Thursday, July 24, 2008

"are you scared to ride your bike?"

that was the question one of my development team racers posed to me on Sunday morning after I told her about my crash on Saturday.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

my response, "of course not." I wasn't scared to finish my ride after the crash and I'm not scared to ride now. my crash was a flukey situation and I didn't feel any fear of getting back on the bike. I'm sure it helped that my injuries were minor (bruising and a skinned knee).

all the same, I always tell folks that I don't crash. counting back, I've had 5 crashes in the 9 years I've been riding as an adult. only one of those was on the road bike, two on the cyclocross bike, and two on the mountain bike. I'm a relatively conservative rider and I've got good skills and good intuition. crashing could prevent me from doing my job (and I can't afford that). so, I make it my practice not to crash.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

the more I think about her question, the more I realize that there are lots of fears involved in our sport.

I rode throughout childhood. I remember the day I removed my own training wheels because my father was working and the boys in the neighborhood made fun of me. I remember the day I rode into the back of a parked car. I remember the day I crashed on the old railroad bridge over Seeley Creek when my front wheel got caught between two planks. I remember the day I got hit by a car. I remember riding to my boyfriend's house in my jeans and no helmet. I remember riding to my job as a bartender at the golf course. and then, I finished college and I didn't ride anymore.

I bought a mountain bike in 1990 because I wanted to quit smoking and I thought riding a bike would help me with that. when I started riding again in 1990 I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of going fast. I was afraid of falling off the side of the road. I was afraid of going downhill. I was afraid of getting lost. I was afraid of someone harming me. I was afraid of cars. I was afraid of dogs. I was just plain afraid of riding my bike. and so I rode it half a dozen times and never touched it again until 1999.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

I hung up my bike for nearly a decade. when I started riding again in 1999, I still had all of those same fears. but I also had a support system of riding friends, a really big goal (the California AIDS Ride), and a great desire to be healthy and ride my bike so, one by one, I conquered my fears.

as a skills coach, I've developed my teaching style and curriculum based on the fact that I know many women (and some men) harbor the same fears that I did as a new rider. and, as adults, we're uncomfortable telling folks that we're afraid of something as simple as riding a bike. my goal is to provide riders with the tools to gain confidence on the bike and alleviate their fears.

fear is a complex emotion, causing us to avoid risk. fear can be paralyzing. fear can cause us to make irrational decisions. but a healthy respect for the risks of the sport can help you keep the skin on your knees.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

the sport of bicycling has inherent risks. we all know that. I think most of us subconsciously push the threat of those risks to the back of our mind so we can go about the day-to-day business of riding our bikes. but then, something happens -- a close call, a crash, a tragedy -- that reminds us that each and every time we throw a leg over the top tube, we're taking a risk. we're placing our trust in others -- the bike manufacturers, our mechanic, other riders, cars, trail designers, ourselves -- that we will finish our ride in one piece.

each time we get that wake-up call, we have to make that decision again -- will we choose the risky path and ride our bike? for me, the answer will always be a resounding "yes."

there are lots of risks in life. I could die eating in a restaurant. I could die walking across the street. I could die flying on a plane. I could die riding my bike.

"are you scared to ride your bike now?"

I plan to live my life to the fullest. I choose to take a few risks now & then. I'll gladly take a few bumps and bruises in exchange for the opportunity to stretch my legs, meet fabulous friends, see beautiful places, and enjoy the sport I love. I would much rather enjoy each and every minute of my life, riding my bike, than sit on the couch worrying about risk.


Nome Agusta said...

Crashing should only make one more aware on the bike and ultimately a better rider.
When I crash I always take time to reflect on my roll in the crash. Even if it was caused by another rider, there are still ways that the crash could have been avoided.

Crashes also teach us where the envelope is.

CyclistRick said...

I would much rather enjoy each and every minute of my life, riding my bike, than sit on the couch worrying about risk.


Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

awesome post.
I think sometimes I push the envelope a little far....but I agree with you. It's all about calculated risk, and for me, the thrill of being out there, the thrill of bombing downhill at 50mph, the thrill of just being up on top of a mountain to enjoy the scenery, the fun of sharing coffee after a hard ride with my friends, well, I wouldn't give it up for anything. :-)

People at work see my scrapes/scars and are horrified, telling me I should switch hobbies. But then I remember how much less fun it would be. I won't be able to convince them...but I know inside what I get from riding, and it is a lot more than fitness.

Let's get out there and ride.

Audra Marie said...

I like to think everyone is afraid of something...although ironically it's usually when I'm super scared or tired that I mess up.

And I think you really get it right when you chose to enjoy your bike rather than worrying about it. Besides, being able to recover from your accidents and get back in the saddle is a necessary life skill for everyone, but especially for women!

Jackie said...

Yep. Every minute counts, can't be bothered wasting 'em worrying. Besides, riding just feels so gooood!

Nina McArthur said...

This topic is quite apt for me as at the moment, following a crash at the velodrome, I have lost all my confidence on the bike - my balance has gone, I'm scared stiff of bad road surfaces, cambers on the road & downhills.
I'm working with a sports psychologist on it at the moment but my entire confidence is at rock bottom.
I'm quite a successful triathlete but in draft legal & elite races, I'm getting dropped off the pack now.
Has anyone got any tips/advice?
Thanks, Nina.

velogirl said...

Hi Nina! Fear is natural, especially after a traumatic experience. Working with a sport psychologist is a great way to develop mental tools to help you overcome and manage your fear. I would also recommend working with a coach to really improve your skills. And take it a day at a time. Push the envelope just a little bit each time you ride.

Good luck to you!