Thursday, June 16, 2011

Choosing to Conquer Fear

I know I said I would discuss shifting, but I would really like to post a shifting video which I can't make until the perpetual beeping of the bulldozers and big trucks in front of my house stops. Probably Saturday.

So instead of our regularly scheduled program, today I'll reach into the mail bag.
Hey Laura,
I recently took a bad fall on my mountain bike and I believe I bruised my ribs. How do you bounce back from a fall where you hurt yourself? I know I need to go back and ride that section where I fell over and over and over again but now I'm scared of it. I know I can do it, but I dread it. How can I get over my fear and just ride it?
This is a great question. Here's my response.
Ouch!!! I am so sorry about your sore ribs. I've been bruised and sore from falls on the bike, and it's no fun.

The best way to come back from a fall is to go slowly, work back up to the place where you were, and then choose to proceed from there. You absolutely want to get back on the bike, but you don't want to push too fast without giving your psyche, if not your body, time to heal.

Keep this in mind: Things always become exaggerated in your mind. The beautiful chocolate cake in the window looks absolutely amazingly delicious, but really, it’s never as delicious when you taste it as it was when you imagined it. Similarly, with few exceptions, crashing is most often not as bad when it actually happens as it is in your mind. After you crash, your mind starts to build up the crash into something even more painful and traumatic than it probably was as a means of self-defense and self-preservation. Natural fear builds to keep you from attempting that daring thing again. Your brain does not want you to get hurt again!

Women, more than men, are hard-wired for self-preservation and are more prone to fear of getting hurt. After all, women must keep themselves safe in order to ensure the survival of the species. Men on the other hand, are hard-wired to face danger, fling themselves over the edge, and slay the saber-toothed tiger. Understand that it is completely unnatural as a female to push through the fear and try the thing again.

Recognize that your brain is doing you no favors, and that it will try to blow the crash and even the pain out of proportion, just like it exaggerates the amazing taste of that mediocre cake. Cut yourself a break, and don’t beat yourself up for being afraid.
Kudos to you for wanting to keep going and gritting through the fear. Keep practicing the fundamentals, and work on your balance. Practice riding really slowly, like crawling, so that you will learn to track-stand. It will help you more than you know.

I took a bad fall in 2004 and suffered a class 2 A/C separation (shoulder). I couldn't ride for about 6 weeks. Drove me nuts. But what I COULD do was practice riding slowly, practice stops and starts, practice riding slow tight turns, and practice riding with no hands. I was really surprised when I got on the bike for real 6 weeks later and found that my technical skill had significantly improved in the time I had "not" been on my bike. There is simply no substitute for spending time practicing the fundamentals.

When you're ready to face the demons again, have someone with you who can help you with body position, speed, and technique. Wear body armor if you have any. Start with something smaller and work up to the degree of difficulty that gave you trouble. And when you're riding, never revel in your victories at the moment you experience them, because guaranteed there is another challenge rising to meet you. Stay two seconds ahead of yourself, and don't look back. When you come to a stop, then you can celebrate the victory.
Hope this helps any of you who have suffered setbacks in your riding. Never be afraid to ask for help or take a break. But be sure to get back on the bike!

Laura Drexler, Plattekill Mountain, 05 JUN 2004

Before I made it to the bottom of the hill and finished the race that day, I crash landed on my head, lost my front brake, flipped the bike and landed on my back, dropped my chain, and did a "Superman," landing on my chest. Not such a good day. While it took some time to mentally recover from that one, I did, and went on to race well two weeks later at the NORBA Nationals at Snowshoe, WV.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Improving Balance for the Beginner Cyclist

When you ride often enough, after a few years you tend to forget what it was like to be a beginner rider. Conducting beginner clinics (and reading some of my old journal entries) helps me remember that cycling can be a really daunting challenge. Here are a few tips for new riders that I've picked up over the years.

