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Biking is a great way to lose weight. It is generally not a high-impact exercise and is fun. It takes you places without a windshield in the way and you can do it for both workout and recreational purposes at the same time. Both MTBing and road biking can be used to lose weight and neither is a bad way to do so but there are some places where they differ. We can look into what those differences are to help you decide which one suits you better.
Generally speaking though, if you have easy access to solid, enjoyable trails around you, mountain biking may probably be the better way to go.
Mountain Bike or Road Bike for Weight Loss
Now, let’s look at a few facts and reasons to help establish why and where a mountain bike or a road bike is effecting for losing excess weight.
Cardio on Mountain vs Road Bikes
Biking in general is great for cardio. When you’re pedaling, the biggest muscle groups in your body i.e. quads, the hamstrings, and the glutes are engaged in the movement. Take any exercise, the bigger the engaged muscle groups are, the more oxygen they require to keep going and so require more cardio. It’s like a big engine requiring more fuel than a smaller one, though it might be more intricate than that. But which bike (or bike terrain) engages your cardiovascular system better?
There’s a number of things that come into play if you want a verdict on that but one that stands out is the differences in terrain. You see, mountain-biking is based around traversing tough terrain. There are all sorts of tricks you have to learn to be able to comfortably navigate a proper mountain bike terrain and those tricks involve much more than just pedaling. They involve your back, your arms, and your core, sometimes all working together much like when you’re climbing uphill or running down a steep decline. So when you really get into what mountain biking is all about, it seems like (compared to road-biking) mountain-biking engages more of your body and more of your mind. We can get into that last part in a bit.
During mountain-biking, since it’s more likely that there will be more of you involved in the exercise, your cardio is more likely to get pushed farther. All this is a simple consequence of the difference of terrains.
Think about it, between a rock-garden and a paved road, (if you’re willing to do it properly), what’s more demanding of your body? That’s not to say that road-bikes don’t push your cardio, they do. But road-bikes do it in a different way and to some extent, in a less interesting way. Covering stretches of paved roads over and over can get a bit bland for some people and you wouldn’t blame them for thinking so. Willing yourself through it is the main theme of working out. Plus if you’ve got a place where you can bike on roads outside of the urban environment, that can add a bit of that bliss that you’re more likely to get from mountain-bike trails.
Having mentioned trails, it’s a great idea to look around for any bike parks around your area. It’s not just about the physical exertion part, it’s about the mindset that you get into when you’re biking on a smooth road vs. on a trail full of close corners, steep descents, and uphill blasts, etc.
Intensity of Biking:
To some extent, how far a bike pushes you is just a reflection of how far you’re prepared to push yourself. But it would be untrue if one were to say all terrains are the same.
Mountain bike terrains can be some of the toughest terrains that sports offer. They involve obstacles like rocks and trees just popping up here and there. They involve high-velocity descents after steep uphill climbs and they involve navigating through jumps and bumpy surfaces. Combine that with going biking with a group and that mixture of tough terrain and competitive air can become a very intense workout.
Looking at road-bike terrain, it mostly involves paved roads with little to no obstacles. There might be an attractive element of fine clean paths with no complication along the way but it also has the drawback of the possibility of just becoming boring after a while. Just the clean speedy element of it can be enough for some people but the problem here is that there isn’t enough intensity requirement from the terrain. A biker can choose to go hard and speed up but that isn’t necessary, a rider could do a bunch of laps at moderate or low intensity. In that sense, one can clearly draw a line between the minimum intensity requirements of a road-bike terrain vs. the intensity requirements of a mountain bike terrain.
How to gauge intensity:
Knowing your limits is part of a good workout regime. That’s so you can push those limits and be aware when you’re in the danger zone.
According to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC):
“For moderate-intensity physical activity, your target heart rate should be between 64% and 76%1,2 of your maximum heart rate. ”
where your maximum heart rate= 220 – your age in years
In accordance with Public guidelines for Adult Activity (PAG), the American Hearts Association (AHA) recommends 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week for average adults. For people who want to lose weight though, the threshold can be higher.
Difference in Approach
A mountain bike has more ways to engage you, or more specifically, a mountain bike terrain has more ways to engage you compared to paved roads.
Biking involves going from point A to point B or doing a certain amount of laps on a certain route. It’s fairly easy to set your start point and endpoint on a plane terrain and then execute the workout regime day after day but in some ways that same act takes less deliberation in mountain biking i.e. it can cut back on the ‘motivation required’ meter and just let you go do your thing while knowing where your target point is. When you’re on a trail, there’s a lot of things that make you keep your focus on the trail like traversing obstacles, rather than just repeating ‘workout, workout, workout’ in your head. That makes doing the same amount of work somewhat easier by taking the ‘ I have to burn calories’ statement out of the spotlight and replacing it with ‘this is a tough trail that I’d like to blaze through’. So a mountain bike can find those little points where its easier to just let yourself push rather than make yourself push, the difference is a psychological one but hey, a patient’s half healed by the doctors’ assurances so let’s not take psychology aspect of exercises lightly.
Versatility of Mountain Bikes vs Road Bikes
Road bikes and mountain bikes do great in their own domains. On the trail, the mountain bike stands unchallenged by the road bike and on the road, the road-bike blazes past every mountain-bike but the difference to be noticed is when they’re taken out of their domains.
Let’s say your route is mainly paved roads but you want to add a bit of off-road path into it. Doing that can be a very uncomfortable experience if you’re not on a hybrid that can do both road and trail. The increased tire pressure, the slim traction, and the onslaught of bumps on your crotch can be enough to make you abandon that idea quite quickly. You can also decrease the tire pressure for that stretch of the route but you won’t get it back up once you’re back on the road so it’ll be a trade-off between present comfort and later efficiency.
Now… let’s take a trail bike and say that there’s a stretch of road between you and the trail itself. You could just put the trail bike on a car and take it to the trail. But one could question the point of not riding your bike when the whole point of it is to workout. So what do you do? Well, since most mountain bikes at least have front suspension, you could lock-out the suspension, increase the tire pressure before heading out and bike your way to the park and then loosen up the tire pressure to help you navigate better on the trail.
So the versatility can vary across different situations but mountain bikes appear to be more malleable to different demands.
“Which one’s more fun?”
The route you take has a lot of impact on how easy it’ll be for you to go the whole stretch of the route. A scenic, natural, soothing background helps you along the way and makes it easier for you to not get stressed out even when you have to tackle something like steep uphill ascents. People are programmed to be mentally better off when we’re closer to natural scenery. That plays a big part in helping people workout better. Rather than setting goals and willing yourself through to that goal, you end up in a situation where the wind isn’t against you and you can breeze through to your goals more easily.