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Cycle Training for Motocross

by Aldon Baker


That is one impressive lineup of riders: James Stewart, Aldon Baker, and the Hayden Brothers!

photo courtesy Aldon Baker

When it comes to cross training for motocross it seems that the overwhelming choice for most trainers, including myself is cycling. This is because most of us were involved in cycling at one point in our lives whether it was road cycling or mountain biking. I think it is the best form of outdoor training that can be done for motocross. It's a great low-impact training tool for boosting leg strength, stamina and cardio fitness, and it's something that you can do nearly anywhere and on a limited time schedule. It's also a training tool that's easy to track both time and intensity, and it has its two-wheeled similarities to MX, especially when it comes to mountain biking.

The fitness benefit of cycling isn’t just for the pros and can be enjoyed by every one in every age group. The seriously out-of-shape can benefit from a road ride just as much as a top athlete.  Young kids as well as older riders can experience the benefits of either road cycling or mountain biking. The off-season and pre-season periods are the perfect time to either start a brand new program if you have never ridden or pick up the intensity if you are a seasoned rider.  Road rides are great because they can be done either in a group or on your own. If you are brand new to cycling a great way to get started is to ask around and see if there is a bike club in your area.  Bike shops are a great resource and I guarantee there are riders of all skill levels in your town.

Mountain Biking or Road Cycling?

Making the choice between a road or mountain bike is really up to personal preference.  I believe you can get a great workout from either form.  However, I prefer the road bike because I can get a more consistent workout from my guys.  For instance, when I was training Ricky, we spent way more time on the road bike because the workouts were simply more consistent and the terrain is almost always the same, therefore it was easier to measure his training progress. With James and the rest of my guys, I use the road bike for the same reasons.

While road riding is currently the hot ticket, mountain bikes relate more to what you do on an MX bike.  Mountain biking is generally more fun because you can  jump over obstacles and feel more like you are actually on a motocross bike. A mountain bike can also help keep your technical skills sharp.  But ultimately, I recommend which ever form is going to keep you coming back for more.  In the end, the best ride is one that you will want to do week-after-week!

Saddle Hardened
If you are new to cycling, I suggest reading this comprehensive article posted on Virtual Trainer that will tell you what to look for when buying a bike.  Otherwise, go to a reputable dealer, usually a bike shop in your town that has been in business for a long time, and request their help.  Cycling is filled with bike clubs and fanatics and the guys that work in these shops are very knowledgeable and eager to help new people.  Just like Motocross, cycling is filled with great people.  Once you get your bike and start riding, expect your butt to be pretty sore.  Padded shorts and a gel seat will help in the long run, but in the beginning expect to walk away from the first few rides wondering how you are going to continue.  Ask any one who has ridden for a while and they will all tell you that it gets better.  It’s called, ‘getting saddle hardened.’  It should only take a few weeks of consistent riding for the pain to go away.

Beginners Workout
If you are brand new to the cycling, or are just starting back from a long layoff, I have put together a general workout for you to follow.  The schedule will be three days per week, for 45 minutes.  After the first two to four weeks the length of the ride can be increased but I don’t recommend anything longer than 2 hours. If you are venturing out on the road for the first time without an experienced rider, try to find a “loop” that is fairly flat and one that you will be able to complete in the allotted time. It may take a few rides to find a good loop. Once your confidence increases, you can find more challenging terrain with hills. This is why I recommend riding with an individual or a group that knows the roads in your area.

Light gear -------> small sprocket on front, big sprocket on rear. Cadence will be fast.
Tall Gear --------> big sprocket on front, small sprocket on rear. Cadence will be slow.
Cadence --------> How fast your legs are spinning. To set your cadence, count your pedal revolutions per ten-second

High Cadence ----> 15-20 revolutions in 10 seconds (90 to 120 RPM)
Slow Cadence ----> 8-12 revolutions in 10 seconds (48 to 72 RPM)

Beginner’s Workout
10 minute warm-up (peddle in a light gear at a relatively high cadence (90 to 120 RPM). Heart Rate Zones 1 and 2.
Spin for a few more minutes at a slightly slower cadence and taller gear (this will push the top side of Heart Rate Zone 2). Transition to your “regular” cadence and workout ( Heart Rate Zone 3).

Note: “Regular” cadence will be a rate which suites your terrain. If you live in Florida like I do where it is flat, your cadence will be higher than if you live in an area with hills.

