You know the feeling. It’s that anticipation, but with a slightly sick sensation low down in the stomach. Like the butterflies in your stomach all just threw up. You’ve been riding great, firing on all cylinders. You’re sighting all kinds of trick moves, and nailing lines like a pro. Suddenly, you get this cold feeling as you realize, “I haven’t hit the dirt in a long time.
” It’s just a matter of time. Sooner or later, you know the odds will get stacked against you. Here’s a stumper for you: you throw a coin in the air nine times, and nine times it comes up tails. What are the odds that it’s going to come up tails on the tenth throw?
Well, of course the answer is 50/50, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. The odds of it coming up tails ten times in a row start to get quite small. So yeah, individually it’s 50/50, but in the longterm it’s inevitable the other side of the coin will rear it’s ugly head. Hence that feeling of impending doom when you start to buck the industry standard of one serious crash every hundred rider days or so. So what do you do? Stop riding? Yeah... right. Hold back? Get angry? Well, it’s probably slightly different for everyone, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of my strategies and while we’re at it, some grody and gory stories too.Odds are, you'll take a beating.
It was pretty entertaining developing this story. I talked with a ton of riding friends about it. Besides the fact that it’s like some morbid fascination we all have, it was awesome when you start setting up the premise of that deja vu feeling, and almost every time the sentence is finished for you. Half of them were picking loam out of their teeth as they were laughing about it. It’s a dirty not-so-secret truism of the sport. We fall down, all the time.
First of all, a few things to realize about "The Bail". The vast majority are non-issues. We miss a line and come off. Probably no injury to speak of, maybe a bruise or scratch. I call these "One Ride Events", as they happen almost every ride. "Ten Ride Events" are about one tenth as common or so. These are those “near-miss” situations, where you hit pretty hard but aren’t really hurt. Twisted ankle, tweaked shoulder, sore ribs, that sort of thing. You can feel these ones, but no real harm done. Then there are the Hundred Ride Events, where you get hurt. I mean, you need some kind of external medical assistance in the form of a visit to a licensed physician. Fractures, stitches, concussions and the like. That hundred ride number is just a name, it’s not going to be exactly a hundred rides. It varies according to laws of chance, and can be tweaked by many factors like personality, climate, geography, and the like. The rest of this month’s contribution is about how to try to tilt the odds against having that Hundred Ride Event in your favour.
First up, know what you’re getting into. Like I said, most crashes are really minor, and stupid. Almost every time, they’re your own damn fault. That’s some interesting info to delve into. See, almost no one loses the plot on the big stuff (a variable term, I know, but lets say ‘Big Stuff’ means outside of your own personal comfort zone
). Typically, the big moves with the big consequences are at a level where padding and armour are of negligible value, a crash is likely to be catastrophic, and we’re paying a LOT of attention to what we’re doing. We’re focused and well prepared for the task.
In contrast, when we’re riding within our limits on terrain we know, we tend to lose focus. This happens to just about everyone sooner or later. You are at the start or finish of one of your regular rides, and you eat a massive dirt sandwich on a flat and level bit of trail. You were thinking about something stupid like losing your job because you spend too much time on your bike or something, an just through stupid inattention went totally OTB. Ironically, this is typical of a ride where we’d opt out of more padding and protection.
So not only are we open to more chances of a mistake leading to a crash, but we’re less prepared for it as well. I refer to this as the “Eyes Wide Shut” syndrome. Yes, there’s an orgy scene, but it’s a scrawny Nicole Kidman being directed by Stanley Kubrick, so it’s not hot and the rest of the movie is even worse. Stop thinking about stupid crap and pay attention, you’re riding your bike. Oh look, a pretty bird, doh!
On the subject of armour... Yes, wear it. Especially if you’re a new rider. But please, be realistic about what it’s doing for you. They’re very thin and skimpy bits of plastic and foam. Excellent for avoiding scrapes and cuts, but useless for anything more serious. Full face helmets protect your teeth and jaw, but increase the risk of neck and spinal cord injury. Leatt braces are not 100% proven to do anything (it's a bit unethical to test broken necks), but are suspected in aggravating certain types of thoracic spinal injuries. Kidney belts are actually a fairly good way to reduce the severity of an internal injury, and yet almost nobody uses them. The built-in belts on Dainese suits are quite good, but you don’t see many of those suits and jackets any more. Bottom line is that armour choices are as much driven by fashion trends as actual safety issues.
