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When I was in college I biked quite a bit.  Mostly we used the logging roads all over our 28,000 acre campus at Berry College.  On one of these rides, I got in a rut left by a logging truck.  I was cruising downhill at a fast pace and hit the edge of the rut.  I flew off the bike, landed in the rut on the other side of the road, slid what felt like 100 yards, and slammed my chin into the ground when I came to a stop.

Carnage at the BME Snowmass Enduro race. Thankfully, the rider was fine. Photo: Greg Heil.

Carnage at the BME Snowmass Enduro race. Thankfully, the rider was fine. Photo: Greg Heil.

My boyfriend came running down the road; I tried to stand up but almost passed out.  So I sat in the road with blood dripping onto my shoe until my head stopped swimming, and we walked back to the car. I pushed my poor bike with its mangled front tire and wondered if I’d ever bike again.  It was several months before I did.

I was reminded of this incident this past weekend when talking with an acquaintance at a party.  Knowing her husband mountain biked, I asked if she did.  “I haven’t in over a year.  I had a really bad wreck last year and dislocated my ankle and, I just haven’t been ready to get back on a bike yet.”

First of all, OUCH! That had to hurt.  Secondly, how do you get past that fear of crashing again?  For me, that wreck at Berry College was the one that proved to me that I could get seriously hurt biking.  I think this girl had the same thoughts.  Still, if the goal is to get back on the bike and become a better biker, how do you do that?

One way is to just get back on the damn bike as soon as possible.  This might work for some people, and honestly, sometimes it’s the only way.  I had a hard crash a few years ago on Western Rim, but we were maybe 4.5 miles into a 14 mile ride, so what option did I have? Get on the bike and keep moving.  I rode the obstacles ahead that I knew I could ride, and walked the ones that I wasn’t so sure about.

This doesn’t work for everyone, though.  I think this method is especially difficult for beginner or intermediate riders.  So what are some alternatives for getting over your crash?

2. Ride a trail you love and feel comfortable on. 

There has to be one.  Out here, if I had to start over with biking, I’d start on Rustler’s Loop.  I feel very comfortable on that trail, it has beautiful views, and I always have a great ride on it. So find that trail. If you don’t have one, then find the easiest trail you can, even if it’s a paved bike path.  The point is to get comfortable with your bike again.

An easy trail that you're comfortable with is always a good place to go back to after a bad crash.

An easy trail that you’re comfortable with is always a good place to go back to after a bad crash.

3. Set your expectations low.

On your first mountain bike ride after a big wreck, don’t go into it thinking “Yeah! I’m going to be just as hardcore as ever!” Just set your sights on having a great ride and having a good time.  That might sound a little namby-pamby, but honestly?  You just recovered from a broken arm (for example); give yourself a break! No pun intended.  Don’t go into it expecting to ride all the hardest drops or jumps on the trail.

4. Think positive.

This might sound contradictory to #2, but it isn’t.  Just saying to yourself, “I’m going to have a great, relaxing ride today,” is a positive thought.  I honestly believe that having a positive attitude can make a huge difference in your riding. If you go out there thinking, “I’m never riding anything hard ever again,” then you probably won’t.

As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

5. Ride the obstacles you know you can ride.

Just because you crashed doesn’t mean you should start completely from scratch.  If you’re back on your favorite trail and you reach a ledge drop that you’ve always ridden, then ride it again. This is how you build your confidence back up.  You say to yourself, “self, you’ve always ridden this ledge. You know you can do it.”  In fact, unless I’ve recently crashed on something, my rule is that if I’ve ridden something successfully once, I have to ride it every time after that, because I know I can.

6. Have FUN.

Take time to enjoy cruising through a patch of desert wildflowers.  Stop and take pictures of crazy lizards on the trail.  Sit down on a big rock and enjoy the silence, view, your Clif bar, whatever.  Just enjoy the ride.  Remember why you started biking in the first place, and just have fun.

Stop and smell the claret cactus cup or, in this case, stop and stare at the lizard.

Stop and smell the claret cactus cup or, in this case, stop and stare at the lizard.

7. Ride with that group.

You know how we all have multiple groups of bike buddies?  You’ve got those people you ride with when you want to PR on a section of trail, or when you’re attempting a KOM/QOM.  You’ve got that group you like to cruise with on “lazy” ride days.  Then you’ve got your core group: a friend, a spouse, a family member.  These are the people who don’t care about how fast or slow you are, which obstacles you ride or don’t, or even which trail you ride.  They just like to bike with you, period.  This is the time to ride with that group.  Maybe you’ll be at the top of your game on this first ride out!  But more than likely, you’ll still be worried about your reconstructed ACL, your recently-healed collarbone, or that scab still healing on your leg.  You want to be with the folks you feel the most comfortable around.

Ride with the group that supports you - even when you need to stop and take a breather.

Ride with the group that supports you – even when you need to stop and take a breather.

8. Put it out of your mind.

This ride is not the time to replay the crash in your head.  It’s not the time to think about how you just hit that one rock wrong and then suddenly there was blood and… NO.  Clear your mind of that crash.  Do whatever it takes to ride with a clear mind.  Sing a song in your head, keep up a steady conversation with anyone around, even talk to yourself if you have to.

