The Bakery: Understanding Fear in Mountain Biking

Sep 14, 2018
by Danielle Baker  
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Fear is a topic that isn't often publicly discussed in mountain biking. Admitting to feeling it can cause us to feel insecure, uncomfortable, and isolated. It wasn't until the Q&A session at the Crankworx Fox booth last year when Claire Buchar and Katrina Strand fielded a number of question about managing and overcoming fear in mountain biking, that I realized how common of an emotion it is in our sport. It also became clear, the more I spoke to athletes about it, that feeling fear is neither a limiter or predictor of success.

bigquotesI get scared often; when I am about to drop into a line for the first time or even a gnarly line I have done before. You need to be aware of your level of riding or relatable scenarios that you have worked in and apply it. You always need to ride confidently. If fear gets to you, you will have a bad time.Geoff Gulevich

Fear is simply energy - an emotion. We can encounter it multiple times in a day from crossing the street to dropping into a new line. Fear is built into us as a survival mechanism, but more often than not these days, we choose to activate it. No longer are we living in caves where mortal danger lurks around every corner, instead we pursue and engage in activities that create fear. And with this transition comes new options for managing it so that fear doesn't prevent us from performing to our fullest potential.

Claire Buchar hones her skills. Photo: Laurence Crossman-Emms

"Fear can keep you safe from physical injury and it can push you to be better. Sometimes it wins, but sometimes you overcome it and it's very rewarding. Either way, it's always there," says Claire. Being very aware of her mind and body and having the benefit of years as a professional athlete, Claire is able to offer some insight from her personal experiences, "You can't feel exactly the same every day when you wake up in the morning, so you have to learn to recognize how you're feeling and decide if the timing is right. And it's all about knowing your capabilities and what you can manage to push through." Knowing yourself this well is a result of spending the time to gain the knowledge - and hit the dirt a few times, which is why Claire advocates for slower progression. "Build your skills. Particularly the skill that scares you. By building your skills, you gain confidence and confidence brings fear down."

bigquotesI always looked up to other riders and learned a lot from them, this has helped me the most to know when to push the limits with gnarly lines and when to chill and relax. For some reason, massive jumps really scare me and it takes a lot of time to build up enough courage to send it. My nerves kick into gear and a lot of doubts enter my head. Over time I have learnt to just trust my ability to land everything I try perfectly and back the fact that I can ride a bike okay!Troy Brosnan

Jesse Melamed agrees. "Experience. That's the only tool I can trust and it's a painful learning curve, but I know from experience when my fear is correct in telling me I shouldn't do something." As a professional athlete, however, sometimes he doesn't have the choice to back down. "When I come up to a section that scares me I analyze it and see if it is actually possible for me to ride. Once I decide it's possible, I go through the different outcomes and figure out the likelihood that I will make it. If I think the reward is worth the risk, I will send it. People think I do some stupid stuff, but I don't do anything unless I really think I can do it." A key component in Jesse's success is visualization. "It's huge, if you can't visualize yourself doing it, then you shouldn't do it. Try to take small steps and tick off some tamer sections before hitting the big one you're thinking of. Do things a little different or a little bigger each ride to gain confidence in your riding, being confident that you will ride out of something goes a long way to riding out of it."

EWS Team
Jesse Melamed. Photo: Paris Gore
EWS Team

Jody Radtke is a Clinical Counsellor with a focus in sports - and an athlete herself. "When we see something that triggers the fight or flight response, the associated physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweaty palms, tense muscles are going to show up. That's what the autonomic nervous system is designed to do. And that's also the good news because we can use that information as an opportunity to notice that we're activated and then choose to do something about it rather than get on the unconscious ride to fight, flight or freeze. We can do things like breathing and visualizing. We can get off our bike and step away and do what we know to do to re-center ourselves. There are things we can do to bring ourselves back to the present moment and remind ourselves that our neurological system has just taken off. It's gone onto autopilot and that's okay. It's a good thing, it's a survival thing, except that it can stop us from doing what we want to do." Jody also believes it's possible to reframe fear in a more constructive way by backing off the mental construct we put onto it. "Typically, when we label something with fear, we really quickly tend to follow right into 'I can't, I shouldn't, I won't' - all these sorts of negative connotations. So, if we can back up from that and label it as energy, or a feeling, or an emotion, then we can back off of it into the sensation; and maybe it's just butterflies. Butterflies can also mean excitement, 'there's something really cool and positive that I might get out of this experience.' That just takes it out of that fight or flight brain, the survival kind of zone, and brings it back into our conscious processing brain. And from that brain, we have a choice. And maybe we are still going to say, 'that's a bad choice, I don't have the skills for that, I'm not okay with the consequences of that.' Those are really logical choices to make, but they are now based on something. They are based on your assessment of what your riding skills are, or how you woke up and the energy level you have today. You can factor all those pieces in, rather than just being driven by your emotions."

