Paul Andrews

Dirt v. Road: Who’s on top?

In Mountain Biking on January 21, 2010 at 1:30 am

Who’s the stronger rider: Mountain biker or roadie? At Bike Intelligencer, drawing from years of suffering in both disciplines, we’ve often opined for the former. We know personally that, despite having done numerous double centuries, triathlons and races during our nearly six decades aboard two wheels, our hardest rides by far have been the six-to-eight hour mountain biking epics we’ve tackled all over the West.

Compared to road riding, MTBing offers little in the way of coasting, spinning or drafting. Riding twisting trails up and down requires far more upper body strength and overall muscular compliance than turning pedals 90 times a minute, even if it’s hour after hour on 100-mile or more rides. The time spent anaerobic on a typical mountain bike ride far exceeds the amount on an equivalent road ride.

See what he can do in a pair of baggies...

But one needn’t rely on our personal testimony. Just compare the record: Top mountain bikers have made the switch to road with instant success. Cadel Evans, Michael Rasmussen, Floyd Landis, Ryder Hesjedal — all have had stellar road careers after transitioning from mountain biking.

Now name one roadie who has done anything in MTB. The King himself, Lance Armstrong, gave it a go one partial season, with undistinguished results. The only mention of mountain biking in Lance’s Wikipedia entry has to do with (alas) George W. Bush.

All of this is by way of noting that Mountain Bike Action magazine’s March 2010 issue (pp. 22-24) has a clever faceoff between our favorite roadie, Andy Schleck, last year’s Tour runnerup, and mountain biking whiz kid Burry Stander, a 22-year-old South African XC champ. We’ll let you consult the magazine for results, but we liked the way MBA set up the competition.

All that said, of course it’s preposterous to postulate that one discipline is somehow superior athletically to another. Michael Jordan couldn’t hit a major league pitcher: Does that somehow make him less a basketball great? Neither Andy nor Burry would stand a chance against Brian Lopes or Steve Peat on the mountain. It doesn’t diminish their stature in road and cross-country one whit.

There’s really only one time the comparison becomes useful, and that’s when roadies start getting uppity and full of themselves. Not that we ever did when we were a roadie, but you know what we mean…

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