The Velovixen Women’s Cycling hub at the 2017 NEC Cycle Show hosted a line up of speakers (including me!) who got together to discuss what it means to be a woman who rides a bike. This is the second time I’ve spoken at the event and my talk was called ‘Get Over It’ and dealt with cycling and fear (I seem to be have become something of an expert on this!!). Here it is!
Being fully aware of the quality of the speakers on board, I made sure I arrived in good time on Saturday to catch some of the other women at the event. I’m really glad I arrived in time for the Q&A with Corrine Hall MBE, not only because I got to hold her Paralympic gold medal but also because she told us all about winning at Rio 2016 with tandem partner Lora Turnham, who is blind. Corinne explained that they weren’t expected to win their event and so she was thrilled when they crossed the line first but, due to the nature of her disability, Lora is not aware of how they have done until Corrine tells her – so her delight was doubled when she got to tell her team mate that they had won.
The gold medal chimes when you shake it, with different sounds for the silver and bronze medals to differentiate between the three.
At the end of the day I caught up with the talk by Emily Chappell and Lee Craigie from The Adventure Syndicate. They are great speakers as well as experts on adventure and distance cycling, and I loved their honesty when it came to discussing how demanding such riding can be. Emily described how she draws upon her ‘invisible peloton’ for strength when the going gets tough. This imaginary group of her friends and role models enables her to think about what these people would say to support her on the road, and draw strength from them. I love this idea and will definitely be calling upon my own invisible peloton next time I’m starting to flag.
Now here’s a quick round up of the talks from the rest of the weekend.
Friday –the first day – and the hub got off to a great start with a Q&A session with legendary mtb champion Tracey Moseley , a talk on the media coverage of women’s cycling by Laura Winter from VoxWomen and cycling presenter Rebecca Charlton, as well as a discussion between Julie Rand from Cycling UK, Diane Jeggo (who also compared throughout the event!) from Breeze and Liz Colebrook of Beaumont Cycles on ways in which women’s cycling is blooming. Finally Fran Whyte urged everyone to try CycloCross in her talk.
Saturday kicked off with a discussion ‘Beyond Selling Stuff’ with Lynne Bye, founder of Fat Lad/Lass at the Back, Judith Smith, MD of Primal Europe and Rhian Ravencroft, the founder of Theo. The Corinne Hall Q&A followed, and then Emily Chappell, Sarah Perry and Julia Tilley spoke about the ‘Le Loop’ TDF ride. After my talk Emily returned to the stage with her Adventure Syndicate partner Lee Craigie, to discuss cycling adventures.
Sunday included a talk on how cycling clubs can get it right for women, hosted by Kate Horsfall, Fran Whyte, Kay Young and Eleanor Pye. Also on stage that day were Anna Glowinski and Transcontinental riders Grace Lambert-Smith and Eleanor Ceindeg. There was a Q&A session with Jo Rowsell Shand, a talk on lower body power from Simone Dalley (Triathlon Age Group World Champion and Personal Trainer) and, last but not least, VeloVixen co-founder Liz Bingham spoke about the ‘10,000km date’ that led to the creation of VeloVixen!
I suggest you free up an evening, open a bottle of wine, and watch them all here
I know it wasn’t just me who felt that, compared to last year, there were more women at the Cycle Show (previously it has been a complete MAMIL fest!) and it was fantastic to see so many women (and men!) at the hub, listening to us and asking some great questions. Can’t wait for next year!
P.S. I’m on a public-speaking roll now…I’ll be giving a more in depth talk on Fear and MTB at Findra HQ in Innerleithen on October 12th, at 7.30 pm
“Why the hell are we doing this?”
There was only one topic of conversation in the Ladies’ toilets half an hour ahead of the Swinley Forest Enduro (aka Swinduro) – and that was why any of us had thought it was a good idea to sign up. We could have been at home, feet up, reading the Sunday papers and eating a bacon sandwich. Instead, we were gathered around a slightly feeble hand dryer in a toilet just north of the M3, with anxiety turned up to 11, because we were about to throw ourselves down muddy, rooty trails on mountain bikes – against the clock.
