Struggling to gain and keep momentum on the trails and feel its getting worse

Im 41.

Lately I just seem to be having increasing trouble getting round the trails without grinding to a halt at some point. Im falling behind when riding with friends. I just don't seem to be able to hold any momentum on the trails. My bike feels so draggy all the time. When I roll up the other side of a descent the speed/momentum just vanishes and I'm quickly having to drop the gears into the easiest gear and spin out the next climb, I can't seem to carry any momentum forward at all. Im so knackered from climbing that the pedally single track after them then becomes laboured and even some descents I feel like I can't push as hard because Im so knackered from the previous climbs, then my confidence suffers and I make mistakes because Im worn out and can't throw the bike around as I should. I would say this problem is kicking in after around an hour/10 miles of mixed trail riding. On some climbs Im so knackered I can't even pop the front wheel over a 6" root or rock.

Im not getting out of breath though. From an exertion point of view I don't feel Im having a problem. Its my legs, my lower back. After a while they just don't have any power left. Im down to walking pace and that's it, grinding it out in easiest gear all the time. I can't accelerate, my cadence is down to a crawl. Im on a full suss but on rougher trails my lower back starts to ache like its being pounded, and my legs just grind to a halt on the climbs. I used to get lower back pain over rough stuff on my hardtail its one of the reasons I wanted more comfort.

I fitted a 28T chainring to my bike the other day to try and give me an extra gear, but I don't feel it helped that much today on the technical climbs, I was just more prone to looping out on some technical climb sections because of the extra torque. It helped probably on the longer less technical climbs, but didn't really give me anything extra on the push up paths, I still ended up having to walk my bike up it to get to the downhill routes.

I ride approx once a week, 25km or so, 500m of elevation. Ever since I swapped from an xc oriented 26" hardtail to my current 140mm full suss trail bike I have felt like I struggle to hold any momentum. It may be that switching back to a hardtail or lighter xc full suss would help the blue and red routes but I ride a mix of XC, rocky red routes, and play about on some downhill routes and light jumps/drops from time to time so I still need the trail/occasional rough stuff downhill capability.

I was unsure where to put this thread because I just don't know what the problem is. Is it my fitness, could it be the bike? Perhaps the seat angle is too slack or the bike just too heavy or the tyres just too draggy, and that's why Im finding sustained climbing so difficult compared to my old xc bike? Or perhaps Im just not fit enough but like I said I'm not getting out of breath at all, its just I run out of muscle power so fast. I can barely climb out of the saddle for more than say 20 metres without my legs giving up on me.

Its not helping things seeing ever increasing numbers of people blast past me on the climbs riding ebikes lately. It just makes me feel so slow.
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Comments

  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    You are not going to get fit or fitter riding once a week. You need to be riding at least 3 times a week to see some improvement.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    edited June 2021
    I don't live near the trails so I always have to drive to get to them, the closest being 45 mins each way. The only way I could ride more often is to do road or canal rides near where I live. I live in a horrible built up area with nightmare roads (West Midlands) and just don't like the idea of road riding here. A gym could be an option?

    I don't expect my fitness to get significantly better, but it wasn't this bad a few years ago and Im doing the same thing. The only thing that's changed is my bike (XC to full suss) and Ive got older.

    And I also dont understand why its my legs running out of steam - I am not getting out of breath at all. Its my legs giving up, I literally cannot push any more sometimes. Sometimes I nearly fall off my bike trying to get on and off it after a climb because my legs have nothing left in them.

  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    edited June 2021
    If you can’t get out then gym is better than doing nothing. You have to work hard to get and stay fit.
    As someone who’s name escapes me said” I have to run as fast as I can to stay where I am”
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    So you think this is purely a fitness issue? How do I train to stop my legs giving up on me? The idea of spending 2-3 hours spinning an exercise bike in a gym twice a week is not appealing.
  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    You seem to be wanting the answer to be that you are now struggling because you have changed bikes.
    If you don’t want to do something to get fitter then don’t. What do your mates do.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    edited June 2021
    webboo said:

    You seem to be wanting the answer to be that you are now struggling because you have changed bikes.
    If you don’t want to do something to get fitter then don’t. What do your mates do.

