With the brand new, shiny, happy, fresh new year already a week old, it's a time for us to reflect on the changes we’d like to make in our lives. In a December packed with parties and indulgence, there’s sometimes the temptation to really overdo things, because around the corner is a period of penitence where we’ll make up for our failings and unveil an improved self.

I’m not sure that making yourself feel bad is neccessarily the best start to a year, so how about making a resolution that has nothing to do with deprivation and everything to do fun? My idea still delivers self-improvement in spades, but does so almost by accident; it’s a treat rather than a punishment.

This year, I’d suggest that rather than giving up cake (never give up cake!!!), you resolve to try a new kind of cycling instead, so if you’ve only ever ridden on the road, it’s time to get your bike muddy!

When it’s cold, wet and grim outside, mountain biking can be infinitely more appealing than toughing it out on the bleak, open roads. There’s something about getting ridiculously muddy and playing around in the forest with your friends that makes rain bearable - plus you can really layer up the waterproofs in a way that’s tricky to replicate with lycra.

Being far from the city and immersed in nature is truly good for the soul, and of course there’s no traffic to deal with out on the trails, which makes a rather pleasant change.

Cornering and descending on mud can also be tricky, which makes the smooth tarmacked hills a cinch when you’re back on the road. In short, you’ll become a better all-round rider.

As well as keeping you engaged and inspired in these dark, winter months, the benefits of mixing things are manifold. Mountain biking forces you to think and react speedily, taking quick changes in terrain into account. It teaches you to be prepared and anticipate what’s coming, which of course is rather handy on the road too.

It’s a fantastic way to improve bike handling. Rather than simply riding along the vast open roads and occasionally climbing a hill or riding around a bend, off-road riding packs more of a punch and puts all your skills to the test again and again – it’s rare that you’ll just pedal along a straight trail for hours on end. Cornering and descending on mud can also be tricky, which makes the smooth tarmacked hills a cinch when you’re back on the road. In short, you’ll become a better all-round rider.

As cardio workouts go, mountain biking is a winner. It’s great interval training, with sudden spikes of high power needed to get up short, very steep hills. Mountain biking also gives a more ‘all over’ workout than road cycling does, helping to improve core and upper body strength.

 

Here are some ways to get started: 

  • Search for a trail centre. These dedicated off-road cycling hubs often hire bikes and have graded runs that range from easy (blue) to very difficult (black).
  • Borrow a mountain bike (and helmet) and head out into the countryside with friends. The UK’s vast network of bridleways are an ideal place to try mountain biking for the first time.
  • Join a cycling club or ask your own cycling club to organise an off-road day. Search British Cycling for your nearest club.
  • Hire a qualified instructor or mountain bike leader to show you the ropes.

 Convinced? Here’s to a happy 2016 filled with mud, fun and fat tyres. See you on the trails!