Enduro mountain bike racing, according to the British Enduro Mountain Bike Association ‘allows riders to compete against each other, starting individually, on multiple special stages which are designed to challenge the rider’s technical ability and physical capacity.’ The Swinlely Forest course was a 25km loop with eight timed ‘gravity focussed’ stages within it, each lasting for barely a few minutes.
Most of the climbing (which, thanks to a happy arrangement of slow twitch muscle fibres, is where I do well in XC riding!) was in the untimed transition sections and I’m not particularly quick downhill so I knew I was never going to podium (like ever, in a million years!). But that was fine because it meant I could just ride and have fun without any pressure. It took around three hours to complete the loop. Here’s what I learnt about Enduro on the way round.
- Everyone I spoke to was nervous – though as experienced Enduro rider (and subsequent category winner!) Marcia Ellis pointed out as we waited to start, nerves and excitement are caused by the same chemical reaction – they are in fact, the same thing. So rather than trying to suppress our nervousness, we can harness it simply by renaming it.
- This was undoubtedly the friendliest race I have ever ridden. 35 women took part and we were divided into age catergories and scheduled to set off at different times. But, on the start line, all the women agreed they’d rather set off together. And because the transition sections are not timed, the general vibe was to ride along chatting rather than race from stage to stage.
- Random things we talked about while riding: how big the drops are in the upcoming section, how big the drops were in the last section, where we nearly fell off, where we did fall off, how lovely the flowy trails were, how none of the trails were as bad as we had feared, customised frame paint jobs in duck egg blue, ‘do I follow you on Instagram?’, ‘Isn’t this fun?’ and S Club 7 ( low blood sugar at this point).
- How can it take three hours to ride 25km? Queues. While some stages were empty when we arrived, others had a line of riders waiting to start. We were set off at thirty second intervals, so with up to twenty riders ahead, sometimes we had to wait. It’s a good opportunity to fuel up with an energy bar, and chat (see number 4) but also, take a jacket.
- There were so many whistles. The marashalls used them to signal to each other when the trails were clear – frankly it felt like being on One Man and His Dog, but on mountain bikes.
- Some very jolly and particularly vocal spectators gathered at the most technical sections to shout words of encouragement as we rode past. I have to say that, for me, this was somewhat embarrassing when things went wrong as I like to mess things up in private. However when I got it right it was rather marvellous to have them there, cheering.
- Photographers were lurking on almost every corner of the trails. There were so many that my face hurt from smiling so often. Also, I was wearing my glasses so I look like Ugly Betty in a crash hat in every single image. Next time I’m going to have a hair and make up team on hand at the start of each section, and get a spray tan like they do on Strictly.
- We drank all our water. Even though it was only 25km, we had drained our Camelbaks by the start of section eight. Physically, enduro is much harder than I had anticipated!
- By the time we’d finished we had ridden some brilliant trails, chatted a lot, sprinted up the hills when it wasn’t necessary* ( *that was just me, tbh), chatted a lot, pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones, chatted a lot and got home in one piece – and everyone I spoke to said they felt amazing.
- I might have inspired someone else to have a go… as I was leaving Swinley I passed three female riders who were sitting outside the café. They weren’t part of the event, but had seen women riding it and had so many questions – ‘how hard is it?’ ‘How big are the drops?” “How good at riding do you need to be?’ – everything I would have asked three hours before!
To cut a long conversation short, they’re going to sign up for next year.
From Sir Chris Hoy’s comments on Lycra, to Tahnee Seagrave’s crystal downhill helmet: why it doesn’t matter what your kit looks like, so long as you feel good in it.
There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle this week about Sir Chris Hoy’s comments regarding the wearing of lycra :
“Lycra isn’t the most elegant material you can wear”, he says “and professional cycling gear generally looks awful on pretty much anyone heavier than eight stone and with more than five per cent body aerodynamic fat.”