    Im trying to find the answer. I dont doubt fitness is part of the problem but I dont think its the whole problem. My fitness and my bike are both contributing to my riding issues surely.

    I didnt have this problem on my old bike. The day I switched over to my full suss I immediately felt slower, over the past couple of years Ive posted a couple of times about it trying to see what I can do about it. Ive changed tyres to try and help with drag, increased my shock pressure to try and stop the suspension sapping my energy.

    I serviced my bike before yesterdays ride and the frame bearings had become quite stiff and dry. I regreased them and now the suspension is more free moving again but on yesterdays ride the pedal bob felt like it was just sucking my energy away at times.

    And if im going to train more then just riding more might not be the right answer, there might be more effective training options? My friends only ride once a week too at most, but they also run. I cant run because I get knee pain doing impact activity.

    Here is a thread from last year when I was having the same issues and getting very frustrated with it. https://forum.bikeradar.com/discussion/13112295/my-old-xc-bike-is-faster-than-my-newer-full-suss/p1

    You can see how I describe the difference between my old xc bike and my full suss. This is why I dont think fitness is the whole issue.

  • johngti
    johngti Posts: 2,508
    I’m no expert on mountain bikes but isn’t one of the criticisms of full suspension that it does actually soak up power? Some of what you put through the pedals goes into compressing the suspension, surely? And if you noticed it more when you changed bikes, then that has to be part of the problem.

    My guess is that you were fit enough to cope with the hard tail frame but the extra power/fitness you need for your new bike is missing and you’re not doing enough to make up for it. As has been said, once a week with what you’re doing isn’t going to make big improvements. You may not get any worse but getting better will take some effort. Depends on how important it is to you to be able to replicate the way you felt on your old bike, I guess. There’s no easy answer to it though.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    edited June 2021
    johngti said:

    I’m no expert on mountain bikes but isn’t one of the criticisms of full suspension that it does actually soak up power? Some of what you put through the pedals goes into compressing the suspension, surely? And if you noticed it more when you changed bikes, then that has to be part of the problem.

    My guess is that you were fit enough to cope with the hard tail frame but the extra power/fitness you need for your new bike is missing and you’re not doing enough to make up for it. As has been said, once a week with what you’re doing isn’t going to make big improvements. You may not get any worse but getting better will take some effort. Depends on how important it is to you to be able to replicate the way you felt on your old bike, I guess. There’s no easy answer to it though.

    I think all of that is true, but what do I do about it? Ive been riding this full suss for three years now so when I say new, its not really a new problem. I would say I have got fitter over the past three years and that's why when I switched back to my hardtail for a day it felt so easy to ride. But it doesn't stop me feeling so battered after riding this bike and feeling that it is so energy sapping.

    I can try and get fitter for sure, but I have a feeling that even if I do that, I still might feel that my bike is sucking my energy away when I try and pedal it uphill or aggressively on the flat.

    Yesterday I went to Forest of Dean for a ride. In the morning we did the blue and red routes, 25km in total. I was fine on the blue to start with then we did the extended red with no break. By the last 25% of this I was really struggling. My legs just had nothing left in them. Every pedal stroke felt like my energy was going nowhere, and every time I tried to move up a gear I was slowing down and so had to drop back down into 1st, even on flat sections.

    In the afternoon after lunch we did some of the downhill runs. I could barely ride up any of the push up track, and even pushing my bike up I just knew I was completely out of energy. Why did I not recover after having an hour's lunch break and some food? If I was to spend the day just doing the downhill routes, I doubt I would have the energy to get my bike up the push up tracks more than a few times.

    I just don't know what my problem is and its very frustrating. I want to be faster, I want to see progress, and I want to feel like my bike is nimble and accelerates when I put some energy in, and doesn't immediately grind to a halt the second I give my legs a little breather.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    edited June 2021
    Old bike = Rockrider 8.1 (2012), weighed at 12.7kg.
    Current bike = Boardman Pro FS (2017), weighed at 14kg.

    So 1.3kg difference. Plus the Boardman has slacker seat tube and I have a more upright riding position on it than I did on the Rockrider.

