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Conquer the Trail - How do I lose my Fear?

17 September 2013

Typical Woman

Women ride differently than men,  they have different fears, worries and inhibitions. The husband or boyfriend is often the one who brings us on the bike, and we have our first touring experiences with them. We work hard, try hard, and yet the good feelings only last until the first turn. The head keeps asking questions. “Down there? Really? With all the rocks and that narrow trail?” The men say,  "Just ride!”  In no time the fun is over and the tour turns out to be a disaster.

Fear when biking, especially downhill, is an ongoing topic with the girls in my riding technique camps. It is evident because women do not hide their fear. If we understand this feeling and take notice of what happens in the body, we can deal with it better. Why is it that one rider can bravely handle every North Shore drop while the other gets blocked by the smallest root?

Every biker knows the feeling of fear. We could call it a blackout or simply a blockade. Suddenly, nothing goes the way it really should go when taking into consideration the skills, riding technic and gear. Nor do we any longer hear encouraging calls from others. Only our inner voice is there, telling us what might happen if we rush down there.

Karen Eller helping a participant at one of the Contessa Riding Days

Karen Eller helping a participant at one of the Contessa Riding Days


Where does the fear come from when biking?

When we perceive something that is unknown or appears threatening to us, our body reacts with specific processes. What each perceives as threatening is very different from person to person. It depends on various factors, such as a sporty background in childhood,  physical condition, previous experience and how long one has already been participating in the sport.

What does the fear feel like?

Typical sensations resulting from anxiety are sweaty palms, heart palpitations and irritation. We would prefer to stop, turn, and quit. Often times doubt and self-blame are part of it. Our breathing gets short and fast. This leads, amongst other things, to the brain and muscles getting less oxygen, and as a result our performance is limited. Under fear, our muscle tension changes. We draw the shoulders up, clench abdominal and leg muscles. This leads to a change in body posture on the bike and has an effect on riding technique. Tense muscles cannot coordinate or respond properly. Tension also affects our senses: field of vision becomes more narrow and we stare in an awe at the place that makes us afraid. We do not hear the tips that others are giving us.

Do women have more anxiety when biking or are they just being honest about their feelings?

Many men simply do not give in to such worries or thoughts. In addition, it often seems to me that men have more self-confidence in their physical abilities. They are more courageous and daring, because they trust more in their bodies and in their strength. Many women want to be confident with their riding skills more so than with their muscles. But there are also courageous, resolute and "aggressive" women who can hardly wait for the next downhill and have grown under high demands. Often times there are many successful contestants among them. Others react to unknown or threatening challenges with stress, anxiety, and blockages. And that should be accepted as such.

SCOTT Athlete Floriane Pugin

SCOTT Athlete Floriane Pugin at the IXS Cup in Leogang


How do I overcome the fear ?

Basically, it is good to make yourself aware of what fear is and how it feels, because almost all bikers know this feeling . Anxiety or bad experiences can be overcome. With patience and a lot of training you are able to optimize your cycling technique. When you have confidence in your riding skills, then you also become more daring. Accept your own deliberation and caution, and approach your limits gently. Do not give up, always look forward, and above all do nothing  just because everyone else is doing it.

Tips for coping with anxiety:

- Relax the respiratory rhythm; inhale and exhale deeply and focus. Breathing calmly helps you to relax and to master the trails.

- Relax and clench your muscles consciously. This will loosen you up.

- Relaxing the senses helps especially when blocked. Look out into the distance, then close to the bike. Repeat.

- Once you make it through the stage of fear, you are loose and free again for the next difficult trail.

- Consider the daily conditions and the training conditions. Often, personal problems or stress at work can play a role. Things that occupy you subconsciously can affect your riding.

- Realize that you are doing the sport for yourself and for no one else, and especially because it is lot of fun. If you keep that in mind, you will be more relaxed and happier and thus more powerful.

Contessa Team Riders in Karwendel

Contessa Team Riders in Karwendel

Karen Eller


Episode 1: How to choose the right bike

Episode 2: Right Preparation for the season

Episode 3: How do I set up my bike correctly?

Episode 4: What equipment do I really need?

Episode 5: Skills come with practice

Episode 6: Riding Techniques for Advanced Riders


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