If lunatic drivers and a sense of deja vu are beginning to make cycling seem a chore, it's time to try mountain biking
Once in a while you get that unpleasant feeling that you should be doing something you'd rather not, such as a long road ride to help maintain and build your winter base. At this time of year, it can be hard to find the motivation: cycling on our roads in winter conditions is not the most enticing of prospects.
What you need is an alternative, something to stimulate the brain and, more importantly, get the legs turning. That something is mountain biking.
A common misconception with off-road riding is that, as a triathlete, you practically need a passport to go there. Triathletes tend to focus on road riding but wherever you live in the UK, there is a network of legal paths, byways, bridleways and forestry areas to explore. You can do some quality training and find some peace away from traffic-clogged roads.
Another fallacy is that off-road riding is dangerous. It's not, compared with, say, cycling three inches from a broken curb, in the dusky light of a winter's day, with ignorant drivers squeezing you despite all your reflective strips. In fact, off-road riding offers a chance for you to improve your fitness, bike-handling skills and balance - all relevant skills for the forthcoming road triathlon race season - in a safe environment.
Triathletes are often criticised for their bike-handling skills, so learning to ride on uneven mixed terrain and control the direction of your bike by moving your weight around can only be beneficial.
The secret is to start slow and build up. There's no need to go to the rock strewn slopes of some purpose built mountain-bike park - start right outside your door. Purchase the local Ordnance Survey map and have a look for anything smaller than a B-road. You'll find a plethora of lanes, linking paths and bridleways. Even in city areas like London, you can work your way from one park to the next.
Step Up To Competition
Triathletes love to race, so why not work in a little off-season competition to your training? There is a growing number of off-road events, such as duathlons, which offer the opportunity to do a serious brick session on a weekend and have some fun with friends at the same time.
The TW test team took some entry-level bikes for a spin in the woods above Oxford - here's how the various models fared.