Reverence. Photo Redfern Media
Darren Berrecloth while filming Reverence. Photo: Redfern Media

Darren Berrecloth and his brother Ryan have recently dug into the topic of fear in their upcoming film, Reverence. It's a topic near and dear to Darren's heart. "Fear held me back for years. I would have all the skills and tricks to win at competitions but fear always got in the way." The emotion has ebbed and flowed throughout his career and has morphed again now that he is a husband and father. "Family is a huge factor, with no dependents you don't have to think the same, it's a different mentality. I see things differently now - when I was younger, I would take risks all the time. Now, I evaluate the risk and decide if it's worth it or not." Darren has worked hard to intuitively develop ways to manage his fear and to find new ways to understand how to work with it to progress his riding, rather than having it hold him back. "Practice makes the difference. Practising letting go of your fears on a daily basis allows you to exercise that muscle."

I was lucky enough to see Darren speak publically about the topic at Multiplicity in Whistler last year. When I asked if he was nervous speaking in front of the audience, he told me that his only focus was on whether or not he had a good speech. The physical act of being on stage didn't bother him at all. Akin to dropping into his line at Red Bull Rampage, preparation is everything for Darren. "Once you get to that moment of dropping in, the hardest work should be behind you. It's all mind over matter. The hardest part is putting your foot on the pedal and letting go, once that happens, the stress goes way down. Once you hit the jump, it's a Zen moment."

Reverence. Photo Redfern Media
Darren scopes out some options. Photo: Redfern Media

When Darren and Ryan settled on this topic for their movie, they were immediately excited about its potential and the depth to which they could explore it. "I hope the audience walks away with a greater understanding of fear. And also, an understanding that we all experience it the same, whether we are moms picking out cereal for our kids at the grocery store or professional mountain bikers dropping into a line at Rampage."

Reverence. Photo Redfern Media
Darren sending during filming. Photo: Redfern Media

Reverence will feature not only Darren's personal story, but also those of James Doerfling, Matt Macduff, Cam McCaul, Tyler McCaul, Rachel Atherton, Gee Atherton, and Dan Atherton. Each athlete digs into their personal relationship with fear; how it has impacted their career and how they have learned to work with it. "I think why I said yes, was that the film gave me a chance to revisit a deeply personal battle, but with all the ammo I never had the first time around, an opportunity to close a door that was left open for years, and a chance to move forward and grow. Something I will never say no to," explains Matt Macduff. "Fear is one of my favourite topics and mysteries. I feel it almost every day in one way or another and have spent a large chunk of time studying the emotion and its effects on people."

Reverence Photo Redfern Media
Reverence Photo Redfern Media

Reverence Photo Redfern Media
Matt Macduff while filing for Reverence. Photo: Redfern Media

Matt has developed a science-based relationship with fear. "I put in the work and remind myself every day with real data that I am constantly improving, growing, and changing. When you work hard enough, see the results, feel and trust them, then eventually over time, fear has no place. If you brush your teeth 100 days in a row and your gums bleed one day, should you be scared of brushing your teeth? My process works. My confidence builds with each victory and my experience grows with each failure." This approach and mindset are what continues to get him through as he makes huge gains recovering from a massive injury; a 40-foot fall that left him with 10 fractures in his right wrist and 3 fractures in his right ankle. Reverence is his first big project back into the public domain since his accident. "It was tough to be so vulnerable in front of so many cameras. I had a massive mental break down and confronted some of my deepest fears throughout the shoot. I'm so thankful for the experience because I feel like I grew but damn. . . it wasn't easy."

Reverence Photo Redfern Media
Trial and error for Matt while filming. Photo: Redfern Media

A slow and methodical approach like Matt's can be frustrating, but it works, explains Katrina Strand, "it really takes a lot of patience to manage it, as fear can just linger. But if you fight it and let it frustrate you too much, it'll just fight back and stick around forever." Katrina recommends trying a compare and contrast approach. "As in, 'this jump is a lot like that jump that I have done before, or this rock face is similar to that rock face I rode last week,' it can help with confidence as you've had parallel experiences." And if that isn't working, sometimes just giving yourself a break. "I remember years ago I developed a fear of step ups and it just pissed me off because I didn't understand it! Eventually, I let it go, put them aside for a while, and came back to them on a day that I felt great on every level. It worked. The great thing about mountain biking is often the features that we come across aren't going anywhere for years. So, we can always come back on a better day."

