Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can induce fear - and we've all felt it, be it on your first road bike rides, when experiencing your longest ever descents abroad, or during your cherry-popping criterium race.
That fear can do funny things to your muscles, causing you to tense up and grab onto the drops for dear life - it's a natural reaction, but it won't do you any good.
Ironically, your road biking experiences will be the best when you let go of that emotion, when you stop clenching your knuckles and gripping the handlebars like you're dangling off a cliff edge. Your bike is receptive to how you handle it and being nervous will make it a lot harder for you and could cause discomfort or even injury if you keep it up.
You'll be a lot safer as a relaxed rider - and whilst that might sound like an oxymoron, it is possible. Here are some tips on how to loosen up and let go of the fear.
Time in the saddle
The most effective way to become a more confident rider is just to make time to get the miles in - getting more used to your road bike and the positions available.
Every ride is different and this experience is invaluable when it comes to getting used to riding in the situations that crop up which cause you to feel nervous.
Whatever your fear - descents, climbs, riding close to other cyclists, or in the rain - facing it head on by spending time to get to know your bike will not only improve your fitness but also help you to overcome your nerves.
Strengthen your core and relax your hands
A common sign of a nervous rider is 'fizzy fingers' the feeling that your hands have gone numb because you've been holding on for dear life. This is both painful, potentially dangerous and avoidable.
Don't put all the weight through your arms and hands, meaning that you're heavy on the handlebars. Instead, work on engaging your core so that your upper body is supported and your hands are relaxed and able to focus on steering, braking and gear changes.
You might also consider getting a bike fit to ensure that you aren't over-reaching or putting your body through undue stress due to poor configuration. Try your hardest not to grip your handlebars too much but instead relax your fingers, that way you will conserve your energy and avoid losing the feeling in them.
Nail your downhill technique
I used to be really scared about riding downhill until I finally crashed into a bush because I had been braking so hard that my hands went numb.
Strangely after that moment, I seemed to just get over my downhill fear. Obviously I don't recommend crashing but once I had done it and got back up again, it wasn't as bad as I thought. I worked out that my white knuckle technique was actually more dangerous than just trying to relax.
Instead I started working on coming down to the drops to have more purchase on the brakes and also not clamping down on them but lightly feathering to avoid skidding or going over the handlebars. I'd recommend reading this guide to downhill technique that will keep you relaxed and in the most safe position possible. One cycling friend also said that singing on downhills helps her to take her mind off the descent so you could always try that too!
Cycle with confident riders
Ride with those who are confident on road bikes who can show you the best technique. Start to watch how they move on the bike and how flexible they are looking around at junctions for cars or moving over the road to turn right. Always be aware of your own bike and don't just follow them blindly but start to emulate how they navigate certain elements of their ride.
Notice that they are lightly perched on the handlebars, holding the majority of the work in their core and not through their hands. Notice that on the downhills they just glide, taking the corners in a calm and controlled way. You will soon start to pick up their good habits and apply them to your own cycling. They may also push you out of your comfort zone, taking you on more technical rides that you can definitely handle at your own pace.
Check out more road cycling technique guides here: