How to Overcome the Fear of Crashing on the Mountain Bike:
It seems that for many mountain bikers, crashing is the biggest fear when venturing out onto the trails. It’s a ‘what if’ that hinders many people from reaching their full potential or even attempting certain trails or routes. While fear is a healthy emotion that keeps us safe, it can also be overly activated and cause us to respond too strongly to our environment around us.
Even as a professional mountain biker, I still feel fear surrounding the idea of crashing and often wonder if attempting a new feature is ‘worth’ the risk. Here are the steps I take in order to confront my fear and ride away from the trail with more confidence.
Is the Fear Justified?
One of the first things I ask myself when I start to feel fear creep into my brain is the question, “Is this fear justified?” It’s an easy question to start with because the answer won’t impact the outcome of your ride.
If the answer is no, maybe because you’ve done that feature hundreds of times, then you can start explaining to yourself why there is no reason to be afraid. Start by explaining the facts to yourself. “I’ve done this before.” “I’ve done things harder than this before.” “I know how to approach this feature.” That should help you reason away at least part of the fear.
If the answer is yes, then that’s ok! Acknowledge the reasons why you are afraid. Is it because you are afraid of crashing on a big rock? Is it because you don’t know what line to take? Is it because the consequences are high? Acknowledging this feeling can help you figure out if overcoming the fear is something that you want to do or if you should save the challenge for another day.
Is the Skill Within Your Limitations?
Some people are just dare devils and they thrive on overcoming the fear. I wouldn’t place myself in that category, but I certainly understand the desire to attempt something even if it’s outside of your skill set. Especially when riding a race course or riding with a group of friends it can feel like you ‘have’ to ride something. You never ‘have’ to. Sometimes taking that pressure away can help give you better clarity.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to if you are ready to attempt the obstacle or not, but… How do you know if you’re ready?
That can be an extremely challenging question because no one can answer it for you other than you. I used to hate wrestling with that question when looking at the next challenge. Am I ready?
Here is the list of questions that I ask myself to help me determine whether or not I am ready:
- Have I done something like this before?
- Have I worked up to this?
- Do I know the mechanics of how I will do this? (For example, bunny hop, weight back, etc)
- Do I feel like I have enough time to analyze the situation?
- Have I warmed up enough?
When I can say yes to all of those questions, I know that it might be time to make an attempt.
Use The Right Equipment
Once I decide it’s time to try something new, I have to make sure I have the correct equipment to give me confidence. Not only will the right equipment make you feel safer, it will usually actually make you safer. Here is a list of the gear that helps me feel less fearful of crashing:
- Gloves (why do scrapped hands hurt so bad?)
- Knee Pads (because a little crash can be so much worse if you slice your knee)
- A full-face helmet (it can literally save your life)
- The right bike (the more suspension you have, the more confident you will likely feel)
Visualize and Watch Someone Else
In order to not fear crashing, you have to be able to envision yourself not crashing. Spend time visualizing yourself doing the feature easily and without issue. If you are struggling to imagine it, then it can be helpful to watch someone else do the feature and then imagine yourself in their place. If you are unable to picture yourself doing the feature without crashing, then it might be a sign that you aren’t ready to tackle it yet.
Reframe What Crashing Means
After all of this, you might know you’re ready, but you might also still have a fear of crashing. That’s ok. It’s completely normal. Something that has helped me navigate those emotions is to re-define what crashing means to me.
It’s easy to think that if you crash you did something wrong or were in over your head. If you followed the steps above and know that you were physically prepared then you should be confident in your decision to attempt the feature. In that case, if you crash it just means that you made a mistake. Mistakes are ok. Mistakes are learning experiences. We grow from mistakes.
To me, crashing mean that I tried something new, faster, or different than I’ve done before. That means I’m attempting to grow in my abilities. I never recommend crashing, in fact, I highly recommend avoiding it, but it is a part of the sport and it will happen. So instead of being hard on yourself and letting it contribute to more fear, let crashes teach you and inspire you to keep learning.