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!).
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
FINDRA REVIEW: Muddy fun vs stylish cycling wear.
Performance sportswear brand FINDRA make stylish mountain bike shorts as well as innovative merino outdoor apparel for women riders. Their Ms-Mo Relaxed Shorts look great – but how will they cope with a mud-splattered soaking on a typical winter ride? There’s only one way to find out!
‘Just ride straight through the middle of the puddle”.
I’m halfway along one of my favourite trails, riding it as I have done a thousand times before – only this time I have a photographer in tow – and I’m trying to soak the shorts that FINDRA has sent to me in mud, in order to give them a thorough review. But despite the fact that conditions are distinctly wet, I’m not getting the result I expected.
Ride a slippery, muddy, puddle strewn trail without a mudguard and you end up with a bum covered in mud, right? Not in this case. While the bike looked as if it had been spray painted with sludge, the shorts seemingly refused to get as dirty. And any splatters of mud that did settle could be wiped away. No matter how hard I tried, these shorts resisted. Even by the end of the ride the water repellent fabric was still remarkably mud-free.
While this may be tricky for photography, it is a bonus for mountain biking in wet conditions. A soggy bum is a sure fire way to spoil your ride and it was lovely to be able to get round in comfort instead. So, thumbs up for that – unless, of course, you regard a muddy backside as a must-have badge of honour in which case, and from personal experience, I suggest you try lycra shorts.
Performance in mud aside, I also love the look of these shorts – and not just because the orange contrast zips coordinate with my bike (actually that’s not quite true – it’s a major reason why I love them!). I also love this navy blue shade – a really nice alternative to black. They are also available in Chocolate (the colour, not the confectionary!), and Indigo Denim with white contrast stitching. The branding is subtle but stylish, which makes a welcome change compared to the gear offered by many mountain bike ranges.
The two-way stretch fabric feels quite lightweight but is plenty tough enough. I will layer these shorts over tights in the depths of winter, and then wear them as they are for the rest of the year. The stretch makes them very comfortable to ride in and there is plenty of room to pedal.
The cut is streamlined – they are not all baggy, so no chance of looking like a 12-year old school boy in them – and shaped at the hip for a more tailored look. Lengthwise they finish at the knee but fit over my knee pads easily. Finally a word about the tailored waistband: it is super smart compared to an elasticated version, but, thanks to the stretch, just as comfortable.
Like many mountain bike shorts, Ms-Mo Relaxed shorts are not padded. I wore mine with padded pants (link) but you could just as easily wear a padded liner beneath.
Verdict? Best looking mountain bike shorts I’ve seen, with performance to match.
£90, exclusively from Wiggle.
Read my review of Findra’s merino range (and see more images of the shorts!) here.
Photos: Paul Mitchell
Beaches, sunshine – and every type of trail you can think of (except mountains!).
The Cami de Cavalls is a 185km ancient path that follows the Menorcan coastline (so closely that at some points you’re almost in the sea). You can hike, run or horse ride around it (it was originally designed for defence and was patrolled by soldiers on Menorquin horses), or you can ride a mountain bike.
It is an extraordinary trail featuring gullies, rocks (so many rocks), valleys, wetlands, sandy coves, short, steep rocky climbs and – what goes up etc. – steep drops. It is also a constantly changing landscape: Menorca has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and you experience almost every Ecosystem in the Mediterranean world as you ride. So, you are riding boulder strewn headlands one minute, then rooty trails, sandy beaches and board walks the next.
We took four days to do our trip and everyday was an adventure mostly centred around a) staying on the bikes and b) staying on the trails, most of which are pretty remote. However get yourself to civilisation and Menorcans are super friendly and always happy to point you in the right direction or help out. A special mention for the restaurant owner (and mountain biker) who put in a call to the bike hire shop for us when a tubeless tyre, several inner tubes, mobile reception and our ability to master mountain bike terminology in Spanish all failed. Restored by good will, coffee and new inner tubes, we were soon back on our bikes again.
