A phrase often used by Mountain bikers when encouraging others to tackle stupidly big obstacles most likely to break them.
Being of the female persuasion I don’t especially like the idea that one’s bravery and ability on a bike is decided by the two things I will never possess however, it doesn’t stop me rising to the bait every single time it’s uttered.
After last year in plaster and out of action this year feels like I’ve come back with a vengeance, going from chicken to daredevil (relatively), tackling the biggest, gnarliest things of my short bike career in just a few months. Working on both confidence and bike handling skills have helped immeasurably although still regularly scaring myself to the point of insanity. In the quest to both improve my riding and to remain out of A&E I’ve been reflecting a lot on what makes a good mountain biker?
My conclusion, whilst skill and ability play a part, the majority of mountain biking is about learning to fool yourself (and your body) that what you are doing is absolutely fine, safe and not likely to hurt a bit. So, following on from this season’s antics, here are my Top Ten Ways To Fool Yourself In To Being A Proper Mountain Biker.
- Look after your bike. I’m not great at bike maintenance and so I’ve found that it’s very, very easy to ignore that insistent clunking sound as you’re flying down a trail, only to finish and find the back wheel has come undone or some vital componet has worked loose. Lesson number one, you ask a lot of your bike and it needs a little love in return, or at least you remembering to tighten up the wheel axles properly!
- Lesson number 2 – Have some lessons. As I’ve learned, apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks, or at least enough of the basics to ensure that not every downhill run is an out of control white knuckle ride with no brakes. Mountain biking is a technical sport, a little instruction can go a long way towards gaining ground (and air).
- Look where you’re going. Ok, this sounds like the most obvious thing in the world but there is a huge tendency when you’re scared to look at the ground under your wheels. It’s good to ensure that no evil roots or rocks are about to leap out and throw the bike BUT, biking law says you tend to end up where you’re looking. Look ahead and you’ll sail down the trail picking out your line, look down and your nicely weighted head is just itching to help you nose-dive into a puddle or worse.
- Think about it. There’s nothing wrong with having a look at a trail before you tackle it. Push up it first or ride the trail in sections, get confident with the twists and drops before taking it as a whole. There’s nothing like knowing what’s coming up rather than face a few nasty surprises.
- But don’t think about it too much. There’ve been many times when I’ll ride up to a steep drop or tricky downhill and stop dead, think about it, pull back, think about it again, pull back, until I’ve sat there hesitating for so long I’ve talked myself out of it. General rule of thumb, just like show jumping, is three refusals and you’re out. If you’ve stopped too much or for too long it’s not going to happen.
- Follow someone. I don’t know why this works but it does. For some reason, even the scariest, steepest obstacles are much better if you have someone in front of you. Maybe it’s because if things turn out badly they will crash off first. Maybe it’s a softer landing for you if they do? Whatever it is, focusing on someone else and following their line is a great way to block out the really stupid thing you’re just about to do.
- Mix it up a bit. Riding the same trails week in week out is going to result in the same obstacles and the same skill set. To learn and to improve seek out all the new places in your area. Purpose built trail centres are particularly good for encouraging riders, with well-designed runs on which you can’t help but catch a little air, even if you hadn’t intended to!
- Copy the Pros. Ok, not the Red Bull Rampage pros for whom a 100 foot Canyon Jump and near certain death is just another day at the office, but someone you know who rides well. Hang off their back wheel and copy the hell out of what it is they do. Chances are they’ll make it look effortless but if you can keep up with them long enough to ask they may be kind enough to share some of their top tips or skills.
- Watch people do things wrong. Admittedly it’s less psychologically damaging to watch someone do something well but, there’s nothing like a practical demonstration of a fault (and a side order of schadenfreude to boot). Don’t laugh too much though as it may be the exact same thing you’re doing wrong, it’s just easier to see on a fellow rider.
- Finally, and the best lesson of all – Grow a pair and walk it. When all said and done I think that saying ‘No’ takes the biggest balls of all. We’ve all been there on testosterone fuelled rides when competitiveness and stupidity means you push each other to do more and more white-knuckle stuff. We’ve all rolled up to something which looks akin to plummeting off a cliff and sat at the top paralysed with fear but with that nagging voice which tells you all your mates are doing it so why can’t you? Some days things just don’t feel right, there are days to push the boundaries and days to say, ‘you know what, I’ll do it next time’. Recognising your own limits as well as abilities makes for the best and most enjoyable riding. Afterall, it’s meant to be fun!