Singlespeed Mountain Biking Base and Cross Training Value?

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  • #21404

    Singlespeed mountain biking has much higher loads than regular mountain biking (roughly double according to this: and involves the core so I’m wondering how well it would work to cross train for peak bagging, especially if combined with zone 1/2 road biking.

    My ability to hike up and down peaks has diminished over the past few years and I think it is because I stopped mountain biking. In particular, mountain biking allowed me to get enough training volume away from the mountains because I actually enjoyed it. I haven’t had time to backpack for years so any time I would try to train for hiking, I just ended up doing muscular endurance work that left me aerorbically deficient.

    I’m wondering if cycling + SS will be a good way to build up base aerobic capacity with some strength, such that I can maximize volume now, and then add in eccentric activity on foot when I want to prepare for a specific event. Actually, I would now have time to backpack so I might try to thru-hike when I want to build the domain-specific base. My thinking is that by not doing eccentric work I can do much higher volume and that this might be optimal given how low my work capacity currently is. I also figure this approach will give me the highest average capacity between geared mountain biking and hiking since I want to build up both.

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    Anonymous on #21438

    My ability to hike up and down peaks has diminished over the past few years and I think it is because I stopped mountain biking.

    What did you replace the mountain biking with?

    Anonymous on #21440


    Mountain biking in general and single speed even more so is a much higher intensity mode of training than I would recommend for aerobic base training. Biking in general is much more peripheral muscularly limiting than say, running. It involves a smaller muscle mass. I have worked with a mtn bike world champion in the cross country event and he only rode his mtn bike fore the high intensity training sessions. All his base work (85% of total volume) was done on a road bike.

    I think you may end up in Death by Threshold situation if you do a lot of single speed training on hilly terrain.


    nickbb10 on #21463

    Michael, I do a large chunk of my training(about 60-70% of 20hrs/week) on a bike to save my shattered and reconstructed ankle from excessive wear and tear from hiking and running. Singlespeeding is definitely going to be too high intensity unless you live somewhere panflat. As Scott said, most XC racers do the majority of their volume on road bikes. With the advancement of drivetrains in recent years its possible to get a low enough gear ratio to keep MTB at AeT if you are smart about how you plan your routes. Also as you get better conditioned for MTB it will become easier to keep the intensity in check, but until then you will be going uphill at a speed where the challenge is not toppling over. Descending also is much higher intensity work than you’d think, if you’re trying to go fast sprinting out of corners can easliy push you in to anaerobic work for long periods. Overall, I find base building on a road bike to be more enjoyable, but over recent months I have been able to shift more of my bike volume to the mountain bike as my fitness and technique improves. If alpine climbing is your main focus its important to do your key workouts on foot, I generally do my long workout(4-5hr) hiking and running, plus a ME waterjug carry as my key workouts. The rest is made up of 2-4 hr rides and technical climbing.
    Hope this helps

    Michael on #21543

    Thank you everyone for the input!

    Last few years I have been working a lot, which made it so that I went even more extreme on ‘utilization’ side since I kept trying to do fun events, while I did less ‘capacity’ work than ever. Now I’m going to be working remotely part time and ready to build my 1st real base, something I only ever did inadvertently because I enjoyed distance events such as all day bike rides and ultralight backpacking.

    Now that I know there is no ‘hack’ with SS to cross-over to hiking so I’m going to start doing ultralight backpacking again now that I can be away from internet for multiple days. I should be able to get a ton of volume doing 1-2 2-5 day trips per month with 20-30 miles/day.

    I’m also going to start riding the road bike a lot more, plus will be mindful to have mountain bike rides be descent focused and as short as possible for fun rather than trying to push distance.

    For the road biking side of things I have a question about intensity and cadence given my fitness level. Is it possible to have too low of an intensity for base training? My road bike used to be a hybrid with fairly easy gearing and I would average around 10 mph on all day rides, which I think is around 90-120 watts and my FTP is around 200 watts. I currently have a 1x road bike with a cassette ranging from 11-28 (I could get 11-30) and I think the single ring is around 42t. My cadence drops significantly even with a mild hill climb, but I think I am still staying aerobic based on heart rate staying quite low. How much of a loss will I have from this low cadence? Is it worthwhile if it helps me span all of zone 1 and 2 rather than just staying at the lower end of zone 1?