We wish we had taken longer to ride the trail as there are so many sights to see – we all wanted to shop in beautiful Ciutadella, for instance (I am so going back there, and next time in a more glamourous outfit) – and beautiful beaches to enjoy and often we just didn’t have time to stop. We did prioritise skinny dipping in the sea though – it is beyond inviting when you’re two hours into a ride in full sunshine (note – we visited in October and the riding temperature was perfect).
There are no mountains – but there is one great big climb. Part of the coast is unsuitable for bikes and so the trail took us inland. We were warned that it was an uphill slog though compared to some of the rockier sections of coast we found it quite easy: certainly there are longer and harder climbs at home in Surrey (yes, really). Just goes to show how your skills are built according to what you’re used to riding. Note though – this is mountain bike territory only: I love this sign!!!
No holiday is complete without a souvenir, and we all came home with lovely thigh bruises having lost arguments with tricky rocky sections. Having had post-fall elbow surgery six months ago I count myself pretty lucky that it was only my thigh got a battering. I also got a lovely set of pedal bruises up the back of one leg thanks to the sections where I had to carry/push/climb the bike over rocky ledges and steps that my inner Rachel Atherton couldn’t quite rise to the challenge of.
Our trip was booked via specialists Cami de cavils 360 . They arranged our accommodation, bike hire – full sus Trek 29ers (so glad I didn’t take my own as its bike-batteringly rough terrain), provided a thorough briefing, map and Garmin, booked accommodation, moved our bags each day and were very nice to us.
We’d ticked the accommodation box marked ‘comfort’ – a good move, as we stayed in some quite lovely hotels. I particularly appreciated the one that had a spa within ten metres of my bedroom door. I tested it out (purely in the name of research, of course) and can happily report that is just what you need after a dusty, hot day on a mountain bike.
Exercise makes you very hungry indeed so we made good use of each hotel’s self service breakfast and dinner buffets, and ate at beachside bars at lunchtime. There are fewer of these than you might expect – Menorca is largely ‘unspoilt’ – but they were all good.
This is one beautiful island with some amazing riding. Visit soon.
I am really happy to report that, as well as writing here, I have been invited to contribute to the Velovixen blog each month. Velovixen is a UK-based women’s cycling site. Founded by Liz and Phil Bingham a couple of years ago, the site champions women’s cycling as well as selling some great kit. I am really looking forward to working with them.
Here is a link to the first post I have written for Velovixen, on a subject which is very dear to my heart – outdoor exercise! Enjoy, and don’t forget to add your own reasons for working out outdoors (I am sure there are more than six!).
The wonders of working out in the woods (and some awesome mountain bike skills).
I’m a huge fan of exercising outdoors. A gym full of mirrors is every shade of wrong when you could be gulping fresh air into your needy lungs and plugging into the delicious power supplied by the sun on your back. When you’re so fixed on nailing the next berm on the trail that you forget what your thighs look like or how many calories were in your breakfast: that’s a good place to be. The trails that I ride with my girlfriends may be less than forty miles from London, but you can forget about mirrors. Come to think about it, you can also forget about mobile phone signal and sign posts. So every ride is a little adventure, as well as a workout.
We found this jumps section recently. Despite being a few metres away from a trail we know well, we’d never spotted it before. We dismounted our bikes to have a closer look (you don’t get to do that in a spin class!) and discovered a series of ‘tiger trap’ pits built beneath it. It looked truly terrifying.
Before long, two riders approached through the woods and, without even slowing down to look, soared over it. They pulled up ahead, and walked back past us to have another go. Now, we’re not really in the habit of talking to strangers in the woods, but this is outdoor exercise so you can talk to anyone, so long as they’re doing of a version of what you’re doing. We asked about their bikes (Specialized Enduro, quite heavy – no wonder they were pushing up hill.) We asked them if they found jumps scary (‘to be honest, yes’). They jumped again, I took some pictures on my phone (above and below), said thanks and we went our separate ways.
I will never ride this jumps section for a trillion different reasons that mostly revolve around being a complete coward. That doesn’t matter. What counts is being outside on my bike, and being open to whatever experience the trails choose to throw at us. Which, in this case, is happily acknowledging that some riders are far more awesomely skilled than I will ever be, and that’s fine.