Photo John Wellburn
James Doerfling filming for Reverence. Photo: John Wellburn

bigquotesI go off of past situations and knowing what my personal limits are. When you are out in the middle of nowhere riding gnarly shit you really have to think twice about the stuff you are about to ride and trust your abilities. I don’t put any pressure on myself to do anything if it doesn’t feel right I don’t do it - simple.Jame Doerfling

Everyone - myself included - would love an answer to overcoming fear that was akin to snapping my fingers. But the truth is that slow incremental progression, a wealth of experience to draw on, an arsenal of tools to calm your mind, and a developed relationship with your instincts is what will get you the furthest. It can be easy to want to simply be better at what we do, but we have to put in the hours, just like the pros have. "Repetition," advises Geoff Gulevich. "Continue to scare yourself and your level of comfort will grow. If something is tough, hike back up and ride it again. Get comfortable and have fun, not fear!"

If you are putting in the time and still struggling, then consider speaking to a sports psychologist to help to tune in your inner voice, to learn and practice some of the well-developed techniques available, or to find out what else might be holding you back. And go watch Reverence when it comes out to understand that you're not alone and that fear is no longer taboo.


  • 56 4
 I fear this was just a resouce for recommending Reverence
  • 30 2
 I’m afraid you might be right
  • 5 0
 you re probably right, even though it 's an important topic and this article is pretty interesting. I like the bit saying you should just leave features for a while and come back to them later. There were features that I was afraid of, couldn't clear them then came back to it a few months later and cleared them without a blink of an eye. I think that's one of the greatest part of this sport is how you can really "measure" your improvement and be sure you have developed and the work you put in it actually paid off.
  • 3 0
 I get where you are coming from but regardless of any recommendation it has got me thinking about it. So still some value in the article imo.
  • 26 2
 Missing a pun is the greatest of perils
  • 9 0
 @WAKIdesigns: Especially if its terrifyingly obvious
  • 3 0
 @WAKIdesigns: sometimes you just have to come back to them later
  • 30 6
 Awesome and very important article Danielle. Best of all I have read on the subject.

I'd love to explore the flipside though, the caution. Fear is there, cannot be shaken off. It is hard to talk to it, but we have to do it. We have to appreciate it. There are different kinds of fear though and I am still learning which ones need to be embraced and which need to be shut down immediately. Like fear of consequences of me crashing, for my family or for my job. When does it appear. Before leaving to a bike park or rolling into a difficult trail or thinking about a particular feature. So there is a flipside: Resignation and caution is rarely a good answer, it has to be dosed with a big deal of attention as it kills confidence. You can't just walk away from one jump and expect this action to have no consequence on others. Doubt is a very dangerous thing. It is a seed that can sit quiet and pop up any time. So be very careful with being careful. Societal pressure makes it very hard because it celebrates caution.

Here a big pledge for favor to all MTB community. Whether you encourage someone to do something or try to deter him/her from her, think wisely before you open your mouth. If person is in doubt and in the process of managing their fear (which takes relatively lots of time and energy), you MAY greatly influence what they will do and what will happen as a result of it. You may cause an accident with what you say. If not on that particular site in that moment, maybe somewhere else in the future. Do not throw advices lightly in the presence of a challenge. Especially when you do not know someone very well. Some need encouragement, some need deterrence. I personaly HATE when someone tells me not to try something and tells me how badly I will crash. IT DOES NOT HELP!
  • 3 0
 A constant struggle for all of us. My general MO is 'Never Back Down' - one that has caused me injuries over the years, and one that bothers me if I decide to turn a jump or line down because on that day it seems too dangerous or I'm not on form or whatever. But the fact Never Back Down is hard wired into me, it's easy to get bummed about not hitting something. At the age of 38 with a wife, two children, work on Monday and lots of bills to pay I'm Definitely more careful and considered these days - Never Back Down is still there, it just has to wait until I'm on song to play ball - not a bad thing though and one that will keep me riding for longer in the long term.
  • 5 0
 Speaking as an oldish rider in my early 50's, and only started mountain biking seriously in my late 20's, I have always adopted the same two rules that have led to slow progression, but few injuries.

1) if I am not 95% sure I can end the section or jump safely, I don't do it.
2) if it don't feel right that day, then don't do it.