He has since apologised (what’s more, I am reliably informed that Sir Chris is a really lovely bloke) but his comments have prompted a great big debate about what to wear on a bike, especially if you are not particularly svelte, and I was reminded of a cyclist I met when I was training for Ride London a few years ago.
He was ahead of me on the road, wearing the lycra kit of a local cycling club. As I rode up to him he said hello and we got into a chat, as often happens when you meet another road cyclist and you’re both having a bit of a breather.
Turns out he was also training for Ride London – but while I was doing it as a journalist, he was doing it because he’d had a cancer scare the year before that had prompted him to quit smoking, lose five stone, and get fit. He was brimming with pride when he told me “My son has told me its great to not have a fat dad anymore”. He wasn’t exactly at Chris Froome levels of body fat – far from it, in fact – but if wearing lycra was helping him to achieve his major lifestyle change, then he could go ahead and wear it 24/7 as far as I was concerned.
At the other end of the scale, downhill mega star Tahnee Seagreave recently unveiled her new and decidedly bling Red Bull sponsored helmet on Facebook. It literally has a princess crown made of crystals on it. To be honest I wouldn’t wear it if you paid me – but Tahnee loves it:
“OH MY GOD! Received this in the post today before flying out to World champs tomorrow. I am SPEECHLESS. The time and effort put in to this is overwhelming, it’s so personal and means so much to me.”
And you know what? If crystals float Tahnee’s boat then frankly she can go forth and spray paint the whole bike with them if she wants to, and then roll in them why she’s at it.
As I’ve said before, just because we ride bikes doesn’t mean we all want to wear the same thing – but let’s hear it for diversity, inclusivity – and wearing what you want*
(*except white, see-through shorts. Sir Chris was right about them).
Wet socks, conquering black runs and getting lost: the joys of mountain biking in the Alps.
The irony that a mountain bike riding holiday usually starts by putting your bike into a car isn’t lost on me, but with more and more far flung destinations offering tantalising riding, sometimes these things just have to be done. And so it was – several times this summer – that we shoehorned the family, our luggage, followed by even more mtb luggage, into our ‘its too small, isn’t it?’ car, strapped the bikes onto the roof and set off on holiday.
First off, we managed to convince our teenage family that a holiday in The Alps was just what they needed despite the fact there isn’t a beach. And it might rain. And they don’t like mountain biking. And they’d need to travel for ten hours with a couple of bike wheels nudging the back of their heads. As not everyone wanted to ride, we divided our time between walking in the mountains, eating, swimming in the local lake, eating, shopping at the market, eating, sneaking out for an occasional mountain bike ride while they were otherwise occupied, and then more eating. Turns out The Alps can tick almost every single holiday box with aplomb (and no one mentioned the lack of beach, so we’ll let that one go). Everyone wants to go back next year.
Here’s a brief need-to-know summary of our riding adventures there:
It’s a mountain area so the weather is changeable. If it rains a lot – as it did on the first day we were there – the lifts are closed. Even in July. We rode the valley instead, which turned out to be slightly more challenging than we anticipated as the river was bursting its banks. At a couple of points the water was so fast moving and deep that we had to remove our shoes, throw them to the other side, then pass the bikes over one by one. So, take spare socks.
When the lifts are open (which they were for the rest of the week), you may find yourself using one that requires hanging your bike on the outside via the front wheel. If you value your bike, this is possibly the most stressful part of the whole holiday.
The trail maps:
Some of the trail maps are a bit hit and miss…Here’s what happened when we chose to an ride classed as XC (and which looked long and flowy on the map.) We took the lift to the top of the mountain and followed the XC trail from there. Although it was pretty straight forward to ride(we saw just the one rider dripping with blood after a fall) it certainly wasn’t suitable for the unfit (luckily not a problem for us).
When we came to a café on the mountain side we decided to stop for a coffee before descending. “I wonder how they get the food up here?” I pondered. We soon found out – the xc descent marked on the map turned out to be a road. A third of the way down it, we agreed that we hadn’t come all this way with mountain bikes to do a road ride, so we rode back up again (mid travel trail bikes – they are a wonderful, versatile thing), and followed the trail back to the lift. Now we were faced with two options – the lift, or a black run. The black run won.
