By Alison Powers
When I was 14 years old, I started mountain bike racing. With very little fear, and no sense of self preservation, I crashed- a lot. I loved to ride my bike, loved to get my legs burning and heart pumping, and I was a little bit competitive. But, I had absolutely no skills. Eventually the speed, the trail, rocks, or water crossings would catch up to me and I'd fall off my bike. Being a teenager, crashing didn't seem to faze me. I'd huck ledges (broken tail bone), bomb descents without brakes (punctured abdomen), and push the speed at which I would start to be afraid (broken ribs).
Despite racing bikes, and getting some descent results, I had had very little skills training and, other than go hard and go fast, I really didn't have any idea what I was supposed to do on my bike. I never thought about body position or weight distribution. I knew I needed to look ahead, but I didn't really understand what that entailed. I assumed descending on a bike was the same as on skis- wrong (different weight distribution). My crash to ride ratio was at least 1:1 if not 2:1.
Fast forward into my early 30's. Fear and self preservation have entered my mind and I no longer enjoy mountain biking. I'm afraid to crash. I'm afraid to get hurt. Every time I rode my mountain bike, I'd come to a technical section, lose my confidence, get afraid, have to dismount and walk, and then get frustrated at myself for not being braver, better, etc. It was not an enjoyable experience.
I finally decided it was time to do something about my lack of skills. Plus, if I had aspirations to properly coach mountain bike riders and racers, then I'd better be able to walk the walk. In came skills practice. I asked friends who were coaches to help me, I took skills clinics, I practiced on my own, built my own skills props, and diligently learned, practiced, and executed basic mountain bike skills. The ones that helped me most, and that I, in return teach are- body position, attack position, weight distribution, vision (how to look ahead), and cornering.
Now, nearing 40, I am a better rider than I have ever been, and I have the most fun I've ever had on a mountain bike. My crash to ride ratio has improved immensely. I won't be winning any enduros (I think I'm actually slower as my sense of self preservation gets a stronger hold on me), or hucking big air, but when it comes to riding new trails or old ones with hard sections, I look forward to the technical aspects. I like the challenge and enjoy testing my skills.
Good skills and knowledge lead to confidence. Confidence leads to enjoyment.
Join me Tuesday June 4th, 5:30pm at Tin Shed Sports for a free mountain bike skills clinic. This is a 3 part (free) series in learning to ride your mountain bike with more skill and confidence. We'll work on all the things that have helped me become a better rider and in turn, you'll become better as well.
Mountain biking can be fun and with fewer crashes.