Ride Details
• 8 to15 miles per workout
• 12-mph pace
Heart Rate Zone Three

• Three to five days per week with a day of rest in between rides.  Strength Train at the gym on non-riding days.

Points to Remember
• When riding, work on a high cadence 90 to 100 RPM’s. This builds efficiency.  Try to keep your pedal stroke even and circular. A cycling computer will aid you greatly so your spinning is consistent.  For strength, ride hills.
• For cool-downs, slow your pace and increase your cadence for the last 5-10 minutes.  Get off your bike and walk around and stretch for 10 minutes.  Have a more intensive stretch later that day/night.  Cool-downs eliminate lactic acid, bring your heart-rate to normal and prevent muscle cramps.
• Gradually increase the time you spend in the saddle. One of the most important features of successful cycling program is to ride regularly. Consistent riding of short to medium distances is far more preferable than irregular longer rides.
• Add 3 to 6 miles each week after the initial period to slowly increase your distance
• Find someone to ride with

Expert Level Cyclist

James looks pretty good on a road bike!

photo: Courtesy James Stewart

If you are an experienced cyclist, here are some things to think about when using the road bike to train for Motocross.  First, let’s first talk about cadence.  Should you spin fast or slow and which is more beneficial for Motocross?  Well, actually both are important because each trains your body in a different manor.  When you pedal slowly, you push against more resistance with each pedal stroke, which means you have to generate more power in your leg muscles to keep going.  Recruiting muscle fibers in this way leads to fatigue no matter how good of shape you are in.  Pedaling faster reduces the power needed by your legs and transfers a good portion of the work load to your heart and lungs.  Since your heart and lungs don’t fatigue in the same manor as your legs, this will allow you to keep riding before you get tired.

If you find that you need more leg strength on the motorcycle, then low-cadence, high resistance intervals will be important for you. By pedaling with a high resistance at a slow cadence you will force your muscles to develop fast-twitch muscle fibers.  Fast Twitch fibers are important in the development of explosive leg power which is crucial for the Motocross athlete.  Being able to stand and sit on the motorcycle in a powerful manner will aid in proper body position throughout the race.

Sample Workout: Developing Leg Strength
For this workout interval, a “loop” with hills is needed. Otherwise the same hill can be ridden over and over. At the start of the hill, shift into a tall gear that you can only push at 50 to 55 RPM (8 to 9 revolutions per ten-second count). Stay seated and focus on pulling your feet back through the bottom of the pedal stroke and pushing forward over the top of the stroke. Power your way to the top of the hill for a total of five to ten minutes. Once you get to the top if you are doing hill repeats, ride to the bottom and repeat for three intervals. If you prefer heart rates over cadence, going up the hill you should be in Zone 4. Going back down, down zones 2 and 3.

If your problem on the bike is more aerobic, meaning you can’t complete the full moto without getting winded, then you will need to train with a faster pedal cadence and lower power. This will shift the stress to you aerobic system and allow you to start riding for longer periods of time without getting winded

Sample Workout: Aerobic Development
For this workout, a relatively flat road will be needed. Shift into an easy gear and set your cadence at 15 to 20 pedal revolutions per 10-second count (90-120 RPM). Remain in the seat and increase your pedal speed until your hips start to bounce and you feel slightly out of control. Increase your gear until your pedal stroke smoothes out and you are in control. Pedal at this cadence and resistance for five minutes ( Heart Rate Zones 4 and 5).  Reduce your cadence for 5 to 10 minutes to recover (Heart Rate Zones 2 and 3). Repeat this interval as many times as you can within a two hour time frame.

While there are literally thousands of different ways to put a ride together, these are three simple examples of how you can make your cycle training more effective and specific to motocross.  If you are a beginner, after a few months of cycling, you will soon start to see the benefits of cycling and how to adapt a ride to your particular needs.  If you are an experienced cyclist, hopefully this will help you develop your program and tailor it to your needs as I do with my guys.  Either way, I hope this article gives you some insight on how I use cycling to train my athletes.  Thanks for reading and cheers for now!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Kyle Chamberlain April 10, 2010 at 1:48 am

    Awesome! Thank you, just got a road bike and road twice this week with one day restign in between. First ride was 8 miles at a 10 to 15 percent grade, which made me feel like dying when I got done, then today I rode on flat mostly with one long hill seemed like a 30 percent grade, but I road 16 miles today! My ars is getting better haha, but this article is perfect, and plan to be in shape soon! Thanks again for the re-assurance.