The black run:
Everyone who knew me and who had ridden here before said I’d be fine so long as I stuck to the red trails. Had I known I was going to ride a black run, I would have perhaps have skipped on the nice relaxing coffee at the top and practisced deep breathing instead. But thet trail turned out to be a beautifully built berm fest, much like the trails I’d ridden in Wales or even at Swinley had the earth tipped on its axis to make them eye wateringly steep. There were jumps too, of course, though each one was easy to spot and had a rollable option next to it.
Having faith in the trail builder is always good for confidence and I was soon swooping and whooping my way down. I punched the air when I reached the bottom. It was the highlight of the week – and, like I said, further proof that a mid travel trail bike is a wonderful, versatile thing.
…And being a bit nosey:
On the last day I followed a zig zag road up from the village, just to see where it went. I’d said I would be about 20 minutes and didn’t take any water. An hour later I was still doing the ‘I’ll just see what’s round the next corner’ climb. Just as I was going to turn back, the road turned into a trail, and curiosity really got the better of me – I was on a mtb after all. So I kept going until I got to a natural spring – now in the middle of nowhere. A sign indicated that the trail went to the next peak, probably a 45 minute ride but good sense prevailed as another rider appeared, coming back down the trail, and I decided to follow him back down the valley (safety in numbers, even though we never actually spoke to each other). I’m not one for turning back though – so I’ve earmarked that little ride for next year’s trip.
Rising to the challenges thrown down by mountain bike coaching when you’re already an experienced rider.
I’ve been a regular mountain biker for 12 years, ever since I entered the London Triathlon, borrowed a bike that turned out to be of the mountain and not road type, and got hooked on riding trails.
I’m an enthusiastic rider, rather than a great one but like to think I have managed to build some skills in that time (I’m still in one piece, for a start). Of course I also know that, like most of us, I have gaping holes in my skills set. I’ve written about some of them here – and as a result Si from Pedal & Spoke MTB Coaching – a man who has the patience of a saint, btw – kindly offered me a skills session to help iron out a few of my habitual creases. My last skills session was over three years ago so it was long overdue: its good to keep learning and also bad habits take hold easily and can be hard to shake off (as I was about to find out!).
So, back to mtb school I went, and to cut a long story short I wasn’t exactly top of the class – even though I was the only one in it. I won’t bore you with the inadequacy of my skills nor my embarrassing inability to adapt, but even the negotiation of a small log in the recommended fashion was beyond me – no matter how many times I tried.
The problem? My ears heard the instructions, but the part of my brain that does the unconscious, proprioception stuff (like riding a bike, for instance) – saw no need to take any notice. As far as it was concerned, I’d been clearing logs (incorrectly, but whatever) for over a decade – and Practice makes Permanent: I’m living proof of that. Of course, log hopping wasn’t the sole purpose of the exercise: really it was about progressing so that I am able to clear drops and jumps more safely. But unlearning old habits proved to be a massive hurdle – for instance, I never realised how much time I spend looking at the ground, which apart from making it impossible to pick a line or even steer properly, also LOOKS REALLY BAD. Forcing myself to look further down the trail though just felt really, really weird.
The other thing I need to unlearn – or at least forget – is the series of near misses and tumbles my enthusiasm for mountain biking has caused me in the last decade. I know riders who have only been riding for a year and can nip into the woods, see a jump and clear it without a second thought. Meanwhile, I’m searching for the best line, checking the camber, scouting for evil roots and trying to put the ‘Dreadful Tumble of 2009’, or the ‘OTB Incident of 2013’, or the ‘Tree Induced Surgery of 2015’ to the back of my mind.
To help me focus, Si suggests I write down the key points that I need to remember on my top tube. I can’t help thinking it would need to be the length of a broom handle to fit it all in but don’t say anything. Also, the first instruction is ‘Look Up’ so I’d never get to read the rest anyway.
“Should I just get another hobby?” I asked, quietly seeking an easy way out.
