If crashing has you spooked, take these steps to regain your confidence while in the saddle. By Laurel Leicht
Stephen Hyde, a professional cyclocross racer with Cannondale P/B Cyclocrossworld.com, is no stranger to falling off the bike. He’s crashed many times over the years in various riding scenarios, shattering about 18 bones and suffering more than 15 concussions.
And yet, he keeps going back for more. Long after the bones rebuild and the skin heals, though, a nagging worry remains.
“I think crashing at high speed on pavement will forever be in the back of my head,” says Hyde, who started working with a sports psychologist a few years back to help him overcome these lingering anxieties. “I’ve always had a pretty rational relationship with my fears, but it’s helped having someone who can point me toward a more balanced psyche.”
Getting over a crash—whether it happened in a race scenario or a leisurely spin around town, at high speed or low—isn’t always easy or quick. Even the idea of crashing can spook us.
“Memories formed under traumatic circumstances tend to stick with us,” says Judy Van Raalte, Ph.D., a sport psychologist and professor of psychology. “For a cyclist, a crash could be that type of memory.”
For that reason, creating a lasting change in your mindset and establishing an effective way to deal with a fear of crashing takes time. The following steps can help you overcome these fears and regain a sense of empowerment in the saddle.
Get a tune-up. (For you and your bike.)
After an accident (or even if you’re scared of the possibility), take your bike to the shop; making sure it’s in optimal shape can help boost your confidence while you ride.
This step isn’t only about ensuring that your bike is in working order, says Van Raalte; it’s about checking up on your psychological state, too.
“Being mentally prepared is part of your check, like checking your equipment,” she says.
People have a range of responses following an accident, so take some time to consider the nature of your fears and if talking to someone—friends, a support group, a therapist—might be in store.
“People who seek help tend to get better faster and stay better longer,” she says.
Evaluate your handling skills.
Losing control after a sharp curve in the road or flipping your bike when you hit a bump can be mentally scarring because the accident may have been all on you. “You bear that responsibility when you can’t blame it on someone else,” says Van Raalte. “It wasn’t a random event; it was a failure on your part.”
Instead of blaming yourself, though, analyze the problem so you can fix it. Van Raalte recommends thinking about the accident and how it happened: If you crashed because you didn’t know the proper way to attack a turn, for instance, reading up on proper cornering techniques can make you more prepared next time.
Get comfortable on—and around—your bike.
In extreme cases, some cyclists develop such a fear of crashing that even the mere thought of their bike can cause anxiety. If that’s the case with you, give yourself a break and take it slowly.
“Don’t think of this as a get-back-on-the-horse-that-threw-you situation,” says Van Raalte. “That could be difficult or even dangerous if you’re freaked out.”
Instead, take a more gradual approach. Think about your bike and if you feel nervous, actively try to relax until you feel the tension leave your body. Look at your bike and focus on staying relaxed. Next, walk by and touch your bike occasionally, trying to stay at-ease. Finally, once those steps feel comfortable, sit on your bike and try to keep calm. These are important steps to work through, because it’s important to avoid feeling tense; says Van Raalte, “you can’t be anxious and relaxed at the same time.”
Free your mind.
Even though crashing is likely to happen to you if you ride long enough, try to keep a clear mind while you’re on the bike in spite of this, and only deal with anxieties as they pop up.
“When people are riding, they’re in the moment and performing in a kind of low state,” says Van Raalte. “Every now and then, something goes wrong and they need to think about it—but if they’re thinking about it the whole time, they’d be exhausted mentally.”
Keeping some mental distance from other riders helps Hyde stay focused. “I keep my head from completely getting absorbed into the action,” he says. “I like to feel loose and in control and not pinned to everyone around me.”
Take deep breaths.
When you hit a spot in a race or along your regular bike route that makes you tense up, slow your breathing by counting to three as your exhale.
“Doing this slows down your body and focuses your attention,” says Van Raalte.
If some part of your ride makes you so afraid that you can’t breathe slowly, it’s a sign that you need to take a step back. Try sticking to a less challenging course as your get more comfortable, or spend more time working on your mental prep before you give it another go.
Acknowledge your fear—and move on.
If you keep riding, fearful thoughts will inevitably creep into your brain. Remind yourself that those thoughts are reasonable, says Van Raalte, and try not to dwell on them—let them pass.
“The thought will come, and the thought will go,” she says.
Hyde agrees, and chooses instead to center his thoughts on why he loves to ride. “I’ll probably never be fully over that fear of crashing,” he says. “It’s something you live with every day as a cyclist. But my rationale in racing is the same as in my everyday rides: I am lucky to be doing what I am. Cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world and the risk of serious injury is part of that amazing drama.”