Having led two international sporting governing bodies and coached professional athletes for more than twenty years, it would be fair to say that I have the expertise and experience to speak on the benefits of cycling and mountain biking.
But for me, being active and involved in cycling is much more than a profession; for me, it’s a lifestyle; it’s a part of who I am and who I always will be. We’re all aware of the benefits of exercising, like losing weight, building muscle, and relieving stress, but the benefits of mountain biking go far beyond that.
Some people run, while others swim or even walk, but my go-to has always been cycling. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved bikes; whether it was road cycling, BMX, or mountain biking, I was happiest when I was out on two wheels cruising the countryside.
At the age of 10 or 11, I was already off riding 50-60 miles by myself through the rugged Australian trails. Looking back, I was lucky to live on a farm and have access to some of the best trails in the world right outside my front door, not to mention my dad was an Australian road cyclist which didn’t hurt either.
Although I’m an avid “roadie,” I love changing it up, jumping on the mountain bike, and heading out into the wilderness. While out riding the other day, I started thinking to myself about the benefits of mountain biking and thought, what better way to share those benefits than to put pen to paper or fingers on keyboard?
So in this article, I thought I’d run through the following:
- The top 10 physical health benefits of owning a mountain bike
- 7 mental health benefits of owning a mountain bike
- Mountain biking disciplines
- What is a mountain bike and
- The different types of mountain bikes
But before we get started, it’s probably best that we nail down what a mountain bike is and how it differs from a conventional road bike or “pushy.”
What Is A Mountain Bike?
Put simply, a mountain bike is a bike that has been specifically designed for riding on the trails, but with that said, most mountain bikes these days are just as much at home on the blacktop as they are on the trails. In some ways, mountain bikes share similar features to that of, say, a roadie, but overall they’re vastly different bikes.
Mountain bikes integrate features and tech, encouraging mountain bikers to hit the most rugged trails and terrain. These extra features make mountain bikes considerably heavier than their road bike counterparts, making the weight of the bikes the first big difference between the two.
The tech that is typically included on most mountain bikes are:
- Suspension forks and systems
- Super wide handlebars
- Bigger and heavier brakes
- Wide tires and bigger pedals
- Optimized components for descending at breakneck speeds
It’s fair to say that most mountain bikes now come with rear-suspension, and dropper posts can easily be installed so riders can adjust the seat height instantly.
Because mountain bikes are designed to be ridden off-road, you’ll find they have much wider tires than a road bike. Many fire roads, trails, and gravel roads are littered with rocks, branches, and other debris that can damage your rims and tires, which is exactly why mountain bikes have tires the size of a Mack truck.
Mountain bikes are also popular with commuters primarily because they’re robust, sturdy, and pretty much bullet-proof, making them ideal for commuting. If your roads are anything like mine, then potholes are not uncommon; mountain bikes offer a fun and practical solution, especially when the potholes are as big as the Grand Canyon.
What Are The Different Types Of Mountain Bikes
It would be fair to say that most of you have probably seen a number of mountain bikes while out on your daily commute and wondered what they’re called and what they’re for. Generally speaking, mountain bikes can be distinguished by the following four categories.
A rigid mountain bike looks like any other mountain bike, with the main difference being they have no front or rear suspension. The tires on a “rigid” are knobby and the handlebars straight.
As the name suggests, a “hard tail” has no rear suspension but does come with a suspension fork for the front rim.
These types of mountain bikes are relatively new and come equipped with “pivots” built into the frame to absorb the vibrations from the surface of the road. However, they do not have rear suspension.
You guessed it; a full suspension mountain bike comes with both front and rear suspension. These mountain bikes are typically the most expensive mountain bikes available today and use a telescopic fork which is similar to that used on a motorcycle.
What Are The Different Mountain Bike Disciplines
When it comes to mountain biking, there are several types of disciplines that riders compete in either professionally or as weekend warriors. Back in the early days of mountain biking, most of the bikes were very similar, some might say “identical” in shape, and as such, disciplines were limited to “BMX-like” stunts and tricks.
But as time has moved on, the tech has improved, and now you can find any number of specialized mountain biking disciplines aimed at professionals, hard-core amateurs, and your average Joe cyclist.
Cross Country mountain bikes are designed specifically for racing and endurance rides and have been around since the early days back to the 1980s. Because these bikes are predominately used for enduro rides, they are lightweight and made from the very best material like aluminum and carbon.
Trail mountain bikes have progressed from the development of cross-country bikes, with the main difference being they are targeted toward amateur riders and weekend warriors. Typically, trail bikes are viewed as “do-it-all” mountain bikes because they climb exceedingly well, descend like a demon, and have less travel, meaning they’re right at home on the pavement too.
Enduro mountain bikes are kind of a hybrid between the trail and cross-country models. They are generally made from a high-quality lightweight material such as carbon and can weigh between 25lbs to 35lbs. The recent advent of timed downhill runs has meant that the enduro mountain bike is designed somewhat differently from the other disciplines.
Downhill mountain bikes are without a doubt the most specialized of all bike designs. Made explicitly for, you guessed it, going downhill fast, these bikes are lightweight and geared to go quick. They emphasize putting the rider in a safe but comfortable position that allows them to descend at high speed. Downhill mountain bikes take advantage of the latest tech and use state-of-the-art suspension systems, tires, and rims.
The Top 10 Physical Health Benefits of Owning A Mountain Bike
The benefits of mountain biking go far beyond the fresh air of the mountains, staying fit and enjoying time with friends. In Fact, the health benefits of cycling and, in particular, mountain biking are not just anecdotal but scientifically backed.
When most people think about mountain biking, they conjure up images of young pros racing downhill and jumping over obstacles, but the reality is that everyone can enjoy the benefits of getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors; on a mountain bike course.
So with that said, let’s look at the top health benefits mountain biking offers.
Ok, so you might be wondering how mountain biking provides me with a full-body workout. Well, apart from your legs taking a pounding, your core and stabilizer muscles also get a good workout, as do your arms and shoulders.
Each little bump and snag that you need to navigate activates every muscle in your body. Unlike road cycling, mountain biking is an excellent way to strengthen your muscles while improving your aerobic capacity at the same time.
The Best of Both Worlds
Have you ever tried running on a treadmill or spending hours on a stationary bike? Looking at a digital screen can get pretty boring, right? Enter mountain biking. What better way to get fit and have fun than riding through the trails and enjoying all the wonders nature offers?
The great thing about riding a mountain bike is that you get to pick the scenery. Want to enjoy the ocean views? Head down to the beach and take one of the many paths. Fancy the rugged trails? Pack up your bike and head for the mountains.
It’s up to you; that’s the wonderful thing about mountain biking.
Shape Up Your Muscles
As a professional coach and former head of high performance, I can tell you it’s a myth that performing “any” sporting activity will get you toned and slim. It’s simply not true, but when it comes to mountain biking, it’s one of the best ways to tone your muscles and shed that body fat.
Being out on the bumpy trails puts a great deal of emphasis on your stabilizer muscles as well as your bigger muscles like your legs and arms. Controlling the bike and holding onto the handlebars for dear life isn’t easy, which is precisely why it tones your arms, legs, and even your buttocks.
Boost Cardiovascular Health
A strong cardiovascular system is critical in improving health and well-being, increasing quality of life, and longevity. Mountain biking is an excellent way to boost your heart health and aerobic capacity; even better, it strengthens your muscles simultaneously.
The more oxygen that is pumping through your body, the healthier and better you’ll not only feel but look too. Your skin will improve, and you’ll lose weight which takes the stress off your heart; exactly what you want.
Get A Low Impact Workout
Many exercises like running, for example, place a tremendous amount of stress on your body’s joints. Not only can this cause short-term injury and pain, but it can lead to debilitating long-term conditions like chronic inflammation and arthritis.
Riding a bike is what we call a “low-impact” training activity meaning it places little to no stress on your joints. Low-impact exercises are good for two primary reasons. Firstly, you don’t need to worry about a serious injury; secondly, it means you can ride your bike daily without worrying about overtraining.
Boost Your Cognitive Prowess
Who would’ve thought that riding your mountain bike can not only improve your strength and conditioning and increase your cardio health but also boost your cognitive power? But that’s exactly what the power of mountain biking can do.
As you get fitter, more and more oxygen is pumped into your brain, resulting in increased brain health, shaper reactions, and the ability to concentrate and focus for longer. Put simply, the fitter you are physically, the stronger and sharper you are mentally; the two go hand-in-hand.
Improves Balance and Coordination
If you want to improve your balance and stability, then mountain biking is the sport for you. When you’re out riding the trails, you are constantly weaving, jumping, and swerving obstacles to go as fast as you can while staying upright.
Mountain biking forces you to make thousands of decisions every time you ride, improving your decision-making skills and overall coordination. Balance and coordination are particularly critical for the elderly, which is another good reason to get yourself a mountain bike.
Sleep Like A Baby
One benefit you might not have considered is that mountain biking can actually help with your sleep quality. Yes, being physically tired from mountain biking is one of the main reasons you sleep like a baby. But more importantly, being out in the fresh air and enjoying the great outdoors is a great way to relieve stress.
The reduction in stress and anxiety can help you sleep quicker and deeper than ever before. So get out on the bike, clear your mind and have a laugh; I guarantee you’ll sleep much better.
