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.
How ‘ordinary’ riders like me can fly the flag for mountain bike brands – and why I’m going to be an ambassador for Cotic bikes in 2017.
I’ll admit that I’m not the typical choice for a mountain bike ambassador. Unlike most ambassadors that are specific to mountain bike brands, I’m not a man. I’ve only ever won one mountain bike race (and that was distinctly local!). I’m not particularly brave nor exceptionally skilled at riding. I’ve never ridden across America, or Siberia, or even Surrey (which is where I live) for that matter. In fact the closest I have ever got to being an ambassador for anything before was handing round Ferro Rocher chocolates at an office party. Ha, ha.
Instead I am a journalist and a middle aged mum who happens to love riding my mountain bike. I also love talking about it – as well as issues that surround women’s cycling – on Twitter, Instagram and in the cycling press (and on this blog, of course). I’ve spoken about women’s cycling at the Cycle Show and Look Mum No Hands. I’ve been interviewed about women’s cycling by the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times. Happily, other riders seem to want to share in my experiences. Someone who knows about such things told me that I have become an ‘influencer’.
I’ve kind of made my own mtb trail of life, if you like, and its fantastic that Cotic want to come along for the ride.
It’s really exciting that Cotic are prepared to step off the very well worn path of conventional mtb marketing and have me on board (alongside an ambassador team of far more able riders, I hasten to add!). And I hope that what I lack in spectacular photos of me ‘getting air’ off the top of a kicker will be made up for with lots of relatable, inspiring, and entertaining insights into my ‘ordinary rider’ life. You juggle your rides in-between school runs, work deadlines and emptying the dishwasher ? I’m your girl.
A DAY OUT IN THE PEAK DISTRICT
At the end of 2016 I was invited to meet Cy Turner and his team at Cotic HQ in the Peak District. Coincidentally this area already has special memories for me: I was born in Stoke on Trent and the Peak District was where my family would go on a Sunday to get out into the great outdoors, as well as into the tea rooms at Eyam (which is the village where the plague started, though that was way before our daytrips and the tea room, obv.). So, it was good to return and note that it really hadn’t changed that much.
I met with the guys from Cotic and over some very nice chips and a sandwich I discussed ‘the state of cycling’ until my food started to go cold, at which point I let Cy and Richard get a word in edgeways. I also got to look round the factory (being a small British company, this doesn’t take too long) where the bikes are designed and built. And then, over a mug of Yorkshire Tea, we discussed a plan for 2017 – which is to just ride bikes and talk about it, basically.
I also got to try the Cotic bikes that I would be riding in 2017 – the new Cotic Flare is a 650b steel trail bike with droplink suspension and 130mm travel, and the drop bar Cotic Escapade is a steel ‘life bike’ (more on that at a later date though).
NEW BIKE DAY!
Fast forward to the first week of February and Cy and Richard drove down to the Surrey Hills to drop off the bikes. My new Flare is indeed a thing of beauty, having been custom built with some very ‘bling’ Hope components, X-Fusion forks, rear shock and dropper post, Burgtec pedals , Joystick handlebars and stem, and WTB carbon wheels, tyres, Deva women-specific saddle and grips. The lovely Hannah at Flare Clothing has also sent me a range of fantastic mtb gear to wear too (always super happy to get to try new women’s mtb clothes!).
The new This Girl Can campaign from Sport England is finally empowering women who are over 40. Here’s why it’s so important.
This Girl Can is an advertising campaign by Sport England to encourage women to participate in sport and fitness. The original campaign won more than 50 international media awards – however, for me, there was a fundamental flaw: it targeted women aged 19 -40 only. At the time of the launch I was very vocal on social media about the exclusion of older women. I felt it was wrong to leave us out: it made the campaign feel mean and had missed a great opportunity to empower all women, and not just some of us. Had Sport England given up on us because of our age? Did we not exist? It certainly looked that way to me. I made my point repeatedly and I suspect, therefore, that I wasn’t very popular in the This Girl Can social media department.
