If you know who Danielle Musto is, you might have a hard time recognizing her if she isn’t on a bike, or if she isn’t on the medal-winners podium. After taking up biking at the behest of her boyfriend, Danielle ultimately blew past him (and pretty much everyone else) on her way to winning the 2011 National Mountain Biking Championship in the single-speed division.
Like many other bikers, Danielle has fallen in love with the fat bike, which has exploded in popularity over the past few years. And, if you’re fortunate enough to engage Danielle in conversation on a bike trail (until she gets bored and decides she wants to speed along without you), she might give some tips about fat biking that would look something like the following list.
1. For winter fat biking success, ride your fat bike in the summer.
Fat bike racing was originally intended to be done in the winter, but summer fat bike divisions are becoming quite common. Although there is an argument that warm-weather fat biking takes away from the purity of the sport, Danielle disagrees. In fact, she considers it one of the most enjoyable forms of racing and training, and says it also makes her better at her other biking events.
“I train on my fat bike more than any other bike just because it’s so fun,” Danielle explained. “Sometimes I take my fat bike out to the beach during the summer and ride on the sand. When you’re racing on a fat bike you have much bigger tires, so when you hop on your regular mountain bike or a psych lacrosse bike or a road bike it feels incredibly light. I always feel like Superwoman when I hop on it. I use my fat bike for training year round for that reason because it’s really good for strength.”
2. You need upper body power; lift weights to get it.
Spending time in a gym or at home lifting weights may seem like a waste of time to some fat bike racers, but Danielle always spends at least two days a week doing lunges and Bulgarian split squats to build her glutes, TRX training to improve her core strength, and chin ups and inverted rows to developer her arms. And, you can rest assured she wouldn’t devote so much time to building that level of strength if it didn’t translate clearly to her racing performance.
“The problems that someone with low strength would experience is not being able to control their bike that much,” Danielle insisted. “If you don’t have a strong upper body during a race, you wouldn’t being able to pop your bike over rocks or roots, and you would become fatigued a lot easier. That leads to sloppy bike handling. Also, your core is supporting your whole upper body, so you can experience a lot of discomfort throughout your body if you’re not strong.”
3. Indoor riding can create outdoor success.
Will spin bike classes and other indoor bike training programs turn you into a national championship caliber racer? Absolutely not. At the same time, they won’t exactly hurt you, either. In fact, as long as you integrate indoor biking into your training program properly, Danielle says it can be a huge benefit to your overall regimen, especially on the days when getting outside and hitting the bike trails just isn’t an option.
“You can do some really intense intervals on a trainer, and sometimes it’s necessary,” Danielle said. “If it’s super icy outside, it’s sometimes safer to stay inside. I have a coach who handles all of my heart rate and power levels, so if he has me doing intervals, my body can learn to get more oxygen to my muscles when I’m maxed out. When you’re training indoors, you can put forth the right amount of power, and outside you can’t always control that.”
4. Ride with friend… if it won’t be a distraction.
Depending on the type of biker you are, training alone or training with a friend can be equally beneficial as long as the option you choose doesn’t detract from the quality of your training. In Danielle’s case, whether or not she brings a friend along for the ride is determined by what her goals are for each particular training session. But you can rest assured that whenever Danielle has someone with her, there’s a good reason for it.
“On long days, it’s so much more fun to have someone to go out with and ride with and talk to,” Danielle said. “During training rides, it helps to ride with someone who is technically better than me because they might take a line or a path through the trails that I wouldn’t. Plus, riding with faster people forces me out of my comfort zone and makes for a good training day.”
5. Have a plan before you get on the fat bike.
Going out and riding for fun is all well and good if you’re looking for a fun exercise to engage in, but there is a distinct difference between exercising and training. Every time Danielle hops on her bike, she’s working on improving a specific skill or racing attribute, like balancing, cornering or descending. So what is the lesson to be learned from this? In order to elevate your time on the bike from exercising to athletic training, you need to have a plan, and follow it.
“You can’t always just go ride a snowy trail just because there are days where it’s more beneficial to get some good solid endurance rides in,” Danielle explained. “At the same time, riding in the snow can be extremely technical, so it’s really good to go out on the trail and work on cornering or descending, or mess around with your tire pressure and see how that handles. It’s important to find a healthy balance between maintaining your fitness and working on speed, but also going out and working on skills, like balance, handling and getting traction.”
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