Practicing your études.
While no one approaches a piano the first week and starts pounding out Bach, we often forget that good cycling comes from good fundamentals. Doing scales on the piano was one of the most tedious things I had to do as a child, but it taught my fingers and my brain where the keys were, so that when it came time to read complex music, I didn't have to look down to hit the right note. In cycling, you practice finding your balance and shifting gears.

So here are the exercises for finding your balance (Etudes for Bicycle). All exercises should be done in the small ring up front (middle ring if you have a triple) and the middle of the cassette in the rear.

Removing your hand from the handlebar.
For those of you who grew up riding bikes, riding through your teens and into your 20's and 30's, you will simply not understand this. For the rest of us, if you don't remember it being a terrifying thing to remove your hand from the handlebar while riding, just to take a drink or signal a turn, well, you've probably blocked that memory. It was terrifying. If you are just learning to remove a hand while riding, here are the steps to take to move to the next level:
1. Admit it's terrifying and unnatural to remove a hand from the mechanism guiding you in a straight line. Don't beat yourself up for being afraid.
2. Take your fear, mentally put it in a zip-lock bag and put it in your back pocket. Don't look at it.
3. Find a nice open parking lot (like the back side of a mall), and with a water bottle in the cage, ride in a straight line. There should be no cars, dogs, kids on skateboards, or errant squirrels to distract you.
4. Take your hand from the handlebar, bring it to your chest, then back on the handlebar. This is a quick but smooth movement that does two things: a) keeps your center of gravity all in one plane and b) lets you start to get comfortable with having one hand on the bar. Gradually increase the time your hand is off the bar. When you are comfortable, move to step 5.
5. Touch the water bottle, then put your hand back on the bar. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the time your hand is on the bottle.
6. Remove the bottle from the cage, bring it to the handlebar, then replace the bottle. Drink if you can hold steady and feel confident, but only when you're ready. Yes, you are still riding around the parking lot.
When you have mastered removing the water bottle, drinking, and replacing the bottle in the cage, find a low-traffic location where you can increase your speed to 13 - 16 mph, and continue this drill at speed.

Back when Mildred and Algernon were sitting in the Edsel and had to signal a right or left turn, all signals were made with the left hand out the driver-side window. A roadie bent over in the drops making this kind of right turn signal doesn't make so much sense. You should signal LEFT by extending your left arm left-wards, and signal RIGHT by extending your right arm right-wards. This is the most unambiguous way to tell cars and other cyclists what your intentions are.
1 - 4. Follow the same steps as above to get comfortable removing a hand from the handlebar.
5. When you're ready for Step 5, be aware that your center of gravity will be affected by an outstretched arm. Tighten your core muscles to aid in stabilization. Practice riding in a straight line, alternately holding the handlebar with only the left hand, then the right.

Girls on a Team LUNA Chix ride practice riding the white line near Cabrillo.

Riding in a straight line.
This is honestly harder than it sounds.
1. On a low-traffic stretch of well-paved road that has a white stripe signaling the edge of the bike lane or the start of the shoulder, ride the white line, keeping your front wheel on the line.
2. Listen for cars and move to the right when they approach from behind.
3. Once you are confident, hold the handlebar with your right hand, sit up straight, pull your left shoulder back, opening the chest. Glance over your left shoulder. Turn back forward and see how far off the white line you moved.
4. Practice looking over your left shoulder while riding in a straight line. Don't forget to engage your core muscles to keep you stabilized.
Note: You can also practice riding in a straight line in a large empty parking lot with long rows of white lines.

Practicing slow, tight turns.
In a quiet empty parking lot, practice making figure eights between the parking spaces. Use the width of 4 spaces to begin with, and make your turn radius tighter as you gain confidence. Work towards completing a figure eight within two to two-and-a-half parking spaces.

Hopefully these tips will help you develop better balance!
In my next blog entry, I'll discuss shifting. Yes, much like the rising of a soufflé, shifting can be somewhat elusive and mysterious. But there are tips and tricks for everything!

Hope to see you on a ride soon!