How To Get Your Mojo Back After Crashing
Crashing your bike happens. And when we’re lucky, they happen with minimal damage to our bodies, our kit, and our bikes. But once the handlebars are straightened and the bones have healed, there’s one thing left to recover: our confidence.
We can all get shaken up after crashing – even just a near-crash. “The most important thing is to recognise and validate that having anxiety or feelings of fear is completely normal and something worth working on,” says Kristin Keim, Psy.D., a clinical sport psychologist and owner of Keim Performance Consulting. “The first step is to make sure you focus your energy on what you can control.” Taking the time to rest properly and heal physically should be the number one priority.
Once you get the doctor’s approval to get back on the bike, here are the steps you can take to deal with those pesky mental jitters so you can get back to feeling confident and secure on the bike.
1. Don’t get swept up.
If the crash happens mid-race or group ride, do a full-body check, ideally with medical staff or a trusted friend. Is there damage to your helmet? Can you stand? Can you remember the basics like your name and the date? Adrenaline can mask a lot of pain so it’s important to make sure you’re okay before getting back on the bike.
Kelli Samuelson, owner and racer for La Sweat, a criterium-focused women’s cycling race team, recommends the simple and timeless duo of calming down: drinking water and breathing. “When one of my riders is involved in a crash, and they come into the pit, I check that they are okay to re-enter, and then I tell them to look at me, get a drink of water, and breathe. In this scenario, we only have about two to three minutes before they have to jump back in the race, so taking away any other distractions is key.”
If you crash on a ride by yourself, follow the same protocol of a full-body check, give yourself adequate time to regroup, and don’t be embarrassed or have too much pride to call for help or a ride. The initial shock and pain-obscuring benefits of adrenaline can cause a lot of riders to hop back on, only to find out later they’re in serious pain, and you don’t want to be deeper in the wilderness or farther from help when that happens.
2. Ride with people you trust, but maybe skip the group rides for now.
A trusted wheel might be your best bet for a swift recovery. Phil Gaimon, former pro cyclist and current host of “Worst Retirement Ever” on YouTube, makes a point to ride with people who will be patient with his recovery. “Not being alone distracts you from fear,” he says. “Once I warned a teammate that I would just be glued to his wheel on the downhills until I remembered how to do it myself.”
Familiar faces and familiar places can help ease us back into riding: When we know someone’s riding style and we’ve memorised the pattern of potholes, there’s less to throw us off. But remember to take your time with the group rides where new friends can mean less predictable riding styles. Keim recommends riding with a smaller group until you feel comfortable riding closely to others again.
3. A little bit goes a long way.
Patience, while being one of the more annoying virtues, is usually a good bet. Gaimon recommends focusing on the work you did and the experience you gained. As he says, “it’s just a matter of finding [that experience] or letting it find you.”
And if you can’t seem to tap into your past experience, Samuelson lives by the 10-minute rule. It can be daunting to think about rolling out for a three-hour long ride again. Instead, she pushes herself to think rides in 10-minute segments. Once she can get through the first 10 minutes, she just takes it 10 minutes at a time after that. If at any point, you want to bail, you can give yourself permission to do so.
4. Figure out your reasons.
If time keeps passing, and you’re still struggling to feel mentally comfortable getting on the bike, explore why you liked riding a bike in the first place. The pressure to perform, to be fit, and to accomplish great things can make us feel like slowly easing back into riding after a crash is taking too long and causing us to lose fitness. It’s easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves, and a setback like a crash will only make that worse.
“We often get so fixated on numbers that we lose touch with why we love riding,” Keim says. “Remember, you get to ride your bike.” If you originally liked riding a bike because it was a great way to meet people or to see the city, or just to feel the wind on your face, focus on those aspects of your ride rather than how fast or far you can go.
5. Talk to someone, even if it’s yourself.
If you really struggle to get back in the saddle, Keim and Samuelson both recommend seeing a sport psychologist. Cycling has its risks, and fear is part of it. Working through that fear with a professional can be helpful.
That said, seeing a sports psychologist isn’t in the cards for a lot of us. You can also talk to some friends who’ve been there, or ask at your local bike shop if they know someone who’s dealt with something similar who would be open to talking. Putting yourself out there can feel vulnerable, but the cycling community is full of helpful people – many of whom (if not all) have crashed before.
If you’re more of a private person, spend some time journalling about how you’re feeling and what’s triggering those feelings. A little personal investigation can help us pinpoint how to move forward, e.g., if it’s just the descents that are spooking you, then you know to start with flat rides for a bit to build back confidence.
Above all else, remember to go at the pace that’s right for you. After all, that’s what makes riding so fun in the first place.