefer dirt, dust, mud, and rocks in contrast to smooth black tar of the roads. Playing amongst the trees and bushes is a frivolity that I enjoy often. Wheels flicking through the loose terrain, sliding left, sliding right, barely in control of your machine, but yet, always somehow making it to the bottom of the trail in one piece.
Mountain biking is about battling against yourself and what nature may throw at you. A big storm could bring change to a familiar trail. A driving rain throughout the night might create a giant rut down the center of a fire road. However, a sandy or dusty trail will wash away leaving a huge hole unseen until you are almost upon it. Then, and only then, you have split second decision to make: should I jump the hole or is an out of control brake slam my only alternative?
Comparatively, you may navigate a rock garden too slowly or careen into a corner too quickly thus landing in the brush. Or probably slide out on a sand patch or lose speed on a technical climb falling backward (which I have done). As a mountain biker, we have less external influences when navigating the terrain so any mistakes you may experience can be chalked up to rider error.
On the other hand, I was quick to generalize road biking as being all about dodging cars, breathing in car exhaust, and running over glass. I was quite reluctant to participate in road riding of any kind, but upon moving to Southern California where it is sweltering for many months of the year, I realized that it is much easier on your body to road ride in high heat than to mountain bike. Out on the tree-lined streets and away from the scorching white dirt of the hills, I found pleasant temperatures and vast amounts of shade. Yes, there are still many cars and shards of glass along the bike lanes, but through a course of trial and error, we soon learned which roads were bike friendly and which routes had notoriously dangerous roadways with no shoulders and endless lane construction. Ironically, I recently relocated to the Sacramento area of Northern California where the heat is even more intense throughout the summer than Southern California. However, with the Sierra Nevada mountains being only an hour away, I have more choices for road rides when it comes to dealing with the merciless heat.
Folsom A City For Cyclists
Road riding has opened doors for me to explore new areas I have not seen on my mountain bike. Country roads with penned up cows munching on grass, baby goats hopping around green fields, and a fruit stand selling seasonal fruit and vegetables. I have come to view a beautiful country road on a warm sunny morning to be nearly as fantastic as a rock-strewn fire road winding through the hills.
I have a new appreciation for yet another cycling discipline that I can add to my weekend adventures – sailing smoothly through the backroads, gliding effortlessly, racking up many miles, and soaking in the scenery; silently flying down mountain roads at speeds rarely attained on a mountain bike, carving the banked turns; and stopping for a food break on a quiet, barely passed road while the sun dances through the many leaves above our heads. These experiences are the romance that road cycling has become for me. I have finally discovered the obsession that many have with the open road and thin tires.
Living in the Sacramento area, I had not seen a city as friendly as Folsom. There are bike paths everywhere! Folsom’s recreational trail system offers 45 miles of paved well-maintained bike paths to allow easy access to all parts of the city by bike. Trail access points are located within most neighbourhoods, with access to businesses and retail centers. Many of the trails wander through shaded open space corridors of natural terrain, man-made greenbelts, wooded areas with native oaks and vegetation, and along creeks and seasonal streams.
The American River Trail winds its way along the banks of the American River. The trail runs for 32 miles between Discovery Park in Old Sacramento and Folsom Lake’s southwestern banks at Beal’s Point. The scenery along this trail is stunning with spectacular views of the river, tall brown grasses scorched by the summer sun, and the many oak trees that pepper the trail along the way. Many off-road trails wander in and around the banks of the river and it’s a great place to mountain bike, or cyclocross for that matter. What cyclist would not want to ride a trail that allows you ride for over 60 miles up and back and never have to deal with a car?
The American River trail is the most popular trail in the area, and it’s not unusual on an early Saturday morning to come across hundreds of cyclists of all levels enjoying the morning coolness before the heat of the day takes over. The bike community is active here, and the city prides itself on being bike-friendly.
Enhance Your Mountain Biking
Any cycling pro will tell you that road biking will significantly improve your mountain bike training. I have heard this many times over, but I just could not get on board with the road scene. I preferred to keep it on the trails or emulate road training on a trainer. This training method worked pretty well for me over the years, but I can’t help but wonder had I added road riding to my schedule a while ago maybe I would have excelled further in mountain bike racing with the additional training? Road bikes allow you to spend more time in the saddle, thus logging more miles with less wear and tear on your body. Also, I find that I recover quicker from long road rides than I do from a long mountain bike ride.
Of course, the sport is only as easy or as hard as you make it. The Tour de France, for example, is extremely demanding and is the toughest cycling event in the world. No one would ever make the outlandish statement that the Tour is an easy affair, but this is an exaggerated example to point out that road riding is just as challenging as mountain biking. There are many physically demanding hills near my house that I can destroy myself on to specifically boost my climbing power and then take my new-found fitness to the dirt with confidence in knowing that I have done proper training. In March, I fell on a ride and severely sprained my wrist thus I had to wear a brace. Luckily, I was still able to continue my road rides unlike mountain biking, it would have been too painful bombing down bumpy trails. The smoothness of roads suited my wrist fine during my recovery.
As a mountain biker, I always shied away from road biking as I have always been a dirt junky. Upon entering the world of road riding, I have found many excellent benefits of being on a road bike. Now living in a city that offers so many beautiful country roads and cyclist-friendly bike paths, it has now become a part of my weekly ride schedule. However, I will always be a mountain biker at heart.
Michelle is living in the land of sun — Southern California. She has spent many years racing in the expert class on the California XC circuit and she also races CAT 2/3 cyclocross. Michelle loves being outside, training, and hiking with her husband and border collie.