As a beginner mountain biker, I think one of the toughest things to grasp is how to have the confidence to “go for it…” but it’s also one of the most important things to learn. It’s something I still struggle with constantly, and I’m sure many of us riders do. While there is no easy answer or magic fix, there are definitely ways to help build confidence and in doing so, become a better rider.
There is no way to emphasize this enough. The only way to be a better rider is to ride, and as you improve, you’ll gain confidence in your abilities. Can’t make it up that hill? Keep riding it until you can. Can’t make it through that rock garden? Just keep trying. If you have the space, build some features in your yard to practice specific skills. Even the simplest of structures, like a wooden skinny, can vastly improve your abilities if practiced briefly each day on a regular basis. Set realistic goals for yourself, and work on achieving them. When you do, you’ll gain a confidence boost. Keep riding, and ride as much as you can. There is no substitute for time spent on the bike.
2. Positive thoughts.
Maybe this sounds kooky, but there’s a lot of truth to the whole “envision success” thing. It’s not going to automatically give you skills if you don’t practice them (see #1), but it’s amazing how much of a difference a positive attitude can make. I know that I ride a lot better when I am feeling good about myself, or when I tell myself that I can (and WILL!) make it through that tricky section. On the other hand, when I’m not feeling confident or when I tell myself that I won’t make it, I often don’t. The mental game is a big aspect of mountain biking, and it makes a huge difference. Stay positive, and don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Even the best of riders have “off” days. Push through it and next time you ride, you might be better than ever.
3. Find a good group of people to ride with.
What exactly this means is up to you, but it’s important to be around supportive, understanding people when you’re first starting out. Personally, I find that it helps to ride with a variety of different skill levels–some people who are much more experienced, some who are of a similar skill level as myself, and others who are less experienced. When I first started out, I mostly rode with my significant other, who is exponentially better on a bicycle than I am. He is patient, supportive, and a great teacher, but he doesn’t coddle me (which is a good thing!), so I became a much better rider pretty quickly while trying to keep up with him.
However, only riding with him wasn’t the most confidence-inspiring experience as a beginner. Finding others with comparable abilities to my own gave me a bit of an ego boost and allowed for a reciprocal exchange of support and encouragement that was very helpful in developing confidence as we were able to learn and grow together. See if your local bike shop hosts group rides–this can be a great place to meet an eclectic group of people with varying skill levels.
See also: “How to Find People to Mountain Bike With.”
4. Mountain bike clinics.
They will teach you the specific skills you need to become a better rider. In clinics, there is a progression of difficulty that you don’t necessarily get out on the trail, which allows you to easily work up to more and more difficult moves in a controlled environment. I, for instance, have always had a lot of trouble with log-overs. I participated in a women’s-only clinic and practiced them over and over again, beginning with smaller ones and working up to big logs that I couldn’t imagine making it over–but I eventually did. On the trail I still sometimes hesitate when it comes to larger obstacles, I also know that I can do it, because I have before.
A clinic will also teach you the proper form for tackling different situations, such as going down steep hills or over drops. One of the bigger fears that I had when I first started out was going over the bars. I’ve done it many times, and it’s never pleasant. But mastering keeping my weight back and curbing overuse of the brakes has minimized my number of superman crashes, and thus has given me more courage when it comes to steep descents. A class or clinic also provides opportunities to meet potential new riding buddies.
See also: “Why Everyone Should Take MTBing Lessons.”
5. A good bike.
It doesn’t have to be a super-expensive, full-suspension, full-carbon whatever. The most important thing is that it fits well and works well. Develop a relationship with your local bike shop. Talk to them about your riding needs. Demo different bikes before buying one, and see what you like. I’ve found that fat bikes are very confidence-inspiring, but they aren’t for everyone. Find what works, and have someone who is experienced help you fit the bike to your body. It’s astounding what a difference it makes to have the saddle in the correct position, or to have a pair of bars that are comfortable. Though it may be more of an investment of time and money initially, the riding experience will be much more enjoyable on a bike that truly suits your needs.
See also: “5 Reasons to Get a Professional Bike Fit.“
After all, that’s what it’s all about. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? If you enjoy riding, you’ll naturally be more confident about it, so ride in whatever way makes you happy. Remember, you don’t have to keep up with the group. You can walk your bike whenever you need to. You can ride however long you want, wherever you want. Ride your own ride, and don’t worry about comparing yourself to others. Remember: you are a badass just for being out there.
Your turn: These are just a few of the many ways to build confidence on your mountain bike. What other methods have you found helpful, and what other ideas do you have?