I rode in Banff in the mid to late 90's with the local DH racers, guys that were appearing on magazine covers, and like WAKI said above, the most important thing was that they encouraged me all the time. They never complained about waiting for me, which was every ride, and never goading on a stunt. I have a rock named after my neck on a trail up there from when I thought I was on a good day, but turned out not be be the case!
  • 3 0
 True that thinking or pointing the danger in where one could fail is purely a negative action. Ohh if I crash and hit that big rock.... Please keep such thoughts to your self . Better yet visualize the landing or the end of the skinny. Pointing out how you could crash is pointless and detrimental to control ing your fear.
  • 2 0
 @Sshredder: I agree for the last 10 years or so their are only two people who can tell me are you sure about this and I might listen they are two people who have ridden with me for a long time and are the only ones who make me take pause. They know me almost as much as myself they both have about an 80% accuracy on whether I can make it that 20% mattered quite a bit in progression if I let in too fear or logic I would have missed 20% of progression. I think listening to people who know you is important as well as not chiming in on someone you don’t know that well. You might help them or hurt them better to air on the safe side.
  • 1 0
 @loganflores: it makes a huge difference riding with someone else that rides at your skill level.
The person your riding with gives you confidence and at the same time can gauge your strengths.
I sometimes make the call: save this stunt for another day bro when your feeling it.
Tough to find individuals that match my skill and riding preferences.
Riders wayyy better than me say just follow my moves and speed.
I can do that but I'm wayyyyy out of my comfort zone.
  • 1 0
 A little part of me enjoyed watching the intro video to Redbull Hardline yesterday where they showed Greg Minnaar spend 40 minutes eyeing up the road gap on the course, makes me feel better even the GOAT feels uncomfortable at times... best to walk away if you're not feeling it. @Bomadics I need to be 80% confident I can make it to give it a go and leave the other 20% to my body/muscle memory and hope that my body will figure out what to do when i'm in the moment. Trust in the years of experience I've got and go for it.
  • 2 0
 @graeme187: Yea that's great and a good attitude to have for any rider, but the stop line is different for everyone, and some riders I have seen don't have that stop line at all. One rider I knew years ago had a tendency to crash, especially when racing. Years ago we had a local extreme games type of event with an Urban DH, the last jump was a big wooden skate ramp, this rider went huge and crashed to flat pavement from about 15 in the air landing directly on the chin.

This rider went on to a good race career right up to the World Cup level and still races today at local events, but that stop line was very blurry for them back in the day!
  • 18 0
 I ride my bike okay. I am pretty sure that brosnan is far away form riding only okay. Huge respect for him to admit that he is sometimes scared although he always rides like hell
  • 7 3
 I believe that thinking that "this pro dude" is fearless and takes everything like a bad ass, is a prime sign of persons bad or rather unexplored relation to FEAR. Why would anyone think that Troy Brosnan or Sam Hill aren't scared? I have been there thinking this way. To me it is a sign of being too hard on myself, of having unrealistic expectations, as if fear equalled lack of skill, as if it was meant to disappear as we progress. Lack of it - a sign of prowess. Such way of thinking has profound consequences. As the feeling of fear appears we will then treat it as an unwelcome experience, and the moment "I should not be scared? why am I so nervous?" enters your mind, the internal hell breaks loose, you will blame yourself for being scared, think you should be better than you are, cranking up anxiety. When dropping in you want to execute a sequence of actions, requiring clearest possible bandwidth between your brain and your muscles, you do not want anxiety, especially feelings of existential matter (why am I so bad at riding) in between there.
  • 5 0
Acctually i was smiling that he claims to be an okay rider. And the props are given for the fact that he is so honest to admit that he is scared.
I am sure the top rideres are sometimes nervous but i admit that they get used to these big jumps like i get used to that smal drop which scared the shit out ouf me a couple of years ago
  • 1 0
 Typo meant: I am sure the top riders are sometimes...... but i thought that..
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: 100% correct. You have to find a way to manage it because it really does interfere with what you’re trying to do on a massive level. At a recent enduro race I did with my 12yo son, we both had pretty big crashes during practice at the top of the first stage. They were very gnarly technically difficult trails that we’d never seen before. He broke his wrist. After getting him down and making sure he got to the EMS people I continued on the course. I was so shaken up by that I rode terribly. Ended up walking a lot of stuff. Rode better on race day but I still had no confidence my only goal being just to get through the race unbroken knowing that my son was sitting down at the bottom with an injury. Knowing I had to go to work the next day, family depends on you etc. All these things whistling through your mind causing an anxiety response that forces you to tense up and not be able to ride. I finished but ended up last place in my category. Fear truly is a mind killer.
  • 4 2
 @fattyheadshok: you had sht loads going on in there, I wouldn't be able to race if my kid crashed (not judging you, fk those who judge parents for such stuff, fk them!) I have it hard enough to ride after a quarell with my wife hehe. The way I see it, there are more triggers to anxiety than fear, it is only one of them. Anxiety makes you question what you see, impeding the "recognition system" making it harder for you to determine what sort of obstacle you are about to deal with. That creates first level of hesitation. Hesitation pours gasoline on anxiety. Second level is hesitation to what you need to do with the obstacle you have identified, whatever it is, which makes it harder for the brain to act correctly. Brain wants to identify and execute action. Anxiety gets in the way.

The physical representation of it is 1. it takes more time and thus covered distance to start a movement and 2. hindering of execution movement (and the better you have practiced the movement the less of a problem it will be as it will happen more automatically, but if you didn't well...) Simply put, anxiety and paranoic thoughts, make it longer to react and fk up the reaction itself. So while not only the reaction to a particular obstacle can be too late, the reaction itself is not as good as it could be. That often results in going off the line, instead of going for a line, you were thinking how to get your front wheel on it, and once you decided its gone and suddenly you have to deal with something you didn't plan for at all, and it's coming at you. Now you are really stressed! Funny enough, whenever I ride on the edge of my ability I can only react hence my biggest problem is being in the state of doubt and having too much time to process what is coming thus come up with too many scenarios.

But I wrote that fear is one of few things that contribute to anxiety because sometimes I crash and it is not the fear of crashing again or crashing even worse that makes me nervous, it is thought like "holy sht I washed out in the first corner, how stupid am I" or "whatever forget it", neither is a good answer. There is no good answer other than "what's next?" then "let's go!". It's too often when shame is involved "I should have known/done better". It fuks up the whole system. There are ways of making anxiety of making for us, not against us. Race run is not a place to admit mistakes Big Grin
  • 10 0
 Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. Probably the most rewarding experience for me is when I face my fear and manage to overcome the situation. MTB has helped me a LOT about how to handle such situations!
  • 5 0
 Great quote there. The bene gesserit teaching. I have found that mountain biking is a relatively safe arena to practice managing fear and commitment, it's really helped me in other aspects of my life.
  • 4 0
 I've carried that with me in the back of my brain for decades... The object lesson in that mantra for me is "focus". Focus on where you are, what you are doing, the conditions, etc. Focus allows you to cut through the mental barrier that might otherwise cause you to turn around, get off and walk etc. At the end of the day however, it is a survival mechanism and sometimes you have to listen to the voice inside your head and choose wisely based on what you know in that moment.
  • 5 0
 Hahaha!! Awesome, I've rarely read a Frank Herbert quote, well done. The one thing I noticed in the article & only touched on by @Bomadics is age. All the riders that are quoted in this article are younger than 40. Yes, the responsibility of family, especially children, weighs heavily on a persons mind when approaching potentially life threatening situations (one of my climbing partners quit cold turkey not long after the birth of his son). No matter what we tell ourselves age, mortality & related fears that are at the periphery of our thoughts when we are youger, creep into our lives as we age. I scoffed at such sentiment when I was younger & alot more resilient, now I cringe at the sheer arrogance & ignorance that the younger me displayed. I've found that age & the thought of longer rehabs holds me back more than anything. The ability is mostly there, my reflexes & ability to correctly read the terrain are all mostly intact but the thought of an extended period of downtime (or worse) is what holds me back, even though I do rehash in my head the above quote.
  • 4 0
 @wideload46: Firmly in the "older i get, the faster i was" camp here.

It's worth noting that there is a price to be paid for certain types of injuries as you grow older. I know several former athletes that left it all on the slopes/trail in their younger years, only to be left with bodies that won't allow them to enjoy those past times now. We're talking about people living with chronic, disabling pain not to mention lack of mobility normally associated with someone twice their age.

