by Sheri Boltz, Tough Girl Cycling
We've all experienced fear at one point in time or another; whether it be fear after a crash or fear riding obstacles such as drop offs, narrow trails along a ridge, down a steep descent, across loose gravel, or through rocky sections. Fear can come and go at any level, it is not just for beginners....and it can happen to both men and women.
Last August, I fractured one of the vertebrae in my neck riding an obstacle I had ridden many times. Several months later, I got back on the bike and when I did, there were a lot of scary obstacles out there. Because of being tentative and hesitant, I struggled with obstacles and trails that I routinely rode, and worked my way into a continuous pattern of crashing. Finally after a few weeks of crashing and being on the verge of changing sports, I realized I needed to acknowledge this new found fear because it wasn't going anywhere until I faced it head on. I went back to the basics by returning to the simplest of trails. After several successful rides (with no crashing), I started to work my way back into my usual network of trails. While this seemed like a huge setback to me at the time, I was able to quickly return to where I left off, get back into the racing scene, and have FUN.
What can you do to overcome your fears and move forward? When I am feeling the fear, I acknowledge it and then develop a game plan for conquering it. Fear should not be perceived as a negative, or something to beat yourself up about. It should be used as a building block in your quest to be a zen master of mountain biking. As for game plans, I like to keep mine simple. I will typically start off by asking myself a few questions like, do I need to find something smaller and less scary to work my way up or can I watch someone ride it or follow someone off/thru the obstacle?
The key when riding challenging obstacles is to have faith in yourself and your bike. When you are ready to conquer the obstacle, make sure you stay committed. Focus on where you want to go and look thru the obstacle. Smile.....a relaxed body and mind are bliss.
Body armor and droppable seatposts can also be helpful. Simply having body armor on your elbows and knees will protect your skin. Droppable seatposts can be set at a height for normal XC riding, and then at the flick of a button, the seat will drop down and out of your way. Both of these items will help you get into a better position and build your confidence.
So, get out there and have fun. I have been riding and racing for about 10 years, and I still have that occasional crash that freaks me out for a while or run across an obstacle that grabs my attention. From these experiences, I have found that overcoming fear is truly part of the process in developing as a mountain biker. While it may not seem fun at the time or feel like you are ever going to overcome the fear, if you take a minute to look back on the obstacles that used to scare you to death and now you ride them with ease, do you get a smile on your face? I do.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself".