For many road cyclists, the sight of gravel can strike fears into their hearts. So the idea of riding on trails with gardens of rocks, loose dirt, and other obstacles is understandably a nightmare. While the potential for injury is high when mountain biking, it’s no more dangerous than the descent of a mountain pass on the half inch of rubber provided by your 700c tires.
The best way to transition from the pavement to the dirt is, like most things, to start out easy. A road cyclist will already have the leg-power to handle the uphill parts like a mountain goat. In fact when it comes to uphill mountain biking, roadies often dominate after learning the basics. Roadies will be outpacing their friends by spinning up steep inclines, bursting over larger rocks, and hopping over tree roots as if gravity suddenly inverted specifically for them. To do this, all they need to do is focus on becoming comfortable on this new style of bike. At first, the down hill part of mountain biking will be as easy as a fish swimming on land. But practice makes perfect. Like I said, start out easy: The first thing any roadie on a mountain riding mission should do is research local trails and there are many sites that offer rating systems based off of difficulty. A good site for this is trails.mtbr.com.
The goal here is to get a feel for your bike. Roadies need to get used to how riding on dirt, gravel, and rocks feels. How the suspension reacts, and how you position yourself when going down hill over different obstacles and grades. For many mountain bikers it can take months, or even years to ride every obstacle of a difficult trail. Much of the fun and accomplishment comes from finally defeating those difficult obstacles. Roadies should experience this joy, too. They already have the huge advantage of bicycle fitness.
So get out there, grab a mountain bike and hit up some trails! At the very least it will improve your control and confidence on a road bike, at the most you’ll find a great new way to continue exploring your passion for cycling!