    It seems 90 rpm is optimal, but even if I get far fitter than I am now, I will still go on mountain bike rides with steep enough terrain that I can’t spin nearly that fast, but maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about training for that with regards to base.

    I asked a friend to help me sell the hybrid bike so I could have him ship it to me if the much wider gear range is necessary. I could also get a road bike for training since I will probably end up selling one of my singlespeeds.

    Michael on #21554

    Actually, I should be able to get easy enough gearing with a new rear derailleur and larger cassette so I’ll work on doing that.

    Anonymous on #21565

    Don’t use your FTP as a reference. Test for your actual AeT.

    FTP is an anaerobic threshold, so if you have a big gap between AnT and AeT, your pacing on the bike could easily be too high.

    I’ve also found heart rates on the bike to be quite tricky because cadence can vary so much. At a low cadence, the muscular load is higher, but the central load is lower. Your heart rate may drop, but the load on your legs may rise, which would be more of a muscular endurance workout. That’s not what you want right now if you’re trying to build a base.

    I would test your AeT for both biking and weight-bearing activity. I wouldn’t be surprised if the heart rates are different. Then use the appropriate HR threshold per activity.

    Anonymous on #22560

    If the ride I went on tonight is any indication, then no wonder pro mountain bikers use road biking to build a base. Granted, I never mountain bike. Today was a social outing more than anything. My bike fitness is zero.

    However, by heart rate, 9% of the ride was in zone 3, just due to the terrain. That was the central load, but in my legs, I’m sure a lot of that Z3 time was actually in zones 4 or 5. Based on my limited experience of mountain biking, it seems like a great way to lose aerobic capacity because it’s too intense.

    So if single speed mountain biking is more intense than multi-speed, I would avoid it at all costs as a training tool. It will definitely not increase aerobic capacity, just the opposite. If SS is your main event, then I would save the sport specific training for very specific workouts and events.

    nickbb10 on #22562

    Scott, it can be seriously intense! as with any technical discipline, it takes a lot of practice to get to “unconscious competence” and the lower HR that comes with it. Just like when you first started climbing and 5.9 had the heart racing, but it eventually becomes recovery level as skills and efficiency improve. Had my almost pro road bike only friend(really strong, 100mi+ stage racer type) get into mountain biking 6mo ago, and up until recently his HR would be well above AnT for large percentages of our rides while I was keeping it comfortably below AeT. This is despite the fact that he is more aerobically fit that me, with consistent 25hr(!) weeks on the rd bike(compared to my more ME focused 16-18hr of alpine/mtb training). Over the past few weeks he’s noticed a shift to more z3/tempo and less that 10% above AnT as he’s gotten more skilled and efficient with techincal riding. Still way too high intenisty to me, but road racers are hard as nails…

    On the flip side, I have been able to drop from a 50/50 split rd/mt to 75% MTB for my bike training hours, while still keeping it below AeT. Probably more z2 that ideal for my volume of training, but my goals in the mountains are all local and not super high commitment, so I gladly take the enjoyment of Mt biking day to day at the expense of slightly non-optimal training practices. Plus, the mental training side of techy riding is great for scary leading! I’ve got so much better at committing to crux sequences from the do or die nature of MTB descending

    Anonymous on #22601

    One more related thought: If I were mountain biking a lot, I would definitely use a power meter. I think it’s probably even more important than for road biking because HR really understates the load.

    Even once you get used to it and heart rates go down, it’s such a stochastic, all-then-nothing load that heart rate will lag way too much to be informative. The loads are so extreme and sudden that there’s just no way heart rate will reflect the intensity. Unlike road biking, I’m sure a power meter is almost useless during a ride or race (again, because the event is so stochastic), but in order to measure the training stress, it would be ideal.

    Or, instead of a power meter, it may not be a bad idea to bump everything up by one zone in a training log after each ride.

    franmorper on #51715

    Hi there,

    Bringing this topic up as I’m experiencing something different to what was described in the thread.

    I started training on a singlespeed MTB recently without previous bike experience and it doesn’t seem to have an impact on my ability to stay in zone. I’ve been building my base for months prior to that and I’m used to train controlling my HR. I’m currently training for a 100km trail run (Eiger 101 mid July).

