The Top Benefits of Riding Off Road


Mountain biking is something I always did for fun during the off season, but during the second half of my career, I really discovered it can be an effective training tool. Races are decided exactly when everybody rides above 30 miles per hour, and the peloton splits into a million pieces. So if I wanted to stay competitive, I needed to spice up my game. That’s where mountain biking came in: It makes you work harder—in part because your upper body gets more of a workout because you spend more time out of the saddle.

When it comes to aging, coaches say the first things to disappear are the sharp ends, meaning max heart rate, power, and speed. And in the second half of my career, I could feel it. I was turning into a diesel engine: indestructible, long-lasting and reliable, but my acceleration was going out the window. I could ride from LA to San Francisco at 18 miles per hour, non-stop, but I could not do five minutes riding at 30 miles per hour or faster. I needed to fine-tune the sharp ends.

Mountain Biking Improves Your Speed and Endurance

During the holiday season over the last five years of my career, I’d join a Berlin training group—most of whom are cyclocross riders. (Cyclocross involves racing around a dirt, often muddy, rough track.) They’d already have started their season, and they were race fit. So for the first few weeks I would get my ass kicked. (Then usually by December, I’d catch up to them—after all I was still a good rider. No worries.)

In January, just before I would go to my first team training camp or the Tour Down Under, I would ride our standard training lap with the fast guys. When they went home, I would turn around and do the same lap again. That was always a good indicator of my fitness level. In three months, I’d go from getting my ass kicked to doing double-time on my bike.

Mountain Biking Lets You Discover New Places

Fast forward to today, and I am a weekend warrior. It’s refreshing to go mountain biking. Generally speaking, it’s a great way to break up your routine. It will help improve your power output, and also build stamina. Note: It does help to have a bit of base miles in your legs before you start riding harder on trails. Time for another classic Jensie!

Another reason I love mountain biking is it can lead to some unexpected adventures. I sometimes go out without a plan and zig-zag for hours, only to look up and wonder where I am. One time I ended up in front of a double-barbed wire fence in the middle of a forest, and since I have a curious nature, circled around until I found the gate. Guess what I found? It was the place where they explode all the old World War 2 bombs that turn up during construction in and around Berlin.

Once a month they close the whole forest, and blow a few bombs up. Pretty interesting but also pretty scary! Imagine the headline: “Jens Voigt hit by bomb shrapnel during a mountain bike ride.” People would laugh their heads off.

Mountain Biking Helps You Relax

Explosions aside, mountain biking is a great way to relax. There are no cars on the trails, and no traffic lights. I always find peace of mind in the forest. It’s a bonus for me, too, because I love nature and wildlife. I’ve seen so many animals during my time in the woods: deer, wild boar, foxes, badgers, all sorts of birds of prey, rabbits, and lizards. One time I saw a “Kreuzotter” —the only poisonous snake we have in Germany—but no worries, she would not kill me. A bite from that snake would be like three bee stings in the same place. Bad…but not lethal.

I’ve also found 1000-year-old trees, especially oaks. I’ve found nature reserves where they use Asian water buffalos to keep the vegetation short without chemicals or machines. I’ve discovered churches, cathedrals, World War 2 bunkers, abandoned villages, and old Russian military barracks. Some of them had still the old T-34 tanks for target practice standing at the shooting range. I’ve found places to go fishing in the afternoon, and a whole bunch of cool places where I could take my children the next day. You just never know where your next mountain bike ride will take you.

As you can see, for me, mountain biking is many things: kick-ass intervals and training, sightseeing—and its own form of zen. Right now, two of every three rides are on my mountain bike. Remember what the old guys say: “Variety is the spice of life.”

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