QUESTION: After suffering a broken clavicle on a downhill turn, unseen gravel, any suggestions for getting rid of the demons when making similar turns? – Steve S.
That’s a good question, Steve. Overcoming fear after crashing is one of the toughest things for any rider, including pros, to do.
It’s not even a conscious thing, in many ways. If you’ve crashed in a certain situation, when that situation comes up again, you’ll automatically tighten up and feel nervous before you have time to think about it. This subconscious reaction makes overcoming the problem even harder than it normally would be.
The best way to get your cornering and descending mojo back is to work on a sequence of drills so your confidence returns.
The key to safe riding is to relax. Tight arms, shoulders and neck translate into rigid and stiff cornering technique. If your arms are tight, every bump on the road gets transmitted directly to your front wheel, often causing it to wash out. But if you’re fluid and sit on the bike in a cat-like state of alert relaxation, you’re much more likely to flow with the terrain rather than get bounced around and risk falling.
Tip! Tightness begins in the face and jaw. Notice if your jaw is clenched and work on relaxing your face. Relaxation in your upper body will follow.
Begin by riding an old road bike on a flat, grassy field. Set up cones and work on cornering at low speeds–maybe 5-6 miles per hour. If you crash it won’t hurt and you can experience the rear wheel sliding around as you push the limits safely. Gradually increase speed as you feel more comfortable. Not only does this improve your confidence, it also hones your cornering skills. And it’s fun!
Next, venture out on dirt trails. It doesn’t need to be gnarly single-track. Random trails in vacant lots used by kids on BMX bikes work well. You can use your old road bike or even a mountain bike with slick tires, although the road bike is better because it’s more specific to your road riding goals. Just have fun on the dirt, accelerating, zooming around bends and letting the tires break traction occasionally so you get a feel for a bike that goes sideways.
Finally, it’s time to get back on the road. Get on your good road bike and tackle a corner similar to the one where you came to grief. Ride around it repeatedly. No need to push the envelope. The idea is to make the corner not a place of fear but a normal situation through repetition. After sliding around on dirt you’ll soon find that the paved corner is much less intimidating, and you’ll relax and be much more in control.
These drills are as much psychological as physical. Safe cornering and descending are exercises in mental and physical control, and practicing, in contrast to just going out for a ride, is the best way to get better.
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Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.