Mountain biking has always pushed the limits of technology in terms of suspension and frame designs but the use of data has, at least historically, been limited compared to road cycling. This is likely due to the harsh conditions, variable pedaling motions and the full-body demands of the sport.
Despite these challenges, there are simple metrics you can track and adjust in your training that relate very closely to your mountain biking performance. The time you spend offroad, how much you climb and short-term power are easy to track and also to adjust in your training to see improvements in your mountain biking performance.
This may seem simple, but rather than just thinking about the hours you ride each week, consider focusing on your hours spent offroad. For most athletes, an increase in time offroad corresponds with more fitness and more technical skill. This is especially true for beginner and novice athletes who are accumulating skill and comfort offroad, including the ability to pedal effectively offroad while fighting for traction and at lower cadences. You can track this on many bike computers by using different bike profiles.
If you are a weekend warrior and find it hard to get to the trails during the week, you might still do a ride or two each week on your mountain bike around local parks and city paths, including some hill intervals and practicing technical skills to get more time riding your mountain bike and working on many applicable skills. Your weekend long ride might be better spent on your mountain bike instead of a road bike, at least some weeks, especially if it is your only ride on your mountain bike each week.
Most mountain bikers want to climb faster. There are lots of intervals and workouts to make you climb faster but a simple first step is to track and increase the amount you are climbing, hence the amount you are practicing climbing. This might mean adding an interval workout on hills instead of a criterium practice and doing a hilly weekend ride instead of a flat and fast ride. For some athletes, this might require driving to a hilly location for a day or two of hill practice each month. If you know what your average climbing is for a day, week or month you can work to climb more during subsequent periods. The simplest way to measure this is to keep an eye on ‘ascent’ on your cycling computer for each ride and use a tool like MapMyRide to track your weekly and monthly totals.
While Functional Threshold Power gets all the attention, the more intense durations are often forgotten, especially when we get limited in training time and try to work moderately for the entire time we train. While I am not suggesting you should do only high-intensity intervals, it is worth practicing these ‘athletic’ efforts that can greatly improve your start efforts, climbing strength and your general ability to race mountain bikes. Common durations for power tests — 5-seconds, 30-seconds, 1-minute and 5-minutes — are helpful, but you could also get an indication of how your short-term power is developing by timing yourself up a couple of short hills near your home, training for a month and then re-testing on the same hills.
REPEATING YOUR SHORT-TERM POWER
While testing a single effort gives you a good idea of how you will do at the start of a race the reality is off-road races require multiple hard repeats to get to the finish line with a good placing. Your training should prepare you for this and so another metric you can use to track your progress is your ability to hold a target wattage (or time) for a set of hills. You could do something like 5 x 3 minutes or 3–4 x 10 minutes where you aim to go hard (9/10 effort) but not so hard that you can not complete the set of intervals. By tracking your times and/or wattages on each repetition, you can then aim to go a bit faster and/or add another repetition at the goal pace each week. Just like strength training, these simple sets can be a great way to see progress and improve your fitness for your goal event.
Mountain biking may involve multiple factors but by tracking one, or a few, simple metrics, it is possible to get a sense of how your training is progressing toward your goal race. Four simple metrics you could use are the duration (or the number of days) offroad, how much you are climbing, your short-term power and your repeatable short-term power.