At some point you have to choose for yourself, to live to ski/ride another day over doing something that has a high risk threshold. Again, it all comes down to choosing what is right for you. As Clint Eastwood says in Dirty Harry, "a man's got to know his limitations".
  • 4 0
 @Hyakian: Amen!! I often find myself conflicted when I see or hear about athletes pushing the limits of sport. On one hand I am left in awe & respect for what they can achieve. The other hand questions " At what price?".
Are crippling & life altering injuries worth it? I cannot come up with an honest answer or perspective as I have never participated or achieved that level of any sport. I can only answer for myself & the nagging pains & discomfort that the modest level of pushing the envelope has cost me. I do know that I have looked back in regret at some of the things I might have done if only I had pushed a little harder, but in the end I am mostly satisfied that, in my mid 50's I can still perform at a fairly high level of any sport I do, that I am able to get out & enjoy life.
  • 6 0
 Excelent article.
Fun fact : I crashed hard, broke and dislocated my elbow a few years ago. I was wearing a No Fear "No scars no proof" t-shirt ".
  • 6 0
 Probably should've worn a different tshirt :p
  • 2 0
 Like the Claw said, when you have no dependants you think differently. I have a family, a house a job I can't afford to take unnecessary risks. So it might hold me back slightly but I still push my limits, just not as far as a younger me would have. Also I have a very healthy fear of pain.
  • 3 3
 Maybe you are taking gambles you know you can win? Maybe responsibilities have made you evaluate what you can and know your limitations? Maybe before you had no bloody clue what you can and can’t and you were jumping imto the unknown? I’ve been to the BMX track lately. It went too well. I didn’t push for clearing doubles on BMX even though I did on the DJ. I felt for it, but I thought to myself... learn more about this animal before you rev things up. And I know this is the right approach. I am confident about that choice now, especially that I know exactly how to build up for that. 10years ago it would be Send it or go home.
  • 5 0
 @WAKIdesigns: bruh you have a job or are you just on here all day everyday replying to people
  • 1 0
 I'm like you. I find myself getting more careful as I get older, but another thing I fear is being stuck at my desk in the office, not getting out and riding enough tough terrain, never having pushed the limits to experience the exhilaration of conquering a difficult line.
  • 4 0
 on several occasions fear has stolen my joy ,on many occasions fear has saved my life , there is a ,middle ground we are always trying to understand
  • 2 0
 It's interesting getting older in a sport you've done for a while. I'm spent so many hours mountain biking, the focus and challenge still keeps the fear at bay and I'm as fast as ever, meanwhile everyday mundane activities like driving i70 to get to the trails on the weekend or riding a commuter bike on a busy road are starting to scare the crap out of me in a way they did when I was younger.
  • 2 0
 I had a hard crash a few years ago and hurt my shoulder pretty bad, made working tough for a few months. Made me realize that shit, I gotta be more careful cause I gotta work to live and if I can’t work I definitely can’t afford to ride
  • 3 0
 I'm only scared of having to take time off of riding my bike - not the actual injury its the fact that you then have to sit on your thumb for months. That's the scary part... not getting to go scare yourself.
  • 2 0
 After having some pretty horrific injuries and a host of extreme crashes I had to have this conversation about fear with myself. After breaking my back(96% recovered and for me all good now) I actually couldnt get on a bike anymore. I was beyond scared... im talking terror. I could not even ride down a sidewalk. I was litterally physically ill from the fear. I walked my bike the last 2 blocks to the shop to get it fixed from the big crash and then sold it and stopped biking for 10 years. But the fear was there. Always there. I couldnt breath in my daily life I was so gripped. This went on for years after physical healing had happened.The first step....was a hollistic healing process that involved a Reiki practitioner. The conversation was one the she helped me to have with myself. It centered around the idea that I had been profoundly hurt, and pain is bad, and it was scary...really scary. But, that was then and this is now. I was hurt and scared then but now I am not. Now I am ok and in control, now I am not hurt, now I am not afraid. Essentially, it was a reprograming of my amygdala. The Amygdala is the part of our brain the deals with the fight or flight response. Mine was turned on....hyper stimulated. Once I let this go it was like i was back to me again. Psychological healing was just as important as physical.
The second part came from an unlikely source. I came across Lao Tzu's way of the warrior. It had been rewritten and applied to climbing and life. (the rock warriors way for those interested) Essentially, the warrior has already had every single conversation and permutation of what can happen already done before he goes to battle. If he doesnt he might as well accept the finality of failure. That when the moment comes there is no fear blocking you because you have already dealt with it and locked it away for a time when you can deal with it without consequence. Thing feeling was echoed by the comments the pro's made above.... building skills, training safely, accepting risk and then acting in purity. These two things have let me live a different life that is far less reactive. I drive my course...and I am in control and if it doesnt work it is not a surprise just one of the possible outcomes. My negotiations with fear happen long before my feet hit the pedals.
  • 2 0
 Here's another fascinating side of fear that has been touched on in the comments but I'll add a little- our response to risk changes throughout life. When a male cohabitates with a female there is (across the demographics but varies widely individually) a slight drop in testosterone- a more significant one occurs when a male lives with a child. In addition to this drop in testosterone, there is an increase in vasopressin, oxytocin and prolactin in fatherhood. Testosterone is a hormone that influences competition, challenge, aggression (fearlessness) and vasopressin is a hormone that increases the social experience of stress- such as the stress to provide or to protect. Oxytocin and Prolactin both influence connection with others- desire to give back but also soften the desire and drive to compete and challenge for resources.

