Crashing Bikes is a Learning Experience [MTB Skills]

Crashing is a form of failure, and without failure, mountain bikers often don't learn new things.
This drop on my “lunch-loop” had me on the B-line for a few months. It falls shallower than some of the jumps above it, but I had crashed on a similar drop while riding in France and couldn’t shake the fear.

The list of reasons we love riding trails has grown since sometime in the 1970’s, and each of us has a unique story of what the sport means and where it has taken us.”Continuous learning” is a phrase that sits on the top of my “why I ride” list. I love that no matter how long I have been riding, or how I excel at a particular challenge, I will never master it all.

You may have heard fellow mountain bikers throw around statements like “crashing is part of racing,” or ” if you don’t crash you’re not trying hard enough.” I have heard and said these things, both in relation to racing and riding with friends. I try not to tell other folks what their mountain biking experience should look like anymore, but I still consider crashing to be an important part of my own process. I see crashing as a form of failure, and without failure, I can’t learn new things.

Some drops appear intimidating or even confusing from the launch.

I go over the bars, or adjacent hillside, fairly often. By rough estimation, I bail once per month, and occasionally more. One of my ride partners recently said that I am the world’s best product tester because “if something can break, you will crash and destroy it.” Occasionally the thing that breaks is my own bone, but most of the time it’s a plastic component that was designed to fail on impact, like a helmet visor. Why don’t they include two or three extra visors when you buy a new lid?

In addition to professional skills courses, and following more seasoned friends, mountain bikers who want to learn new skills sometimes have to huck ourselves down or off of unfamiliar chunks of trail so we can learn how to, or not-to, ride them. For example, you have likely hit a section of track that is far gnarlier than you are comfortable with, but you know it will be less dangerous to ride than to walk down alongside your bike.

If you race, you might show up to an event and find an intimidating jump in the track that you would never want to ride, but if you choose to compete you will have to send it. For other folks, challenges and their adjacent fear come when trying to drift sweeping corners on fire roads, or other high-speed slides. Each of these situations requires some understanding, conscious or otherwise, that you may not succeed.

From below you can see that this one has a broad and solid landing. All that’s left is a few deep breaths and hard pedal strokes.

I have been in these scenarios numerous times while learning the minutia of mountain biking, and there are a few things that have helped me get to the other side. The most helpful piece has been acknowledging that I might crash and then to become as comfortable as I can with that fact. If I am only thinking of crashing when I approach the thing that is scaring me, crashing becomes nearly inevitable. When I can relax and focus on executing the problem before me, while letting a crash be the unknown possibility that it always is, I often clean the section and roll along to the next.

This is all far easier to write than it is to practice, and crashing is undoubtedly not the fun part of mountain biking. Nevertheless, if you want to push yourself toward new challenges on the trail it might be worth taking a long think through your relationship to crashing, then researching some gear and methods to make that part of the learning experience less painful.

Lastly, in that millisecond wherein images of everything you haven’t yet done in life flash past, the same millisecond you know for sure you are going to eat some dirt, hug both of your arms in tight against your chest, and put your chin against your sternum. Then, think about rolling like a ball bearing across the ground. Balling up like this will help in your newfound and immediate goal of only breaking bike components.

Your turn. How do you work with fears of crashing when you want to conquer a new obstacle or hone a skill? Please share with your community in the comments below.   

Greasy roots require a reasonable amount of commitment and an agreement with the ground that the two of you may soon meet.