The Difference between Road and Mountain Bike Power Output and What Your Training Should Do About it.
Cyclists and the industry as a whole know about the power demands of road racing, but in comparison, we don’t know a lot about the power demands of mountain bike racing. In this article, I’ll show you the differences in power output in road and mountain bike racing. Going one step further, I’ll discuss how you can optimize your training to meet those demands for each discipline.
Comparison: 2 x 10 minute climbs at similar perceived exertion show two very different power plots.
To illustrate the difference between road and mountain bike power, I collected powertap power data on two different 10-minute tempo climbs. The first climb was on a powertap equipped road bike up a steady 2-4 % grade hill. The second 10-minute effort was on a powertap equipped mountain bike up a 10-minute singletrack climb with a 2 – 4 % grade. I rode both efforts at the same rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and had an average heart rate of 159bpm for both climbs.
In the graph below, I set up a direct comparison between the interval on a road bike and mountain bike. This helps us clearly visualize the difference in the two 10-minute climbs. As you can see, the power fluctuated much more from the mountain bike data compared to the road bike data. Average power for the MTB effort was 220 watts, while on the road it was 246 watts.
The main difference between the two power files is the dramatic number of efforts above 300 watts for a 220-watt average singletrack climb. On the road, we see that the power is more even, with zero efforts above 300 watts.
Our training tip explaining criss-cross intervals for mountain biking is another great article to read on this topic. Check it out here!
Dissecting Mountain Bike Power Demands
Mountain biking’s “bursty” power is primarily a function of terrain. Rocks, roots, ruts, short steep climbs, switchbacks, obstacles and more all contribute to the highly variable power demands of mountain biking. It’s essential to mountain bike racing to be able to produce these efforts in order to clear the technical terrain and maintain your speed up, over, and thru the terrain.
How to Raise your Anaerobic Capacity
In summary, mountain bike power is bursty as illustrated by the tempo climb above. Mountain bike power is even more bursty when racing flat out with your heart rate pegged at 180bpm. Therefore an athlete’s ability to perform zone 6 level efforts over and over during a mountain bike race is critical. Having a huge aerobic engine is important too but having both is a lethal weapon.
At FasCat Coaching, we like to have mountain bike athletes perform Tempo Bursts Intervals. These structured intervals are performed at normal tempo wattage, but every 2-4 minutes, the athlete jumps up out of the saddle for 10-30 seconds at 125% or greater of their threshold power. After the burst, the athlete returns to their tempo pace/wattage until the next burst. Here is an example tempo burst workout:
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FasCat Coaching is located in Boulder, CO but we have raced and coached mtb’ers all over the US. Additionally, FasCat has been designing training programs to coached athletes for 15 years and have introduced the very same training programs for only $49 in 2017. You can buy FasCat’s 6-week mountain bike training plans here.