    Ive set up the suspension based on various guides posted before here when I was asking about the same issue. I ended up lifting the pressure quite alot which helped a little but I still feel like the bike sucks so much energy particularly when I start to get a bit tired. I weigh 78kg so fully laden with gear and water, probably about 82kg and Im 5'10.

    I looked at alternative shocks but my bike uses the old standard not the new metric standard so it was hard to find anything.


    Edit - checked weights on the scales and updated.

    The RR is now running 2x gearing with the easiest gear being 32x32 so a ratio of 1 as the smallest gear.

    The Boardman is running 28x42 so a ratio of 0.67 in easiest gear, which should easily make up for the 1.3kg difference in weight. Yet I can ride the RR loads faster and without it feeling like Im pumping energy into nothing.









  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    Can you borrow a hard tail or hire one, then see how you manage on that. If you are back to your old self it’s the bike and probably you should get rid of it. However if your mates are running in between riding their overall fitness is going to be a lot better than yours, this probably why they have more session endurance.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    webboo said:

    Can you borrow a hard tail or hire one, then see how you manage on that. If you are back to your old self it’s the bike and probably you should get rid of it. However if your mates are running in between riding their overall fitness is going to be a lot better than yours, this probably why they have more session endurance.

    I can take out my rockrider - still have it - problem is its very sketchy on the descents where obviously the Boardman is loads faster. But this specific problem is about the climbing and flats, so yeah I could take out the RR and see what happens.

    But ultimately I don't want another hardtail again, because I need the harder hitting capability of a mid travel full suspension bike for the trails I ride.
  • PMark
    PMark Posts: 159
    Another solution is to just get an electric bike, you could even look at converting your current bike to electric. I ride with people on electric bikes that struggle to cycle normally and as long as you don’t take the piss and make them have to push too hard to keep up with you, I don’t really see it as a problem.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    Obviously seeing alot of ebikes on the trails lately, and tonnes of reviewers and youtubers saying how great and capable they are. However I would feel like Im cheating and that an ebike is a last resort really.

    Maybe if my main fitness was road riding, running or sessions at the gym, then a ebike for weekend playing would be good idea but mountain biking is my main fitness thing too as well as wanting to have fun and enjoy the riding.
  • mully79
    mully79 Posts: 904
    Going to start with the obvious. Are your brakes dragging or have you got a tight wheel bearing ?
    If you lift each wheel off the floor and spin it how long does it take to stop ?
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    Brakes aren't dragging no. Front wheel spins freely takes ages to stop. Back wheel seems to spin freely but stops quicker, I imagine due to the drag of the cassette engagement and obviously its clicking as its rotating?
  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    I marshalled at the Yorkshire Mountain bike marathon a couple of weeks ago. The fastest riders were on hardtails and riding a hardtail doesn’t seem to slow Tom Pidcock down.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    I rode my Rockrider for five years before I got the full suspension bike. I came off every ride with a painful lower back after being kicked up the bum by my saddle for hours on rough trails.

    If it wasn't for this then yeah maybe I'd still be on a trail/aggressive hardtail.
  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    Then the answer to your problems is.
    Ride the hardtail on a weekend and during the week go to the gym and strengthen your lower back.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    edited June 2021
    webboo said:

    Then the answer to your problems is.
    Ride the hardtail on a weekend and during the week go to the gym and strengthen your lower back.

    Sorry but you're looking at my whole problem very one dimensionally. Obviously I can't give all the information easily on a forum post without it running into many pages long. I did free weights training for several years during the time I had my hardtail (which creates a strong lower back) and it never got rid of the ache I got whilst being kicked in the bum by the saddle bumping up and down all day. The strength training I was doing (3x per week) made it very difficult to also ride the bike because a) my legs and back were recovering from the strength training and b) after a bike ride my legs needed to recover from that so it hampered my strength training progression.

    I really don't feel that my fitness or my strength is the sole issue here as you're saying it is. There is a difference between an elite athlete and my level and Im not ever going to be elite I just need to be good enough to get round these trails without falling behind all the time making people wait for me, without feeling like my bike is sapping every bit of power I put in and to be able to go to a trail centre further afield and do more than one ride without my legs turning to jelly on the 2nd after lunch loop.