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 10, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Awesome. I'll be sure and let Aldon know you appreciate his article. He will be stoked!

  3. Gravatar
    MOTO MOM25 September 08, 2010 at 1:34 am

    My son is ten. He has been riding a dirt bike since he was four. He just broke his collar bone, and all he is worried about is getting ready for the mini O's in Nov. That is the next big race for the little guys. And he hates to loose. So can you give me a few ideas to keep him fit and keep his endurance up. I bought a cheap stationary bike, and I have some light weights, but I need a program for a little guy and thought if it came from yawl he might want to do. Thanks

  4. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer September 08, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Moto Mom25 - We would be glad to help. Please post this question on the expert forum so the rest of the experts on the forum can help. That way all of the assigned experts on the forum will have a chance to respond to your question. The forum is not like other forums on the internet. Only appointed experts are allowed to respond to questions so you can be sure that your question is answered by a professional in the industry. Thanks and see you on the board!

  5. Gravatar
    Brad Deaton November 04, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    this is great. My son is looking for something different to train for his soccer team also. I think this would be a great training excersize for the off-season in soccer also.

  6. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer November 04, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Brad - You should have him follow our off-season training program here on VT. Alll he has to do is log on each day and get his free workout. Check it out here.

  7. Gravatar
    Tyler January 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    i lost 70 pounds in 5 months on this program, i got the first round of the NWMX nationals coming up and i can now ride hard as i possibly can for 20 min and my laps cut down 12.39 seconds on my laps since this time last year when i was in horrible shape

    i'd hire him if i could too!!

  8. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer January 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Wow, that's cool as shit, Tyler. Congrats and keep up the good work!

  9. Gravatar
    charlie boley April 15, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    great things for motocross season helps

  10. Gravatar
    Josh Andrews June 04, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I am very excited to find this article. It is just what I was looking for to give me the proper training information on my dirtbike preparation needs. Thanks Aldon for taking the time to write such a detailed article. I look forward to the increase of my health & dirtbike abilities.
    Thanks again Aldon
    Josh Andrews TCCRA Racer

  11. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer June 06, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Awesome, glad you liked the article. I'll be sure and let Aldon know!

  12. Gravatar
    Jake April 01, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    After reading this article and getting some info from a cyclist friend of mine who has encouraged me to do more base mile road rides, I was wondering, is it beneficial for a professional motocross racer to do a 5 hour road bicycle ride once a week in the Base mile heart rate zone?

  13. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 02, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Nope. No benefit at all for motocross. Especially for an amateur. the general rule of thumb is 4 times the length of a moto. For amateurs, no more than 60 minutes and for pros 2:40.

  14. Gravatar
    carey smith April 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    what is a good recovery after a good 8+ mile mtb ride.

  15. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 18, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Stretch, cool down, rehydrate, and eat something nutritious.

  16. Gravatar
    Dan Schramm August 27, 2013 at 9:21 am

    56 years old now and still use cycling as my main cardio....Used to train with Broc Glover and Scott Burnworth and those two were animals on road bikes!

  17. Gravatar
    Tyler Hampton August 27, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    I'm wanting to do a century ride this October, how far should I be able to ride solo in order to do a century in a group? I currently ride 20-30 miles 3-4x a week (some group, some solo), and occasionally will do a longer (45-60 mile) solo.

  18. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer August 28, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Tyler - Best place for that question is for the guys in your group ride. See if any of them have ever ridden a century.

  19. Gravatar
    Eric Vander Dussen March 04, 2015 at 11:22 am

    I have a road bike that i train on in spring to get my cardio and all around fitness ready for spring and summer nationals, my only problem is the roads in New Mexico are not the best and it gets really boring going in a straight line. Would a mountain bike maybe suit more of my style i came from a bmx background i just don't know if i will get the same results as i did on a road bike

  20. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer March 05, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Eric - Plenty of riders use a mountain bike to train and get great results. The only drawback is if you rely on heart rate training it is very difficult to hold certain zones because the terrain is so unpredictable. But other than that I love mountain biking!

  21. Gravatar
    DARRYL June 04, 2015 at 4:39 pm


  22. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer June 05, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Was it this bike?

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