The fear of crashing can be crippling for cyclists. I have heard some people vow to never ride a certain section ever again after catching wind that someone else had a big crash in that specific area. The reality is: Crashes can happen anywhere, and sometimes they happen when we least expect it.
The fear of crashing can be a ‘what if’ that hinders many people from reaching their full potential. At the same time, fear is a healthy emotion that keeps us safe. It’s incredibly important to find the balance between healthy fear that keeps our expectations realistic, compared to the fear that responds too strongly and holds us back.
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As a professional mountain biker, confronting fear is part of my job. When my hands are sweating and my knees are shaking as I size up a new jump, I’m forced to evaluate if I think I can execute the skill, as well as whether or not I think the feature is ‘worth it.’ Here are the steps I recommend taking in order to size up your fear and ride away from the trail (or road) feeling more confident.
Is the fear justified?
You’re riding along and you suddenly feel that pit in your stomach, your breathing rate increases, and you feel afraid. The first question I ask myself is, ‘Is this fear justified?’ It’s an easy question to start with because there is no wrong answer.
If the answer is no, maybe because you’ve done that feature hundreds of times, then you can begin to reason with yourself as to why you shouldn’t be afraid. Examine some objective facts to yourself. Sometimes even talking out loud can help. Rationalizing the feature through true statements such as ‘I’ve done this before,’ ‘I’ve done more challenging things than this,’ or ‘I know how to approach this feature’ can help to quiet the fear.
If the answer is yes, then begin by acknowledging that the fear is ok! There is no shame in feeling afraid. Don’t waste energy by feeling both afraid and frustrated with yourself for feeling the fear. Instead, ask yourself what you’re most afraid of. Be as specific as possible. Are you afraid because the consequences are high? Are you afraid of one specific rock? Are you afraid because you don’t know how to approach the feature at all? Once you know exactly what is causing the fear you are better able to make an appropriate decision as to if it’s a fear you’re ready to tackle or if you should save the challenge for another day.
Is the skill within your ability level?
The next question I ask myself when approaching a challenging obstacle is, ‘Is the skill within my ability level?’ This question is harder to answer than you might think. Some people are natural daredevils and their desire to overcome an obstacle clouds judgment. Other people tend to be too skittish and shy away from a challenge too quickly.
How do you know if you are ready to approach the challenge at hand? I begin by asking myself this list of questions:
- Have I done something like this before?
- Have I worked my way up to this?
- Do I know the mechanics of how I will do this? (choice of line, body position, etc.)
If I can answer all three of these questions in the affirmative then I know it may be time to attempt the obstacle.
Build up to the skill, and warm-up first
If you know that you want to tackle a specific skill or challenge on your ride, sometimes the nerves will push you toward ‘just getting it over with.’ Don’t be tempted to ride straight up to the challenging section.
Take some time to warm up and build up to the obstacle. For example, if you plan to send it off of a big drop, practice some smaller drops beforehand. If there are no other drops available, then just practice the body position. Simply practicing how you want to hold the front wheel up can be enough to remind your mind and body what needs to happen when you actually go for it!
Is your equipment up to the challenge?
There is a reason that they make so many different types of equipment. Sometimes your mind and body will be ready for a challenge, but what about your equipment? Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you showed up with the wrong bike for the task, wait for another day. Don’t send big obstacles if you haven’t looked over your bike recently. Make sure all of the bolts are tight. The only thing you should be thinking about is the execution of the skill, not whether or not your equipment will have catastrophic failure upon landing. Also consider factors such as gloves, knee pads, full-face helmets, and eyewear.
Visualize and watch someone else
Visualization is a great tool to help overcome fear. Imagine yourself completing the task at hand. If you are having trouble envisioning yourself, then watch someone else do the feature and then picture yourself in their place. If you’re unable to visualize yourself successfully riding that section, it may be a sign that you aren’t quite ready to attempt it yet.
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Reframe what crashing means
Crashes will happen and being afraid of crashing is completely normal. It’s easy to think that if you crashed it means you did something wrong or that you were in over your head. If you followed all of the steps above then you know that you intelligently approached the obstacle and you did the best you could. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Crashing doesn’t mean you weren’t ready for the obstacle; it simply means you made a mistake. We all make mistakes.
When I think of crashing, I like to think that it means I attempted to ride something faster or more challenging than I have ever done before. It means that I challenged myself. It means that I’m trying to grow as a rider. That’s what we’re all trying to do. Don’t be afraid to learn.