    It doesn't feel too big of an ask given far more unfit people than me seem to do it just fine.

    Even if I did get a trail hardtail it won't be as capable on the technical descents as a full suspension bike so I don't think that is a viable solution for that reason either really. All my riding points to a mid travel full suss bike I just need one that climbs well so I don't feel so slow.
  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    I don’t think I’m look at this one dimensionally. You say your riding has gone to sh*t since riding your full Susser. So I suggest going back to you ht to see if you can ride like you did previously. They you say the ht gave you a bad back, so I suggest the gym to strengthen your back and you come up with another reason why this won’t work. You then say you don’t think it’s your fitness or strength that’s causing the problem.
    So,it’s not a fitness or strength thing or the bike either.
    So you possibly have an un diagnosed health issue or it’s a psychological problem.
    If I am completely missing the mark next out swop bikes with one your mates and see if this makes any difference.
    Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    I think its a combination of things.

    On the bike front, I am aware that a full susser will not be as efficient to ride as an xc hardtail, but its not that that's the problem on its own. Its the feeling of it sapping my power, the feeling that I can't accelerate the bike when I want to or maintain its momentum even on the flat. And so what happens is I try and put more power in and it just burns out my legs so quickly. Then I end up grinding up a climb in 1st gear having nothing left to give and it burns me out for the rest of the ride.

    The fact I can get round a 25km trail centre at a certain pace says to me this isn't just a fitness problem. On my hardtail of course I'd still tire after sustained higher intensity, but it was progressive. On this bike, it hits me like a brick wall - that is the issue - I try and push the pace a little higher on my rides and the wall just comes on so fast and really screws me.

    So is it fitness or is it the bike or is it both? I feel that if it was just fitness then yes I would get tired but it wouldn't just hit me like a brick wall, I would feel myself getting tired. That's why I think the bike is not helping, its sapping my energy much faster that it should for some reason so the wall is just coming out of nowhere.

    I don't like asking my mates to swap bikes, they ride clipped so it means a pedal changeover which I know is easy but I don't like to burden people.

    I could hire a bike for a day and see if it was any better.
  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    Hire a bike. You need to do something that will convince you either way.
    Although I think I could go out on the wifes Pashley shopping bike with my mates and get dropped every time the road went up but I wouldn’t feel like you describe.
    The wall is when you deplete your carbohydrates in your liver. You tend to do,this when you have gone over your areobic threshold are going anerobic. This is a fitness thing.
    You are burning stored energy faster than you can replace it.
    You can train this so you burn stored fats as well as carbs. This how you develop endurance fitness.
  • mully79
    mully79 Posts: 904
    Perhaps it would be useful to wear a hrm and see if your perception matches the reality of how hard you feel you are pushing.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    edited June 2021
    mully79 said:

    Perhaps it would be useful to wear a hrm and see if your perception matches the reality of how hard you feel you are pushing.

    I don't think Im pushing that hard aerobically - because Im not getting out of breath. My muscles are giving up though.

    Should I be pushing hard to make me out of breath, breathing very heavily? My legs will be giving up very quickly if Im pushing hard enough to make me out of breath.

    When Im going for a 3 hr trail ride I have to pace myself or I won't make it round.
  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    I have just read through the thread again and you said in answer to my suggestion about strengthening your back. That when you had the hardtail and were riding much better. This was the time you were using the gym. I understand that one thing comprised another and you found it hard to recover and train effectively but you would have been fitter and stronger than you are now.
    So it seems you cut out 3 training sessions a week and got a heavier bike. That would make most people’s performance go downhill.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    Yeah I guess that is true.

    I was struggling with fitting everything in so something had to give. 3x per week on the strength routine was tough and my knees didn't like it either (I can't run either because of my knees). I was aware my conditioning was not getting trained so I tried to build in some HIIT work on the rower but it compromised my weightlifting progression.

    And with the mountain biking which I enjoy, because I live 45 mins drive away from the nearest trails its hard to do it more than once a week. So my weekly ride with friends IS my training as well, but I can't do quick training sprints up climbs etc because I need to make sure I can get round the whole 3 hour route.