9. Take the next step.

Probably, at some point, you’ll have to again face that obstacle on which you crashed.  On our Western Rim ride, I walked the ledge that I endoed on for a few months. I wouldn’t even attempt it.  No one bugged me about it.  Then one day, I was feeling confident.  I was riding with my boyfriend and, as he got closer to the ledge, I noticed he slowed down so that I could see exactly which line he took down the ledge.  I took a deep breath and followed him down it–successfully!

Recently crashed in the Prime Cut rock garden?  Take your time, but try it again!

Recently crashed in the Prime Cut rock garden? Take your time, but try it again!

You always have to face down that obstacle.  You can’t let it win.  You can leave it alone for a while.  Let it think it’s beaten down another biker.  But then, when that ledge, that jump, that tight drop thinks it has won, you go out there and conquer it.  Maybe it takes you only 3 weeks, maybe it takes you a year.  In either case, facing down your fear is truly the only way to fully recover from a crash.

So no matter what route you choose, from the get-right-back-on-the-bike method to the slower, but effective, easing-back-into-it method, just do your best to get back on your bike.  You’ll be glad you did.

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# Comments

  • John Fisch

    Mostly mental? Try telling that to my dislocated shoulder and the 13 stitches in my kneecap!

    Seriously, though–great article! Each of your 9 points is spot on. I learned the value of points 2&5 long before I started cycling. After some massive, painful and scary biff while skiing, I would simply do #1 (get back on the skis) depart the rock-strewn cliffs for a bit and head back to a groomer (trail/obstacles I could easily handle) where I would employ #s 3, 4, &6. After getting my wits about me on a groomer, it was back into an easier non-groomed trail, maybe through some relatively easy moguls or widely spaced trees. After a few runs, I was back where I biffed and ready to rock.

    Works just as well with bikes.

    • mtbikerchick

      Ah you’re right! It all applies to that other favorite sport as well…Although 13 stitches? OUCH!

  • afullsodacan

    Yeah. I just broke my back (T12) about 5 weeks ago on my home trail on an obstacle I have ridden ever since I first rode there. I found it hard to believe since that is probably one of the trails I am most comfortable with since I have ridden it the most, and the obstacle is just a roughly 2 foot wide bridge that goes about 3 feet in the air–something commonplace for me, but it just goes to show how you can sometimes get hurt very badly when you least expect it.

    I think one lesson from the crash is that sometimes it can be dangerous to get too comfortable with a trail. I believe I got a little overconfident and got too much speed to be able to make it onto the bridge after a little root drop and a curve.

    I am going stir crazy and cannot wait to get back on the bike, but I know my first trail ride will be a little different than before. I will try to do #5, but I must admit that I have a fear that I did not use to have before since I got seriously hurt on something that I have always ridden.

    • mtbikerchick

      My friends and I were just talking about this this weekend. One of them almost endoed on a very familiar and mostly easy trail because she got too comfortable and just wasn’t as focused as she might’ve been on a more technical or unfamiliar trail.

      That #5 will probably be difficult for you, but just keep trying. Good luck healing!

    • jessmarimba

      Hope you’re healing well! Broke T12 myself a few years ago in a wreck – was thrilled to finally be allowed to ride again (9 months later). It took some additional nasty non-bike crashes before I lost the mental game but when it hit, it hit hard.

    • USADoyle

      I just broke T-12 and L-3 6 days ago under almost excatly the same circumstances. I’m 65 yearts old and have been riding for the last 25 years. I’ve been using Strava and I think it was making me too competitive. I love bike riding but I’ve come to the realization that I need to ride in a manner so that I can ride again. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
      Bill D

    • afullsodacan

      Yeah, thanks. I started to use Strava when I first heard about it, but I quickly realized that I am way too competitive and it was making focused on winning rather than just having fun. I quickly stopped using it. I honestly hate Strava now. I think it makes mtbing more of a competition now rather than just a ride for fun for a lot of people.

      I have come to accept that there is always going to be someone better than me.

      I hope you recover well, especially given your age. I am 22 and seem to be healing quite fast, but it feels like it is taking forever to get back to riding trails.

  • delphinide

    Excellent article! And, I think it translates to any rider, no matter how good you are. Everyone eats it sometimes.

    Recently I broke my finger, and although I elected to ride Fruita, Moab, and a few other places before I splinted it and let it heal…no biggie…but the mental toll was huge. Not the broken finger per se, but the few falls I had after that because I was guarding it so much, and ultimately tweaked it to the point that the thought of crashing and hurting it more kept me from getting back on the saddle.

    Coincidentally, I did quite a few things you mentioned (like riding easier trails and stopping to smell the roses), and this past weekend, I hit the bike park and was going faster and taking bigger lines than I did before I was injured. I think what helped me most was just following the lines of someone I trust, and not something I feel I have something to prove to.

