Overcoming Fear After a Crash
I fell in love with mountain biking instantly. Everything about it attracted me; speed, nature, exercise. Growing up in Montreal, my family had a cottage in upstate New York in the middle of the Adirondack mountains. We were surrounded by countless trails, beautiful rolling single track with technical roots and smooth granite slabs. My first mountain bike was a Trek 3900 and I was convinced that I was invincible on it; something within me clicked and my obsession with mountain biking began.
A few years later, I wanted to take my riding to the next level on a family trip to Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is a different beast for mountain biking than the trails I was used to. We hired a guide and confidently set about our day of tackling as many double black diamond trails as we could. Everything was great, until it wasn’t. Rolling red rock with late afternoon sun angles makes it nearly impossible to see the trail. I pedalled right off a cliff, full body over bars, and landed hard on my left side. I was completely in shock; the trail was called “Easy Breezy” and it wasn’t supposed to be challenging. Ultimately, the results of the crash came back as a fractured patella (kneecap), severe contusions along the left side of my body, and a hairline fracture in my left elbow. The idea of mountain biking now seemed nearly impossible. I was scared of the machines I used to love and didn’t trust myself to ride anymore.
Back in Toronto, I put my mountain bike in storage and bought a road bike. I healed physically from the accident within a few weeks of the crash, but it took me almost three years to face my mountain bike again. During my recovery, I picked up tips for conquering my fears from everyone I knew. The tips below are some of the strategies I used to overcome my fears and found my way back to mountain biking.
Tips to Overcome your Fears
Get Back on your Bike
The first step to overcoming a mental block after an injury or crash, serious or not, is to simply get back on your bike and get back to what you love. It doesn’t matter what trail or bike you ride. Just get back on a bike and get outside! Starting with road cycling, then progressing to gravel/cross helped me re-develop my confidence on a bike enough to try mountain biking again.
Find your Flow
To me, the joy of mountain biking stems from its simplicity; you and your bike working together. The feeling of tires snapping through a tight dirt corner, the pounding of your heart beat as you summit a steep climb, the sensation of air squishing out of suspension on a descent. Your “flow” comes from within; it doesn’t necessarily mean riding as hard or as fast as you can. It’s the feeling that you get when you connect with your bike, and through your bike, connect with nature. I work on finding flow by riding at a speed where I am comfortable barely using my brakes and on trails that I am familiar with, where there are no surprise technical spots. This lets me get in the zone, where I’m focused solely on how I feel while riding without stressing about what lies ahead on the trail. My favorite trail networks for working on finding flow are Durham Forest, just north of Toronto, and Bear Creek in Denver, Colorado.
I often find myself wanting to get out for a ride after work but struggling to connect with friends to make the timing work for both of us. Learning to ride anyways, even when you can’t connect with a ride buddy, has created some of my most rewarding experiences on a bike. It’s almost a form of meditation for me. You can ride the trails you want to ride and stop to session technical features that you might normally just ride around. I am also a huge proponent of riding with friends and following a wheel you trust, but a tried and true method for gaining confidence on the bike is taking the time to ride and explore by yourself. I recommend riding solo at off peak trail hours to alleviate some of the stress associated with heavy bike traffic passing through sections of the trail.
Set Yourself Some Atteignable Goals
After every ride, I like to recognize one thing that I did well or one fear that I conquered and set one goal for the next time I ride. This helps me to relieve some of the pressures that I put on myself, while still encouraging improvement in my riding. Adjusting your mindset can completely alter the way you ride. For example, on a ride last week I was able to summit a technical climb that I had previously struggled with on numerous group rides. I went back to the trail for a solo ride and sessioned the climb for an hour; I fell countless times, but finally found a line I was comfortable with and made it up the climb. After reaching the top of the climb, I took a minute to catch my breath and to take pride in my success. My goal for the next time I’m on that trail is simply to do the same climb again and feel confident in my line choice!
I’ve been using these tips over the past year to gain back confidence while mountain biking. In just a few weeks, I will be racing my first mountain bike race in 5 years, the Yeti Beti Bike Bash in Denver, Colorado. Stay tuned for how it turns out! Feel free to reach out to me with any of your tips for overcoming fears while mountain biking or to let me know if any of my tips help you.
Corinne, proud ambassador of the PEPPERMINT Collective