I've often wondered what this is life for pro riders who build a career rapidly at a young age while driven to take certain risks and then am curious how they respond as some of those states shift in them through time. I think of Cam Zink flipping at Rampage as his wife clutched his daughter in tears. I'm curious how he processed that. However, demographic data can't say much to an individuals experience. I'd love to explore that with them and hear their narratives of it. I know from other research I've been a part of the psychology of aging and how life progresses through some fairly typical stages based on experience and biology. I'd love to map that into over a bikers life.

I know as I've gotten older my relationship to fear has changed and especially as a father. However, I grew up as the son of a mountaineer and in that community the codes of safety promoted within the group were different. I don't remember looking with reverence at people who pushed the boundaries of safety. Challenge yes- but not unnecessary risk. I remember one of my favorite climbers growing up, Barry Blanchard, saying that "a good trip is one you come home from" and that always stuck with me in all of my pursuits outdoors. Live to ride another day so to speak. It is a delicate knife edge to walk.
  • 2 1
 If the pros don't rock up to a WC track and their first thoughts aren't "fark that" then there's something wrong. You're supposed to be scared of DH tracks (at first), thats the whole appeal...studying the track, sussing lines etc...
  • 3 1
 I dont think the pros look at lines to alleviate fear, its to get down the hill faster. The only place you see them genuinely scared is rampage, possibly hardline, that is where they are pushing boundaries. a w/c track for the dh guys is business as usual, normal day in the office.
  • 5 2
 @zyoungson: huh and you say it based on what? there will be lines that will scare them shtless if only for the low success rate on them. A thought of driving 170km/h on the highway doesn't scare me too much. Until I actually do it and a feeling comes down on me, erm... you are playing a game of holding the car between two lanes and avoiding objects on one side. It's as easy as a videogame. And then I pass someone on the outside and then on the inside and then slight brake and then pass again, and then it comes to me that this is not a fkng video game and I sht myself. Same on a gokart track. Scared of walls > 3 laps later, wanting to be as close to them as possible going faster than before > sudden WTF realization. Don't tell me those guys don't have it. Those are people, humans.
  • 1 0
 This post has been a great help foe me. Some of the methods of coping/beating fear I have been using to help myself. The tooth brushing was a great analogy. My only problem is with crashing isn't just the fear of hurting myself but also the fear of damaging my bike, none of us average Joe's are sponsored and can just pick up parts/bikes for free if we write them off trying to conquer a particular demon. I would say that, that element of it is what can sometimes hold me back the most.
  • 1 0
 Interesting subject, everyone fears different things, and fear can make a bad thing a good thing by not trying it and walking away, or it can make it a bad thing by trying it and not having the confidence or skill to do it and then disaster strikes.

As a 53 year old and an ex pro motocross racer, I find when I was younger the fear was just enough to make me be aware of the dangers if you don't make it or clear the jump etc, now I find the fear is not of making the jump or pulling the trick but the awareness of getting hurt and being tied up in a hospital or bed for an extended period of time. However knowing your capabilities and your skill set and not riding too far over your head will usually keep you fairly safe, Understanding that sometimes shit goes wrong as well.

Here's a little story about some fear I had last weekend while riding my local DH runs.

Downhill riding and racing has filled my adrenaline requirements since retiring from motocross, this year I bought a dirt jumper and have started doing tricks on it, as well as riding dirt jumps, however I have not had much time to do any DH other then 1 race and a few other times riding DH as it is a couple hrs from the house and time has been in limited supply this year.

Last Sunday I finally got up to my local DH bike park, had done about 6 runs and was having a great time, then I come up to a run that I had only did once before, it is a gnarly steep run with lots of turns, roots and loose shale (rock) it is also completely surrounded by forest, trees everywhere, it was a little wet too, just as I dropped in I slipped a pedal and stopped at the top of it, then the FEAR kicked in, I sat on top of it with my mind racing all of a sudden, can I get back on the bike with my feet on the pedals? can I can get back on it far enough to be able to slow down enough to make the turn at the bottom? will I run into a tree cause the dirt is still a little muddy and damp? should I turn around and forget it and do a different run somewhere else? All this shit is running through my mind like a fast train..... then I slow down and realize, If I can't do this then I should go back to the car load my bike up, drive home and sell my bike, cause I'm done, fear has got the best of me!

Knowing all about my bike riding skills and previous experience riding and racing bikes, I said F--- it, and went down the run and made it without any issues.
This is what FEAR is all about and how it can play with your mind, knowing what you can do on a bike and what you don't ever want to try is a big thing that keeps most of us safe.

All I can say is know your limits and be safe, progression is the best way to learn anything and as your skills increase so will your speed and confidence.

Has FEAR got the best of you???? What did you do to overcome it? or did it get you?
I'd love to hear some of your stories?
  • 1 0
 I've been injured twice this summer, both really stupid injuries but they've kept me off the bike for about 4 months combined since April. I couldn't agree more on the fear of being out for an extended period of time. That's when the fear really kicks in for me, the idle time. Thinking about the fall(s) over and over again. Wondering how close you were to getting more hurt than you actually did. Wondering if you should continue to ride considering the high risks..

Oddly enough though, after both injuries when I was finally able to ride my bike again, the fear goes away. As soon as I drop into a run on my bike my confidence returns. It's just the time off the bike where I really scare the sh*t out of myself.
  • 2 0
 @delawhere: I hear ya, my Dad always told me, when you crash, get right back on the bike or whatever it was you crashed in or on and ride it. Get rid of the fear you have from crashing right away.
Thanks for sharing your story.
  • 1 0
 Personally, I had a bad crash a couple years ago that tore my ACL and Meniscus. The time off the bike and pain I went through during recovery hits me every time I look at a jump now. It's super frustrating, and unfortunately where I am has limited trails; your blues are pretty small easy little things, but everything else is gap jumps and doubles that I can't clear right now. Super frustrating and I feel like I'm dead ending in a big part of my riding. Frown
  • 1 0
 When I first got on a dirt singletrack, I saw a small little rock, then I crashed. Im on a bike team, so riding with my friends and coaches got me riding fast compared to. Me and my friends will go biking and we'll stop at some point and say, "NO BRAKES!" and, as it says no brakes. fun bro
  • 1 0
 Admitting fear is good.
If some one ask why are you not doing that stunt?
I'm afraid is the truth and I know when fear has the best (worse of me)
In my mind I know it can be done.
The day I'm feeling confident yet still a good dose of fear I send it.
Know fear.
  • 1 0
 Everyone fears something, but no one wants to talk about it. I’ve been riding for over 10 years now and there are features that still scare the crap out of me. It’s all about comparing this jump to that jump I’ve done before. This drop to the drop on my local trail. Yes there are consequences but you can’t let them overpower you. It’s all about progression and overcoming what ever fears you!!!!
  • 1 0
 Unless you are riding down shallow fire roads fear is a thing that is real. We all get it , elite riders too, that is what makes me ride and keeps me young, i love it.
  • 1 0
 Jordie Lunn would have been a good candidate to add to this topic, considering that he always goes all in, and does some pretty extreme stuff.
  • 1 3
 The thing that I'm afraid of most is the b******* advertising that goes on on this site. The must-have b******* game-changing products. Don't be afraid of carbon people it is the strongest stuff on the planet and will not break just point it down hill and let the fear begin.
  • 3 3
 Just buy an e-bike and be done with all pseudo performance improvements. Nothing gets you faster like an e-bike. Oh... I guess that scares you more than anything else Big Grin
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: I ride a combustion bike! E-bikes are for scared pussies that want to start out on an underperforming overpriced kindergarden Fisher Price toy
  • 1 1
 @properp: well not sure. Good riders on e-bikes get way more laps than you do. Which means they get better and better and better... than you Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: good Riders don't need e-bikes to have good rides dumbass
  • 1 1
 @properp: except... 4runs in the evening are always gooder rides than 1 run. 12 runs a week make you betterer than 3 runs a week, like 200 a year vs 50 a year.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: find one bike park in the United States that allows e-bikes Einstein how many runs you get in now troll Wonder keep sucking from the e-bike crutch and watch your muscles grow
  • 1 0
 I'm not a pro, i've a job and a family, so i cannot brake my body only to have fun Fear is important
  • 1 0
 All kinds of fear. Great article, thanks.
  • 1 0
 I think it's healthy to scare yourself a little every now and then.
  • 1 0
 Fear is great! Once you lose too much of it, you get blasé :/
  • 1 0
 Awesome stuff
  • 1 0
 i fear, no beer.
  • 1 0
 “Tame the chimp”
  • 1 0
 "You do not scare me!"
  • 3 6
 What is this fear you speak of? Pick yourself up smear some dirt on it and do it again. This is mountain biking.

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