    The injury helped me do something I needed though, which is get back to the roots of why I started riding in the first place. Slow down, enjoy the ride, hit the hard stuff but don’t sweat it if you don’t. Forget Strava. Forget wheel size. Forget everything except working on technique while immersing yourself in the nature God has made for us and making friendships. And if I need to, I can still braaap right past “things” in my way. 🙂

    • mtbikerchick

      Right on! The same thing happened to the BF. He dislocated his pinky finger and then ended up trying to guard it, etc just like you were saying. He just kept working at the mental aspect and eventually was able to get past it, but it’s difficult! Crashes mess with you. Even when you aren’t physically hurt they still cause lots of problems…you’re right though, forget everything except working on technique and enjoying being out in nature!

    • delphinide

      There is also something to be said for taking it easy right after you get injured. I knew I broke my finger when I went down, and I was talking to a buddy behind me and that fall literally didn’t interrupt my sentence…I just picked the bike up and kept riding. Then I wrecked again because I was sore. I am used to crashing because I am clumsy and I constantly push myself, but over the next 2 days my injuries from a few other minor crashes were cumulative. After eating it hard on the Ribbon, and being forced to ride in pain for another 2 hours, I took the next few days off and just licked my wounds. Sometimes you can do that, sometimes you can’t…or won’t…if you’ve been looking forward to a trip to Fruita for months like I had. But the more your crash, the more your body wants to guard itself, and even a few minor tumbles that you might be used to over the course of a week can be far more debilitating if you just keep pushing yourself to ride the trails you planned on vacation. I think that is how you can get REALLY hurt. My finger didn’t bother me as much as endo’ing off a 4 foot ledge…probably because I was already too sore to pop off the ledge or pull back in time…and I knew that was when I should throw in the towel. Again, great article!!

  • arkinet

    After my spill, I can say my confidence hit an all-time low. But just like what you said, slowly getting back to it is the key.
    Great article!

  • roadandmud

    I broke a helmet in half, C2, T5, and the rib that holds the right shoulder on a jump that went bad. My regular doctor, after seeing the reports from the trauma center, couldn’t believe I was not dead or at least paralyzed.
    As I healed, braced in bed with almost no motion for 3 months, I didn’t even think about riding. I tried to look at my mountain bike magazines as they arrived in the mail, but the pictures of riders jumping got me nervous. By 6 months after the ride I was back riding in the woods. That was 11 years and countless rides ago.
    Like the song says, “I get knocked down but I get up again……….”.

  • Mountain Hunter

    I took a nasty fall last week, broke C6 & C7; had them fused/titanium reinforced and hope to be out of brace in two weeks and on my bike i about 8 weeks. I am 61 years old and do a lot of mountain climbing/hunting worldwide. My biggest gripe right now is that my neurosurgeon said no to my mountain hunt in Alaska in 7 weeks so I pushed it to next year. But I will be going to Africa in 3 weeks for a safari (all level plains).
    Stuff happens and I was not even being a yahoo. Just mis-judged a small rock under some overgrowth on an incline and jettisioned over the handlebars.

    • mtbikerchick

      It seems the worst crashes always happen on small obstacles! Good luck healing 🙂

  • tholyoak

    My first time mountain biking was on a rented bike as a Boy Scout. I ended up flying over the handlebars and needing stitches on my arms and face. It took me 20 years to decide to try again. I’m now a lot more cautious than I would have been if I hadn’t had that experience, but enjoy my rides and am gradually gaining more skills. I just wish I hadn’t waited so long to get back on.

    • mtbikerchick

      Right there with you. Wish I hadn’t missed those 7 years or so…

    • mtbikerchick

      I just have to say that I am SO impressed with all of you who’ve suffered such major crashes and gotten back out there! The comments on this article have been a huge inspiration 🙂

  • kenish

    OTB crash in January on a familiar easy fire road. I hit an embankment and broke off the ball at the top of my femur. The cure was an artificial hip! Fortunately the surgeon said cycling was one of the best ways to recover and maintain the “robo-hip”. I was back on the bike in 7 weeks, but it definitely took work to recover endurance and confidence.

    The tips are good, and different ones will work for each individual. I set a goal to be able to do one particular route to consider myself “fully recovered”. Revisiting and riding the crash site was therapeutic…also I told friends who saw me crash to be brutally honest on how I messed up…we concluded it was a truly freak accident (I hoped there was an identifiable mistake to learn from).

  • rmap01

    Great article. I endo’ed a few months back and broke my collarbone. Got a bit too cocky – and too fast – with my handlebar getting just enough of a tree as I was flying off a ledge. Ground was still frozen so there was no give – except for my front rim which crumpled along with my shoulder 🙁 But I went back out in two weeks (a bit too early, I know) but I HAD TO ride that ledge, not fast and no air, but I needed to ride it for my psyche. Took a few weeks off after that and I believe I have become a better and less “reckless” rider since then. Great point made by you and others about becoming too comfortable and less focused on obstacles/terrain that we have become familiar with. But your last point, for me, is really the true motivator to get back in the saddle, “You always have to face down that obstacle. You can’t let it win.” ‘Nuff said!

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