Most of us have been there at some point. You roll up to the trail feature – roots, a drop, a jump – again and again, with your heart beating hard, gripping the handlebars tightly. At the last minute you stop dead. Eventually, you walk or roll around it, vowing to come back and beat it another day.
Sometimes we encounter things on the trail that scare us. While there is no easy way to overcome fear, there is certainly no better feeling than conquering it.
Who better to ask about conquering your fear than a women who excels in a discipline of mountain biking that requires nerves of steel; downhill racer Rachel Atherton. Currently dominating the UCI World Cup DH podiums, she rides with amazing composure and style.
These are Rachel’s top tips on beating your MTB demons.
The more you do something, the less scary it is. Fact!
Time on a bike counts for so much. The more time you spend on your bike, the more variety of situations you will find yourself in, and it will become normal.
This means you will soon be so comfortable on your bike that the enjoyment takes over from the fear.
I often find that when I am nervous or I "fear" something, it is because I know deep down that I am not prepared for it. For example if you are scared to try a jump on a trail, prepare yourself by doing all the smaller jumps and drops so much that you know you are ready for the next step. If you prepare yourself by taking small steps the end goal is just another step to take.
Relax and let the bike move
This is quite specific but often when I work with women I can see that they are very nervous of the bike moving around underneath them. For mountain bikers it’s important to realise that the bike wants to go forward, to keep moving, to find the smooth line, so sometimes just having a little faith and letting the bike do it’s own thing really helps.
Relax, don’t be so rigid, have a little faith in your bike and your ride will be smoother and faster for it.
The three E’s; Evidence, Energy and Enjoyment
Evidence. Arm yourself with evidence of past experiences when you have ridden or dealt with something that you were nervous of, and I bet more often than not you were fine.
Where is your Energy focused? Make sure it’s in the right place. Don’t waste it wondering what might happen, just focus on what you know will happen. For example; I will try this jump, I will pedal out of the turn, I will take off, and I will land...and there will be another day.
I use that a lot. No matter what happens here today, everything goes on, tomorrow will come, and the next day, and I will go on.
Make sure you are enjoying yourself! Why did you start riding in the first place? I always find that I ride my best and am most confident when I am enjoying myself; laughter makes things seem a million times easier. If you crash, who cares! Get back on! If you get hurt, you will heal!
Realise you are not made of glass...by riding in the mud!
Make an effort to ride in the mud and rain, because this is when you crash a lot and it's so funny you don't get hurt. Crashing makes you realise that you are not made of glass and it’s ok to take a spill. It’s rarely as bad as you think it will be.
Ride for yourself
Make it your own, ride to your strengths and forget everyone else. If you are scared, make your ride suit you. This could be finding a line that you can ride through a gnarly section, even if you go right around, or tailoring a horrible gym session so that you can know you can make it to the end.
At races I live by this rule, I make things my own. I don’t care if everyone is riding straight through a really bumpy gnarly section, because I know if I can find a smoother line through it, I will be faster overall.
People have different strengths, so know yours, and ride by them. Forget what everyone else is doing.
Get out there, get riding, and above all else – enjoy yourself!