Should I forget my QOMs? Screaming with joy round the trails of Coed y Brenin? Flying down the red trails at Afan in awe of the athleticism of my bike? That cold glass of beer at the end of the day, to celebrate five fabulous hours in the saddle? Slogging my way around Battle on the Beach and loving every minute? Breezing up the biggest climb on Menorca having been warned by the guide that it was ‘really tricky’? The bottle of champagne we drank after four days of circumnavigating the island? Skimming along trails by myself, with friends, with strangers (the time I mistakenly followed a group down a trail, thinking they were my buddies only to be told, with an embarrassed mumble, ‘you do know you’re not with us? But you’re more than welcome to stay’)? Feeling like I was going to ride into the sea on the cliff top trail in Dorset? Hop, skipping and jumping my way down the rocky routes on Dartmoor? The Surrey Hills sunsets, the snow rides, the beach ride in Northern Spain? The riders who have thanked me for inspiring them to ride either by following me down trails or because of this blog? Should I pack away those memories and my lovely bikes, and give up just because I can’t manual (yet)?
Si tells me I am too hard on myself. He’s not the only one who has hinted at this. A few months ago I met Redbull Rampage rider Pierre Edouard Ferry and as we chatted he told me “unless you’re being paid to win, don’t focus on being the first rider down the trail – instead focus on being the one who finishes with the biggest smile on their face’.
Still, I ride home feeling like I have been a mtb imposter for the last decade, and that the only thing I have any talent for is feeling sorry for myself (looking on the brightside, I’m so talented at this that I could probably represent GB at the Olympics and win Gold).
As it happens, my route takes me up and over a hilly field, and there is an energetic but elderly walker at the peak, ahead of me. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to nip up the climb and catch him up, and he holds the gate open for me as I pass. I thank him and, apparently brimming with admiration, he says “You have a better heart than me!”.
That comment. He doesn’t know I’m crying with gratitude as I ride off.
Because it’s all relative, isn’t it?
So my fabulous heart and I will keep practicing those elusive new skills – and I’ll do it with a huge smile on my face.
The response to my post on mountain biking and fear has been awesome. I loved reading your comments which are full of honesty, courage and wisdom. Here are some of the absolute gems – I hope they will inspire you to face your mtb fears.
I thought long and hard before I wrote my post about Fear and Mountain Biking – firstly because mtb is full of posts where people are getting air and having the time of their lives and I didn’t want to put a downer on that, and secondly because I’m wary of admitting stuff like this on SM, where we’re all supposed to be sorted and ‘feeling blessed’.
But I did it – and whatdoyaknow – it’s been one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written. At the end of the post I asked how you deal with fear, and your responses have been so brilliant I thought it might be a good idea to share some of them here. There is so much that is useful – thanks to everyone for taking the time to share your experiences (and sorry I can’t share them all but we’d be here all night!).
But before I begin, this weekend I came across this Instagram post by none other than Rachel Atherton – looks like its okay to admit you get scared sometimes after all 🙂
“First time on the DH bike today in the fresh & cleansing rain after crashing at Fort William World Cup. I know social media is for making life look epic…but I’m not gunna lie, I am nervous as hell on a bike right now!! After so many injuries, surgeries and rehabs over the years to my shoulders the memories of the past are always strong and almost as hard to get over as the injury itself…as I’m sure many of you know! For now I’m taking baby steps and seeing where that takes me…thanks for the support!”
And now over to you guys….
This is from Jennifer @pinkmtbr on Instagram (I ADORE everything about this post btw!)
“As I sat in the van having a fear cry after practice, I started to fret about what people would think when I pulled out of the race. I was worried my friends wouldn’t think I was as badass as I pretend to be. That @kev_purcell would point out I’d missed a day’s training for @bcbikerace. That I’d have wasted the entry fee. Blah. Then @adelemtb‘s recent post on Fear and Mountain Biking conveniently popped up on my timeline talking about the right frame of mind, and a friend reiterated that I had to turn the fear in to excitement. I could give that a go. As I rode up the transition after the final stage I pondered back to practice the day before. Why was I worried about what everybody else would think? If I had pulled out I’d have been so disappointed with myself for me. I race for the fun, for the community, for the challenge for ‘me time’. So actually, it didn’t matter at all that I was ‘least quick female’. What mattered was I was faster than if I’d stayed in the van and that made it flipping awesome.”
