Fear-Less: 3 Things That Can Help You Control The Fears You Struggle With When Mountain Biking

"If you aren't able to be scared, you either haven't been hurt or you're completely ignorant."
Does fear stop you in your tracks when you see a trail feature like this rock garden?

Riders my age might remember seeing “No Fear” t-shirts. They had great motivational sayings, and conveyed the message that you could erase fear from your life. Ask any mountain biker and they will tell you there is no such thing as being fearless. As Laird Hamilton put it, “if you aren’t able to be scared, you either haven’t been hurt or you’re completely ignorant.”

Fear is a part of our DNA. It helps keep us alive. However, if left unchecked, fear can prevent us from reaching our full potential as riders. I have struggled with fear ever since I started mountain biking. I have not yet conquered it, but I have learned three things that can help control fear.

Determine the source of your fear

Even relatively tame descents like this one tend to scare me.

For me, my biggest fear when it comes to mountain biking is on descents and stems from two over-the-bars crashes I’ve had while descending. Those two crashes made me afraid to descend, and it has taken a while to overcome the fear of descending on a mountain bike. For others, it could be going through a rock garden, or riding over a wooden feature. Whatever the case may be, you must first pinpoint the source of your fear before you can learn how to control it.

Learn how to be a better rider

If you fear particular trail features, the best way to control that fear is by learning and mastering the fundamentals of mountain biking. Knowing how to balance yourself on a bike while climbing, descending, and cornering will give you the confidence you need to counteract your fear. I don’t dread tackling a particular trail feature when I know exactly what it will feel like when I ride over it, and how my bike will react to it.

Additionally, you need to know how to properly set up your bike, i.e., suspension, tire pressure, and saddle height, so that it performs at its best. You can’t learn these fundamentals overnight. I have spent a lot of time reading articles, watching videos, practicing basic skills, and taking notes on what tire pressures and shock pressures I used on different trails in different conditions. I still have a ways to go, but the knowledge I have gained so far has given me confidence, which helps me better control my fear.

Conquer fear one small step at a time

I wish I could knock out all my fear in one swift stroke, but I can’t. Instead, I have gradually gained control over my fears through a series of small victories. Recently, I mastered a rocky descent that I had been afraid to ride down. I did it over the course of a few months in small steps.

I started by walking down it all the way. Each time I did, I studied the section, looking for possible lines. Next, I walked down part of the way and then tried riding down the rest of the way. That gave me a feel for how my bike would react to it, and I got to test out a couple of different lines. Finally, I followed my more experienced riding partner down it from the very top, making sure I rode exactly where he did. I made it down without incident, and we celebrated the victory together. Moments like that will do wonders for your confidence, and help you control your fear so that you are willing to tackle other obstacles.

You’ll never eliminate fear but you can control it

I keep riding because I love flying through the woods on 2 wheels more than I fear the consequences of doing so.

Fear will always be a part of mountain biking because it is a risky sport. Riders can get seriously injured. However, if you love mountain biking like I do, you learn to accept the risks and enjoy the rewards. I love continually pushing myself physically and mentally. Yes, I am afraid at times, and there are some trail features I will not attempt, but little by little I am gaining control over my fear and becoming a better rider.

How do you control your fear when riding? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.