Shred The Body Fat
Let’s be honest; we all have a little bit of extra weight that we’d like to shed, especially if summer is just around the corner. Cycling and mountain biking are two of the most effective, efficient, and fun ways to lose weight.
Because cycling and mountain biking are low-impact sports, you can perform them daily, which translates into greater trainer volume and more calories burned. Mountain biking, in particular, provides an excellent full-body workout that combines strength and aerobic demands that turbocharge your metabolism and body into losing weight.
Now that’s a win-win.
Regulate Your Metabolism
Mountain biking increases your fitness, which in turn increases your metabolism. When your metabolism works at a higher rate, it’s much more effective at burning fat and helps regulate your body weight and appetite.
Not to mention that a faster metabolism provides you with more energy, improves digestion, boosts your immune system, and even has you burn more calories while you sleep.
7 Mental Health Benefits of Mountain Biking
Having been a passionate cyclist my entire life, I can honestly say that the benefits I value the most about cycling are those that help clear my mind from the day-to-day stresses of working and family life. Let’s take a look at the top 7 mental benefits that mountain biking can provide.
Reduce Stress And Anxiety
One of the best ways to reduce stress is by getting out and working up a sweat. Whether it’s road cycling, running, or mountain biking, exercising is a surefire way to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and have you feeling better than ever before.
When you’re fitter, you can sleep better, think better and make clearer and more rational decisions. Thinking clearly helps put things into perspective and allows you to appreciate the little things in life, like mountain biking with friends and enjoying the wonders of mother nature.
There’s No Better Feeling Than Freedom
Freedom is undoubtedly the benefit I cherish most about cycling. Getting away and switching off helps clear my mind, and it’s where I find most of the answers to all my problems. There is just something very primal about setting off into the wilderness and not knowing where the road might take you.
Enjoy The Nature God Has Given Us
I must admit I’m one of the lucky ones who reside outside of the big cities or, as I like to call them, “the concrete jungles.” These days people live such fast-paced lifestyles that they have little to no time to enjoy nature and all the splendors God has given us.
I know it sounds cliche, but it’s a cliche because it’s true; the sounds of the tires on the gravel, the wind blowing, and the birds chirping make mountain biking one of the most enjoyable and relaxing experiences you can have.
Boost Your Self-Esteem
I’ve seen cycling do wonders for the self-esteem of my 11 yo daughter; she’s fitter, her bike handling skills have improved, and she has a greater appreciation for the role that exercise plays in leading a healthy life.
When my daughter first started riding, she was hesitant, nervous, and quite frankly terrified of going downhill. Two years later and she is an entirely different person and rider. She loves to ride fast, she competes in races, and I’ve even seen her confidence transfer over to her schooling.
A Chance To Help Others
As a former professional coach, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in numerous charity and fundraising events. These events offer riders a wonderful way of giving back to the local biking community. Whether volunteering as a coach for the junior team, offering advice, or even volunteering on road trips, cycling is a tight-knit community, and mountain biking is no different.
A Great Way To Network
Speaking of a tight-knit community, cycling and mountain biking are two of the best ways to meet new friends and grow your network. Cyclists and mountain bikers are a funny bunch, and I mean that in the most caring way; they are devoted and committed and have a passion for their sport like no other.
I was recently out on a long ride and “flatted,” and as luck had it, my tubeless tires wouldn’t seal the leak. Then out of nowhere came a lady who stopped and offered me a tube to help me get back home. She was a road cyclist who competed in ultra-endurance events and had no problems helping me get out of a sticky situation.
That’s the kind of people cyclists are.
Spend Time With The Family
I think it would be fair to say that most of us don’t spend enough time with family; well, I know I don’t anyway. But since my daughter and I started riding together, our relationship has grown much closer.
We always have great experiences on the bike, and she can’t wait to tell her mom every time she gets back from a ride. Like the other day when we picked up a turtle in the middle of the road and put it back in the creek. It’s great to share my passion with her and even better to see her enjoying it. My daughter is trying to get mom to ride with us, but I think that might take longer than she expects.
That’s A Wrap
When you start looking deeper at riding a bike, the health benefits go far beyond the superficial ones of losing body fat or maintaining weight; although let’s not kid ourselves, those are great too. Whether you ride a road bike, a BMX, or a mountain bike, everyone can enjoy the health benefits that two wheels offer.
Old or young, male or female, it doesn’t matter; everyone can ride a bike, and you’re never too young or old to start.
Remember, you don’t need to go ripping down steep descents to enjoy mountain biking. A simple ride around your neighbourhood with family and friends is all it takes to benefit from the wonder of being on two wheels.
Happy mountain biking!!