While this comment from Jo Simcock made me feel pretty sad:
“Part of the reason I stopped riding was fear and feelings of inadequacy. My last ride was marred with someone tutting so much and then nearly took me off because I was riding so slowly then hit my rear wheel which says more about them than about me. I’ve always been cautious…but the attitude of speed or you’re crap really spoiled it”.
These comments are from Facebook group MTBChix&Trails
“Honestly… the fear of the technical difficulty I probably deal with better than I deal with the fear of letting myself down. If the trail gets difficult I am perfectly happy (most of the time… possibly too much) to get off my bike. Fear of letting myself down though… finding it hard going on something I know I can do or ought to be able to do… that’s the toughie for me. Takes massive strength of mind to stave off the panic and tears. Not sure if others fight this too?”
“I think fear for me essentially comes down to getting hurt. I’ve had a couple of nasty injuries and am laid up with a ruptured Achilles right now (not cycling related). I don’t do group rides, especially with the blokes, because I am worried about getting hurt, but I think that is pretty reasonable. I have found I’m much happier biking either solo or I have a couple of good chicks who I ride with regularly. All those head miles aren’t for me in MTB, it’s the thing I do to escape the mental wear and tear of life, not add to it.”
“Riding with other women helps me to overcome my fears. Being encouraged by others and seeing them do it and following them has helped me to tackle stuff I was scared of. In turn it feels good to also help other women to overcome their fears.”
“Sometimes it depends what zone I’m in that day. But I take myself off to one side and I say to myself this: ”Sometimes, you just have to stop being scared. Either it will work out, or it won’t. That’s life” then I just do it. And then some days I don’t even do that I’ll just say ‘fuck it I’m gonna try that’ and just do it . I feel like I almost physically push the fear and doubt in a nanosecond out and force myself into something. That moment of release is incredible.”
From the Cotic Bikes Facebook page, who kindly shared the post.
“I think fear is important to keep you from doing stupid things beyond your ability but it’s also important to fight back some territory from the fear once in a while. Skill training is a good and save way to do it. As Cy says in his newsletter: it’s one of the great things of biking that you can always improve no matter what age you are or how long you have been into the sport.”
” The fear of humiliation is an interesting one. I’ve been learning to wheelie recently and I was told ( quite rightly) that all I needed to do was go out and practice in the street outside my house, or in the nearest empty carpark. For a woman in her 40’s, that’s actually quite daunting! Firstly…people my age…just going ‘out to play’ like kids do. It’s pretty odd behaviour. Secondly, a lot of people who live here know I ride mountainbikes, and have done for years…so I’m going to go out in public and show them I actually can’t do wheelies….yet! What I found though…surprisingly…is that if you just DO IT, nobody actually takes much notice. For the past month or so I’ve been riding regularly, like a 10 year old would, taking my bike out for 30 mins or so and doing wheelies, hopping off kerbs, wheelying off kerbs…and it’s been REALLY REALLY good fun. And I’m better at riding a bike because of it.”
And from this site…
Emily, a potential World Cup rider says:
“I really welcomed this post, as I think fear is something we don’t talk about much in relation to every day riding, but it’s something I have to work really hard at to control.
I regularly feel a slight catch of fear of simple trail features, such as a muddy puddle or off camber root, as I don’t like the bike moving unpredicatably.
I’m aiming to race a World Cup next year so I need to push myself on features that quite frankly, I’d rather not do at all! I’ll talk to my man about my worries, such as not having control, or not making the corner. I’ll also critically look at the feature, and if it’s far beyond my skills or limit, I’ll walk away but will write it on my ‘to conquer’ list. It’s a nice reminder to keep pushing the limit and to go back in a few months. I’ll also seek out similar but smaller features to train on first and practise my body movement.