So I’m glad they have finally invited older women to the party by widening the target age group to include those in their 50s and 60s. Here’s why:
Because it acknowledges a truly invisible (in the media) but very active group of women – those of us who are over 40 and who take part in sport or work out. There are so many of us – in my experience alone I can think of the group of women I have ridden mountain bikes with for the last 12 years (average age 50), the women in my yoga group who are grandmothers that Down Dog, the mtb and road cycling age group champion I know who will always be quicker than me – and most of the men she rides with, the local e-bike women’s group (my jury is out on what age is the right age for an e-bike btw – but they’re riding bicycles and having fun so that’s the main thing), the horse riders I know with weather-beaten cheeks and hay-bale lugging strength, the spin class regulars who know all the words to the Bowie songs, the lone runner (and I mean running, and not just shuffling along arthritically) we pass in the woods each week who must be 70 if she is a day.
Do you know how strong you need to be to go against the tide of expectation?
The ‘isn’t mountain biking a bit risky at your age?’ comments, shopping for kit that is only advertised on 20 year olds, having a male rider on the trails stop and say ‘how come you’ve got a bike like that?’ about my carbon fibre 50th birthday present. But we are a tight group. We support each other. And we know the benefits – the fitness, the friendships, the sense of achievement, the joy of defying others’ expectations based on our age.
Last year I had a minor operation. As I lay in pre-op area, chatting to the theatre nurse as she did her stuff, I noticed her eyes flick to the monitor and a slight pause in her conversation. Then she asked “Do you do a lot of exercise?” “Yes…” “Oh that’s fine then. You have a very low heart rate – but that explains it”. That.
And, of course, the campaign now reaches out to the women of my age, and older, who really need to know that it’s not too late to start getting fit or take up a new sport. I have friends who are younger than me who already have health issues linked to obesity and inactivity. I know some who are locked in that ‘I’m too fat and embarrassed about the way I look’ to show up to any exercise class or just to ride a bike, or run round the park. They think they have missed the fitness boat, or at least they won’t get on board until they’ve lost that stone in weight that constantly eludes them, or had the painful knee fixed or just woken up to the fact that, despite what the media consistently tells us, there is no age barrier for fitness and the life-enhancing benefits that it delivers.
But this isn’t just a message to those who have hit middle age and beyond. Making active older women more visible encourages younger women to think of sport and fitness as a life long activity. Find a sport or a workout you love and it will pay you back for years to come, not just the six weeks it takes you to drop a dress size, get fit enough to run 5k or squeeze into last year’s bikini. Because its not about what you look like, its about how you feel. And it feels good. And that feeling never diminishes, no matter how old you are.
So a wrong has been put right. Hurrah! Although does anyone else feel a little uneasy about being called a girl? #thiswomancan 🙂
You can see more from This Girl Can here.
I love the snow – and I love mountain biking in it too.
So when I woke up to a winter wonderland in the Surrey Hills this morning I didn’t waste any time (because let’s face it, British snow can’t wait to melt).
Not that I got out of the door first thing as getting dressed for a snow-venture takes so long. Two pair of socks. Leggings. Shorts. Four layers on the top (three merino, one fleece lined jacket). Merino neck warmer. Superwarm gloves. Helmet. Fivetens. And the bike – it would be foolish to forget that.
Then I rode/walked down the road (v.v. icy) shivering and wondering if I should have worn another jacket, before mounting and starting the first climb…and immediately over heating, of course.
Wardrobe issues aside, the creaking of the fresh snow as the wheels break through it is quite wonderful to witness, and its surprising how much grip you have too (“You’re brave to be out on a bike!” commented a passing walker, clearly no expert on the properties of mountain bike tyres).
There wasn’t enough snow today to get the true “I’m skiing…on a bike!” sensation going down hill, but it was still a lot of fun that was not to be missed.
So if anyone wants to fly me out to Finland with a fat bike, just get in touch. 🙂
Photos: Paul Mitchell
A wonderful t-shirt or the Great Divide adventure ride across America? You decide!!
This fantastic t shirt was created by adventure cyclist Magdalena Schoerner *. Her designs celebrate cycling adventures near and far, and this one is dedicated to the Peak District (which, coincidentally, is near where I grew up and where I got my love of the great outdoors!)
On a practical level, this t shirt is top quality and a great fit – no making do with men’s sizes here – and priced at a Christmas present friendly £20. You can see more of Madga’s t-shirts – and buy them – at Back of Beyond Cycling.