    Some context: A bit more than a month ago, I sprained my ankle during a long run. My foot looked awful & massive but two days later I could walk almost normally and started doing basic rehab exercises. My physio said I could train on a bike, so I took my brother’s tiny multispeed MTB and started riding it on road to avoid bumps. As the ankle was getting better, I moved to trails and decided to buy my own singlespeed MTB.

    My progression:
    Before injury – Consistently running 12h/week
    1st week after injury: 6h MTB on road
    2nd week: 11h MTB (singlespeed)
    3rd week: 9,5h MTB
    4th week: 9,5h MTB + 3,5h running
    5th week: 8h MTB + 5,5h trail running
    6th week (starting today): 7h MTB + 7h trail running

    Last 3 sessions as example:
    MTB – 47km / 1000m D+ / 3h – Avg HR: 130bpm (lower end Z1) / Time in Z1: 2.8h, Z2: 10min
    Trail running – 22.5km / 1050m D+ / 3h / Avg HR: 137bpm (mid Z1) / Time in Z1: 2.5h, Z2: 30min
    MTB – 52Km / 1200m D+ / 3,5h – Avg HR: 137bpm (mid Z1) / Time in Z1: 2.5h, Z2: 1h, Z3: 1min

    As mentioned, staying in zone doesn’t seem to be an issue.

    Before I was running 6 days a week, now I’m planning to swap 1-2 running sessions for MTB sessions. The idea is that this would allow me to train more hours while giving a break to my ankle. Example of a a Late Base Period week, introducing high intensity, which will happen as soon as I feel my ankle fully ready to go again.

    Tuesday – Trail running – Z1-Z3 interval training – 1-1.5h
    Wednesday – Easy MTB – Stay as much as possible in Z1 or below – 2h
    Thursday – Trail running – Hill sprints – 1h
    Friday – Easy MTB – Stay as much as possible in Z1 or below – 2h
    Saturday – Trail running – Z1 – 3.5h
    Sunday – Trail running – Long run in Z1 – 5h

    Thoughts? Can you see any red sign? Any feedback would be massively appreciated.


    franmorper on #51730

    HOLD ON! I think I’m lost in translation; English is not my first language and I’m new to bikes so just learning the vocabulary. My bike has a single front chainring but several speeds in the (rear) cassette (thanks google!), so I guess it’s not a singlespeed, right? This would explain why my HR doesn’t go up.

    Anyway, feedback to my approach to training would still be very much appreciated!

    Garret on #51733

    Yes you’re correct you don’t have a a singlespeed 🙂
    Singlespeed is a single chainring on the front and a single sprocket on the rear. So only 1 gear.

    A few things to consider:

    Are you using your running HRs and zones ? Your biking HR zones will be different to your running HR zones. Typcially, HR zones are significantly lower when on a bike.

    Average HR isn’t a great metric when biking unless you’re riding flat roads with no wind. Both wind resistance and even small hills will introduce significant variation in power output and HR.

    Power is the best way to measure intensity when cycling.
    If you are planning on using cycling in the long term them a power meter (single crank or pedal type) is probably the best investment you can make. You can use the power meter when cycling outside and also indoors (with a turbo or smart trainer and a training app like trainer road, zwift and so on).

    – Garret

    franmorper on #52228

    Hey Garret,

    Sorry I had not seen I got some feedback, thanks by the way!

    Yes, I’m using HR and zones determined by a (running) gas exchange test. I was not expecting that HR zones would be different by sport (running vs biking) as I had assumed that my aerobic threshold would be the same no matter the activity.

    Would you happen to have any article explaining that difference? I’m just curious about the science behind.

    Because I had thought that the time biking on Z1 would help me increasing aerobic capacity and becoming better fat adapted even if biking requires a higher power output.
    I was aware I was losing specificity but I was hoping biking would help me to add more training volume/time with less impact and less risk for my ankle.

    Before my injury I was running 12h/week (6 workouts).
    Now (still not fully recovered) I’m training 15h/week (9h in 4 running workouts & 6.5h in 2 biking workouts).
    Plan for peak week: 21.5h/week (18.5h in 5 running workouts & 3h in 1 biking workouts).

    (Time per sport progression attached)

    I’m going to investigate about power meters, sounds like a smart investment. Thanks for the advice!


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