The Difference between Road and Mountain Bike Power Output and What Your Training Should Do About it.
Much is known about the power demands of road racing but little has been written for the lay public about the power demands of mountain bike racing. Below, I will show you the difference between road and mountain bike power. Then I will characterize mountain bike power and discuss how you can optimize your training to meet those demands.
Two 10 Minute Climbs at the same effort show two different power plots
In the graph below, I have overlaid the road and mountain bike power data on top of each other to visually see the difference in the two ten 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 files is the dramatic number of efforts above 300 watts for only a 220 watt average singletrack climb.
The road climb power has much more steady (even though it is variable) power without any forays above 300 watts.
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:
An Example Anaerobic Capacity Interval workoutLastly, to work exclusively on your anaerobic capacity, there’s the old tried and true Zone 6 workout. Here is an example.Zone 6: 2 sets of 4 x 1 min On 1 min OFF, Full Gas > 357 watts; 5 min inb/w setsThis workout contains 8 minutes (2 sets of 4 x 1 minute) of anaerobic capacity work. We adjust the total workload duration for the athlete on an individual basis between 5 and 25 minutes with never more than 7 intervals per set. 1 minute is a good middle of range anaerobic capacity duration but 30 – 90 seconds may also be used. If you want to take your A game up to an A plus game this season on the mountain bike, these mountain bike specific intervals are just the ticket.
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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 six week mountain bike training plans here.