* Now, while researching this post Magda sent me a link to photos taken on her epic adventure this summer when she rode the iconic Great Divide bike route from Canada to Mexico – a journey of approximately 2,770 miles. Do have a look because they are fantastic, but be warned – they will have you itching to start planning your own trip. So, who fancies a plane ticket to Canada for Christmas…
Over the next few days I’m going to post some fab Christmas present suggestions for the cyclist in your life! Or yourself, of course!!!
First, here’s something for the mountain biker in your life (assuming that a full carbon downhill rig is out of budget!).
The team behind Ridden.CC are mountain bikers based in the Surrey Hills, and their new range of t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, posters and mugs are a celebration of our favourite trails, both local and beyond – and of mountain biking in general. The t-shirt above is one of my favourites and is a homage to Barry Knows Best, the much loved descent across Holmbury Hill and down to Peaslake. It’s a trail I ride at least once a week so I feel fully entitled to wear it (and thank you, guys, for sending me this one!). I love the ‘tyre track’ trees and the suggestion of the trail running through them.
Btw, and as you can see here, the gear is not all Surrey Hills related…
…and so do check out the rest of the range if your gift-ee rides further afield!
This Peaslake trail mug would make a great stocking filler too – with hours of fun to be had ticking off the trails you’ve just enjoyed, while slurping that essential post-ride cup of tea.
So, here’s the at-a-glance lowdown:
What: Barry Knows Best (forest) t-shirt £24.99 (t-shirts start at £19.99) and Peaslake Trails Mug £10.99
Who for: the clothes are probably for the male mountain biker in your life as the women’s fit options and kids sizes are currently limited. Mugs, of course, are fun for all.
Why: A win-win case of ‘Been there, ridden that, got the t-shirt’.
What else: At the time of going publishing, if you spend £25 or more at the site you can get a free poster worth £14.99!
A cycling adventure with sunshine, mountains, new friends and a lot of Spanish wine. What’s not to like?
With the nights drawing in and everything getting a bit cold, damp and muddy, I’m looking back to sunnier rides!
Earlier this year I was invited to join Exodus Travels Cycling in Rioja adventure – five days cycling (a manageable 250km in total, on and off road on sturdy 29″ hardtails) from Burgos and following the Najerilla river to the Rioja region and its vineyards, followed by a day in Bilbao.
We joined a group of riders from the UK and Australia, and made some fantastic new friends in the process. To be honest before I set off I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on holiday with a bunch of strangers – but any doubts I had had were blown away by the company of these lovely people. I also learnt some new words from my Antipodean mates – smoke-o (a tea break) and slippery-dip (a water slide) being the only two that are repeatable in polite company. Needless to say, we did a lot of laughing as well as cycling and wine tasting!
We also enjoyed the knowledge and support of our local (and rather handsome) guides, as well as staying in some beautiful family owned hotels.
Northern Spain is blessed with a warm climate, lots of sunshine (though when it rains, it really really rains!), quiet roads and beautiful mountains. Consequently, as you can imagine, it was a joy to ride there.
It was also a pleasure to sample the wines of the La Rioja region at the vineyards we visited. Some are small, some a little more showy – this one, for instance, was designed by Frank Gehry.
I’m no expert on wine but some of my new Aussie mates were, and the penultimate night saw us enjoy a ‘taste off’ between one of the finest wines of the La Rioja region, and a wine of similar standing that they had bought over from Australia. That, I can assure you, was a good night (and I would note which wine won – if only I could remember).
Finally a day and night in beautiful Bilbao. The incredible Guggenheim gallery (again designed by Frank Gehry) is a must-see, and I really enjoyed the very moving Louise Bourgeois exhibition that we saw there. We also spent several hours exploring and drinking coffee in the old town. It’s quite a small city so you can see a lot in a day, either on foot or by hiring a bike.
We spent the evening by the river too, enjoying a Festival of light and a lot of delicious Pintxos (the region’s tapas!) – this time washed down by lots of Spanish beer! By the way, the food here is amazing and, compared to the UK, eating out is relatively inexpensive.
What a wonderful adventure, stuffed with so many great memories: if you haven’t ridden in this area or visited Bilbao, I recommend that you do. 🙂