Ultimately I don’t feel any shame at not doing a feature – just motivation to improve until I can.”
“There’s a technique known as ‘graduated exposure’ which works brilliantly; it’s about gradually acclimatising yourself to a particular situation (slippery descents for example) but the really awesome thing about it is that you also have to reward yourself each time you tackle something that you’re afraid of. I’ve had the excuse to buy myself some great bike kit as a result!
Weirdly, what’s happening in my life can often impact on my MTB bravery level, but there’s no better feeling than facing those fears.”
How to cope with fear when mountain biking (because we don’t talk about this enough).
Recently I read Meg Hine’s excellent new book Mind of a Survivor, which explains how the instinct and skills needed for survival can be applied to ordinary lives. Hine is an expedition leader and bushcraft expert who works with Bear Grylls. She is also a keen mountain biker whose earliest adventures were often on a bike.
The book is broken down into chapters which explore issues such as intuition, acceptance, curiosity and creativity, empathy, preparation and resilience, along with Hine’s own often hair-raising adventures involving predators, rapids, bad weather, and lack of food in far flung corners of the planet. It’s a great read.
It was the chapter on fear that really got me thinking about what scares us when we ride. As well as my own fears – hurting myself again, messing up a technical section and beating myself with the misery stick for not being as good a rider as I think I should be, a fear of contempt from those who ride with me – I’ve also read, over and over again, comments from other women who regularly bring up the fear of being the one at the back, or holding people up, or looking silly. We even apologise for ourselves by saying ‘I’m really slow’ before we know how fast every one else rides.
It seems that while one half of the internet is leaping over jumps and getting air like a badass, many riders are really struggling with fear.
Although it is ultimately healthy and natural to feel afraid, it can also be debilitating if it gets out of hand. In other words, a companion we’d prefer not to have to ride with all the time.
I, for instance, hate this root. Its on a short, steep climb with no run up and I can’t get enough speed up in order to weight the bike properly and get over it. But that isn’t why I hate it. The reason it makes my stomach turn is because a more experienced rider tried to help me and another rider to tackle it, and I gave up (my friend managed to do it, of course). And now whenever I ride past it (or walk up it – I’m still nowhere near seeing how I will ever get over it while actually on a bike) I just remember feeling ashamed of myself. I’m also convinced everyone on that ride remembers me as the one who gave up (though in reality they’ve probably forgotten all about it).
‘No amount of top of the range kit will save you if you don t have the right frame of mind’ says Hine.
So while its fairly unlikely that any of us are going to be faced with hungry lions whilst nipping around the local trail centre, we do have to call upon our inner resilience – and a positive, informed mental attitude – if we are going to get round in one piece and with a big smile on our face.
Ultimately when we ride we are all chasing ‘the flow’ fix – those moments when your mind and body connect and riding becomes instinctive and effortless “it’s the most beautiful, almost spiritual feeling: a kind of physical enlightenment’ says Hine. But this means pushing ourselves to our limit, and when fear takes over (which it does for me fairly often!), we freeze, don’t think clearly, and are then in more danger. Reassuringly Hine explains that fear is an evolutionary response to a perceived danger and there is nothing impressive about not being scared because that means you don’t know you may be in trouble. Fear is your body’s way of saying something is wrong. To move forward, its important to control your fear – perhaps using visualisation (I have found this very effective, though it takes practice!), or by pinpointing the cause, accepting it and putting it ‘into a box’.
Obviously if you’re faced with a visible danger – an off-camber, wet, rooty drop for instance, where you can stop and look for the line or follow someone more experienced, then it is easier to apply these skills. But no one is going to pretend this is quite so straightforward when its a fear of being excluded or feeling humiliated that you are dealing with. However that doesn’t mean these skills aren’t transferrable, so long as you identify what it is that you are actually frightened of. But ultimately, and with practice, learning to manage your fears could become your most important tools in your mountain biking skills set.
How do you control your fear when mountain biking? Please share below – I’m really interested to hear how others deal with this issue.
You can find Mind of A Survivor by Meg Hine here.