  • webboo
    webboo Posts: 6,087
    edited June 2021
    Get a turbo trainer and stick the hardtail on it. Two one hour sessions a week of intervals would see you right.
    The problem with riding once a week is that towards the end of 7 days you will be detraining I.e losing any benefit you gained from the ride.
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    webboo said:

    Get a turbo trainer and stick the hardtail on it. Two one hour sessions a week of intervals would see you right.
    The problem with riding once a week is that towards the end of 7 days you will be detraining I.e losing any benefit you gained from the ride.

    Yeah I think its a good idea. I know once a week is not enough and I'm not following any sort of training plan.

    If Im going to do it Im going to do it properly and get a smart trainer. Its not cheap though, looking like £550 is the lowest I can spend and £700 gets me a better setup.

  • steve_sordy
    steve_sordy Posts: 2,443
    @danlightbulb : There might be a medical problem. You should consult your GP. Your problem may not be serious. Let me give you an example from my personal experience.

    I have been riding bikes for years, but only MTBs since 2008. I got on fine and progressed from a hardtail through various full suss bikes of slowly increasing suspension complexity and travel. Once I got fit, I was a like a dog with two richards. When I got to 63 years old, I felt like Superman! Then one summer I noticed that I was struggling. I just could not seem to get enough breath into my body to keep the rest of me powered up. I had a low resting heart rate, strong legs and no obvious medical problems. I didn't suffer from hay fever so I had no excuse there. I did try hay fever tablets though and they seemed to help a little bit, but probably just my imagination. I didn't have itchy eyes or a runny nose which is why I was convinced it wasn't hay fever. I went to see my GP. After a few questions and a few tests he diagnosed "exercise induced asthma". He told me that many people have the potential for it, but they never work hard enough to find out! He prescribed Salbutamol via an inhaler. I was reluctant to be described as having asthma (that's what the sickly kids at school, had wasn't it?), but I was desperate. At the first use before the ride, it was like suddenly being supercharged! I kid you not @danlightbulb I was rocket powered, just like I used to be.

    Two years ago I started to have have typical hay fever. But that was easily fixed with the one-a-day tablets from the chemist. This year, I started with a dry cough that persisted. People started to give me funny looks and kept their distance!! Once again I consulted my GP and she said it was definitely hay fever, but a worse reaction. So now I use a nasal spray that is a steroid (fluticasone furoate - known as Avamys). That stuff works!

    Hay fever, like asthma and many other ailments can come and go. Just because you have never suffered any of them before is no reason to believe that you are not suffering from them now or will never suffer from them in the future. And they may go! For example, I no longer need the Salbutamol.

    I am now almost 70 and I have no problems with my breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, general fitness etc. When I ride my bike, you can't tell how old I am. Except that my arthritic knees are now slowing me down. If you have to get old, keep moving - and keep on top of the maintenance! :)
  • danlightbulb
    danlightbulb Posts: 701
    edited June 2021

    So now I use a nasal spray that is a steroid (fluticasone furoate - known as Avamys). That stuff works!

    Thanks Steve. I get what you're saying, but right now I have no evidence whatsoever that there is a medical issue here. Its took me some time to realise it but I think webboo is right and Im not training properly. Ive never been the most powerful person and clearly once a week for 3 hours plus then sedentary office working (from home for 18 months now) is not giving me any improvement.

    Just as an aside I was recently prescribed the Avamys nasal spray to try and help my eustachian tube dysfunction. I agree with you, good stuff. I never had any trouble breathing nor when Im exercising but it did help clear up my ear problems. Ive come off it now.

    I also have knee issues with impact and weight bearing exercise, so I have an NHS appointment in couple of weeks to see what the issue is there. Cycling seems to not bring on the tenderness until I get to the point Im really tired then I assume my pedal circle changes and it can then make my knees ache.


    Just been researching smart trainers and it seems like they would be really good training. Probably a better investment than throwing money at a new bike when my bike is maybe not the problem. I always assumed sitting and spinning for hours on an exercise bike would be dull, but its really interesting all the new power training that can be done on them.