Personally, I wear more armour when it’s cold and less when it’s hot. Hot weather increases body temperature, which in turn reduces the ability to make good decisions. Poor decision making is the number one cause of crashes in the first place. I prefer avoidance to mitigation when I’m creating my own crash strategy. In plainer terms, I’d rather not have the crash in the first place instead of trying to manage the effects. So for me it's more a last line of defence with the pads. Besides, if you let your body temp go up a degree or two too far, you’re on a short trip to the ER. Heat stroke and hyperthermia suck, I'd rather get stitches, thanks.Somethings wrong with your visor, dude.
A ton of what I’m talking about here isn’t so much things like weather and equipment, but rather the way that we as people perceive this factors. In the field of risk management, these intra personal factors are referred to as subjective risks. Almost all risks in mountain biking are subjective, in that we are the ones making the decisions to go or not.. Ego, personality, Kodak courage, these are all factors that are internally affecting decisions. Yes, certain things like temperature and substances can affect our decision making processes, but we have the opportunity to manage those factors well ahead of time by thinking critically. Basically, we hurt ourselves because we’re kind of stupid. Just being aware that you are your own worst enemy puts you well on your way to making better choices.
OK, so the brain is turned on now, right? That’s the first part, the edumacationary section. Critical thinking as part of a harm reduction policy if you’re stealing my opinions for your thesis. Knowing When to Hold ‘Em, and When to Fold ‘Em
Yeah, I already mentioned it. Call it foreshadowing. Basically, if you don’t want to have a big bail, don’t ride your bike. Simple. Except that if you’re on Pinkbike, you’ve mortgaged your soul to ride bikes, and you’re also probably really motivated to progress in the sport. Progression and crash avoidance are two diametrically opposed activities. It’s very hard to progress when you’re not crashing, as we tend to learn from our mistakes. However, awareness of certain factors can limit your crashes while you progress. Lateral Deviation, the curse of our people.
First off, as mentioned we are our own worst enemies. We work hard so we can go out and play in our time off. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in making such a large investment of our limited leisure time that we’ll forget that it’s better to whimper and run away at times than to push the envelope. This is also known as the “risk vs. reward” argument. Basically, is it really going to be that fun to drop that sketchy old POS drop to flat just because it happens to be there, or can you skip it and session some better stuff further down the trail? You look forward to riding all week, why blow it on something dumb?
Our second worst enemies are those people we also sometimes call friends. Tis is the effect of peer pressure. Nowadays, with everyone having camera’s on their phone, DSLR equivalents in their hip pocket, and HD video capture on the helmet, Kodak courage is a serious pitfall. It’s always been like that, as evidenced by the many pics in this story showing crashes in action. Yes, they’re all from my own archives, and there’s plenty more where they came from. Try to not get sucked in. Although a good crash picture is always going to get some views. ust like the line from Natural Born Killers... “We’ll make you famous.”If all of your friends rode off the top of a snow covered mountain, would you?
In a similar vein, never underestimate your riding buddies. Just because you schooled ‘em last time out, don’t think you can just fly on autopilot this time. We’re a competitive bunch. My last set of stitches was from exactly that. I’d gotten used to Skinny trashing me on the way up, and I would return the favour on the way down. It’s fun. So I should have been more aware when he made that quick little shoulder check to see if I was following him in on this rock chute. I realized on entering that I’d gone a bit too far left on approach but what the hell... Skinny rode it. I then proceeded to lose the front end halfway in, and 5 stitches later landed in the hospital. At least in BC you’re almost assured of running into other riders in the waiting room where you can compare wounds. It’s the little things in life.
You can also get angry when things are starting to go sideways. I’ve never seen this work out, but it’s massively entertaining to other people around. You start hucking your gear around, being a bit of an ass, it’s going to lead to a certain kind of satisfaction in those around you when you get smacked with the karma stick. Deep breaths, settle down, focus on the basics. Anger just doesn’t work. Emotion, like many other factors, can cloud judgment and lead to poor decisions.Decision Making Skills 101 - stay left.
On the other hand, you can’t just wimp out on everything. One line I used to use a lot is “Crashes and me don’t get along, so we’ve agreed to leave each other alone.
” Funny, yes. Cowardly, yes. Sure, I wasn’t getting hurt much, but I was also not really progressing much. But there are ways to attain progression without taking stupid chances. Again, lots of factors can come into play here. Mountain biking is one of those sports that combines the need for high functioning critical thinking with high performance athletic ability. You need your sleep, and furthermore you need good nutrition and hydration to go along with that. Rest is paramount. You need your sleep to perform at a high level. You need lots of gas in the tank in the form of good food, and of course you need some water to process that energy and to help keep your body running cool. Take away any of those things and you’re back to making dumb decisions.I hate myself, and I want to die...
So, maybe rethink how many pitchers you’re downing at Garfinkles the night before a big day on the trails. Obviously, getting hammered before hitting the park is a surefire way to meet the fine folks at the ER. But a hangover is nearly as debilitating. There’s also lots of other medications and substances, both over the counter and illicit, that can destroy your critical thinking. Anything that also damages your reflexes and balance (like cough syrup, opiates, and alcohol) is an obvious substance to avoid before riding.
You need to be aware of fatigue from other factors too. Get rest before the big ride, but watch yourself throughout the day. We as a species are not equipped to deal with high levels of stimulation for extended periods of time. We can go at ultra-high intensity for about 30 seconds, high intensity for about 2 minutes or so, and then we’re basically wired for long term output up to several hours. This is why World Cup DH, with intervals of around 4 minutes at ultra-high intensity, is such a brutal event. Many of the trails I’m doing now involve high speed riding for up to an hour with little or no stopping. It’s difficult to hold your focus for this length of time. If you feel yourself tiring, don’t hold back. Instead, ride at full intensity but take short breaks to recover every 5-10 minutes. This is a much better recipe for success, and it will also train you up so you can rider longer without stopping.
Any patroller at a bike park will tell you about “Last Run”. Yes, of course it’s your last run when you can’t ride anymore...ha ha. But there’s a huge increase in crashes at the end of the day. Why? Simple. You’re tired, and when you're tired not only do your reaction times start to dramatically slow, but you also make poor decisions. One of my worst crashes was at Whistler (of course), when at the end of a ridiculous day of top to bottom Garbo runs totalling something like 35k vertical feet, I went for a final run to sweep A-Line. What happened was i got the high speed shale section and thought to myself, “you know, I’ve had a huge day and I’m getting tired. Maybe I should ease up a bit here...
” Chattered on some washout, lost my hand off the bars and --- BOOM! Chest first into the tulies on the right. Luckily the liver heals itself well. What I learned here was: “Do, or do not...there is no try.
”Wishing I was anywhere but here right now.
Thank you, Yoda. Pretty straightforward advice. Know what you are doing before you start. Too many riders just jump on and bull into it. Rarely does this succeed. The North Shore is a great place to see what I mean. Just about the entire trail network is so technical and tight that you are always “on”, in that you don’t get much of a run-in to anything. As most people need at least 30’ to get their balance and center in line, you can see where this is going. It’s very common to see people all twitchy, fumbling for their pedal, as they’re trying to get going, and now they’re also trying to deal with a rooty drop onto a slippery log. Seriously, did you think that through? Nope. To “Do” properly, think about how you’re going to make this work for you. Stop, look, visualize, and then go back up the trail a good 30-50’ and get it together. Don’t be such a slacker. It’s just a few feet of pushing your bike.
Put another way (and much punchier to hear on the internal soundtrack than a mumbling puppet
), is the Beastie Boys, “Be true to yourself and you will never fall.” Now that you’ve decided to Do and not Try, just stick with your original plan. Even a poorly conceived plan has a better chance of success in the the long run than trying to change things at the crux. It might not be pretty, but you’ll probably roll out if you just stick to your original plan. You can always go back for another look if you come up with a better, modified plan. This concept of going back and trying again is so crucial to success. I recently read a study that said that the difference between someone considered a “Master” in their field and someone who is just average is measured in the amount of time they spend practicing their art, not by some nebulous measure of in born talent. The old adage “Practice Makes Perfect” is a surefire recipe for success.
There’s all kinds of things that you can do to practice, but in essence what you are doing is eliminating variable factors. Do repeated run ins to sections that give you trouble. By doing so, you are eliminating the guesswork of the first half of the line. What I usually do is roll up to the edge a few times with no intention of actually going. I have a plan to roll in, stop, and put my foot down. What I’ve done is made a plan that is easy to succeed at. I’ve also got the speed and line for the run in dialled. By the second or third time in, I know already if I can make the move or not. The actual doing is now way more achievable than if I ran in without a plan and hit the brakes last minute. I made a plan and systematically broke down the move into achievable goals.It still hurt.
For jumping, things like foam pits and water jumps are excellent. You can try things out that you would never think about on real jumps, because you know that you can land on your head and not get hurt. Most people are able to do a good back flip into water or foam within 3 - 5 attempts. Contrast with a single head first landing on dirt, where you’re unlikely to make another attempt within several weeks if at all.
|A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way. - Mark Twain|
Of course, sooner or later, you’re still gonna eat it. This isn’t necessarily all bad. We really do learn from our mistakes, and those lessons tend to stick with us. I don’t care what the social scientists say, negative reinforcement is a powerful learning tool. If you want to progress really quickly, be willing to hit the dirt hard, and hit often.
Just be sure you can afford it. First off, you’ll break more parts this way, and you’ll also have crashes related to mechanical failures more often. You really need to make sure that your bike is running well. Dropping a chain right at the edge of an acid drop is one of the worst mechanisms for a crash that I can think of, which is probably why I hate wheelie drop moves. The current vogue of carbon parts is another trend of which I’m a bit wary. Carbon is strong and light, but still prone to catastrophic failure if it’s scratched. So when you drop the bike and your brake lever spins on the bar, don’t be surprised if the bar fails at the score mark. This is still a subjective risk, in that you can choose your parts ahead of time and you are responsible for maintaining your gear.That's gonna cost ya.
Also, can you afford to lose time at work? That time off can really add up. In Canada, it’s not too bad as we can go the hospital without worrying about the bill. I can’t imagine the costs of a collapsed lung (yes, I’ve done that too) in the US, but I’m sure it’s not cheap to spend a week in cardiac care.
One of the things I credit my long term resilience to is Judo. I took it for a couple of years when I was in my tweens. The very first thing we were taught in Judo was how to fall down. We practiced falling on our backs every session, to the point where I was able to vault over another person’s shoulders and land flat on my back with nothing more than a stinging hand. What you do is slap the ground with an open hand with your arm at roughly 30 degrees from the body. The theory is that you are absorbing a lot of force with that slap. I’ve actually split my fingertips doing this. Lots of riders that I know that I would classify as “bouncy”, or able to crash and get up without too much damage, have also spent lots of time in martial arts, gymnastics, and other sports that train you to absorb impact.Bike parkour, it's the next big thing.
When you get the feeling of impending doom, you can also try to intentionally provoke a crash. This actually works, and one of the best places to do this is on that stupid skinny crap. Watch the video, you’ll see what I mean. Skinny stuff is purposely built to be difficult to ride. You’ll probably fall off of it, and you’ll probably be going about 3km/h when you do, so it’s unlikely you will get hurt. Chances are you will get it out of your system and at the same time you will have been honing your balance skills. Besides, skinny stuff is making a comeback, and if you can ride it well it only makes the trails that feature that sort of thing more fun.
There ya go. Hopefully that can help you cut down on the incidence and severity of crashes in your immediate riding future. But you know what? Sooner or later, you’re still gonna get a good one. Then what? Well, you’ll just have to wait for Part 2 of the series, and you’ll know what to do when the music stops. But first, enjoy this little collection of clips from the past ten years or so...