The great Czech novelist, Milan Kundera, once defined the feeling of Vertigo as stemming not just from the fear of heights but from the fear of jumping. I’ve done it myself, as I stand there at the precipice’s edge, I imagine the consequences of the fall physically to myself and my loved ones. And, it is these thoughts that create the fear.
This ‘thinking too much’ about what may happen can stop me in my tracks when cycling, too, for no other reason than the fear of the consequences. Two examples spring to mind:
I had a nasty tumble 2 summers ago on a technical descent that I had always cleaned with ease. For some reason that day, I lost my bottle halfway down. I slammed on the anchors and attempted to bail out, but gravity and velocity conspired against me. As a result, I went arse over tit onto a large slab of rock that broke 2 of my ribs and my hand. Now, every time I go there I bottle out. This fear has overtaken the knowledge that, prior to the accident, I had cleared this descent a 100 times with no problems.
The second example is about Northshore boardwalk. Why is it that I can blast tyre width singletrack at high speed, but get me a foot high off the ground on three foot wide boardwalk and I crap myself?! No matter how hard I try, my brain takes over and I just think about how much it would hurt if I fell off the side.
Is there a solution? Well, there are possibly many. If you have a similar problem with ‘the fear,’ then any of the following may help:
Find a technique to disengage your brain – personally, I have found that night riding has helped me tackle some obstacles that I thought I couldn’t overcome. This is mainly because I couldn’t see them until it was too late! Returning in the daylight , I now tackle them with confidence.
Wider handlebars and 20mm bolt thru forks will inspire more confidence, by the very fact that you will have more balance. Similarly, the widest tyres that you can get for your rims will give more contact with the ground.
Attending a bike skills training day could increase your confidence, not just your bike handling. There are many regional courses available to suit your budget. Some trainers, such as downhill legend Nigel Page, also offer one to one training in the off season.
Think about your local terrain. This is where you ride the most. Is your bike suitable to the job in hand? If not, think about a more suitable bike. Personally, the added weight of longer travel bikes is less important to me than the extra confidence they give me over my XC bike.
But, the bottom line is this:
Know your limits. It’s far cooler to keep safe, than getting hurt trying to impress your better skilled mates.