Marco Velo meets the Kemmelberg

The Fear

by / / 66 posts

There’re two things certain in Cycling: pain, and more pain. How we attain either, each or both of them can present itself in many forms. When you take out your brand new bike for its maiden voyage, lean it against a wall at the pub apres ride and manage to gouge a chunk of paint of the seatstay when you stumble aboard after a pint too many, that hurts. Climbing a 22% cobbled wall, that hurts. The emptiness in your legs after 150km in the heat or cold and the only way home is up, yep that hurts. And crashing. That can hurt more than anything.

It’s not just the physical damage sustained in a bender that can make you cry, or want to. The longer term effects can be more painful than the actual bruises, cuts or broken bones. And when you start to think about crashing before anything has even happened, well that can fuck with your mind and produce stress that isn’t really needed when you’re already dealing with other riders, cars and trucks, or trees, rocks and roots. The Fear of crashing can be your worst enemy, and possibly the catalyst for the result you’re desperate to avoid.

As soon as Keepers Tour 15 was confirmed, two things were apparent: I needed to get into shape for the long days on the cobbles, and I needed to stay uninjured so I’d be able to ride the cobbles and possibly have a chance of injuring myself on them in April. The Fear started eating away at me. Not the fear of getting hit by one of the thousands of angry motorists with a hatred of cyclists that are encountered every week, but a fear of myself and my ability to ride a mountain bike fairly quickly; the fear of steep and technical terrain; the fear of limited traction; and the fear of a competitive nature, as I’d entered a couple of enduro races held on some of the nastiest (but insanely fun) trails in the country. Already I was mentally defeated. I had to confront The Fear head on.

Instead, what I did was give away my entry to the nastier of the races to one of my mates and Spoke mag colleagues… he was gutted at missing out, I had nothing to prove by racing it, and it seemed the noble thing to do. At least that’s how I justified the fear I was experiencing. The other race is on trails I’ve never ridden, and my plan to ‘ride/not race’ it lessens the chances of crashing. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. Being only two weeks before KT15 is a bit of a worry, but there’s still time to pull out!

So for the last four weeks my mountain bike has gone untouched. Not entirely due to The Fear, a little bit of circumstance with weather, work, festivities and building up some endurance on the road bike. Today I hit the dirt. Literally. There wasn’t much Fear involved, the ride was nearing the end and all the sensations were good. Maybe too good. I was riding well, in control and fairly pacy. On a trail I’d ridden hundreds of times before, on an innocuous corner, a small rabbit darted across the track in front of me and instinct dictated that I try and miss it. My front wheel caught the soft edge and before I knew it my KT was flashing before my eyes as I hit the rocky ground with a thud. A fair bit of skin donated to the earth and a decent whack of the head, but nothing to put me out of action for the rest of the ride or the coming weeks. Certainly nothing compared the trauma @ChrisO is going through right now. And then I remember @itburns and perspective really hits home.

As I sit here with blood congealing on my arm and a dull headache and hazy recollections of the moments after the impact, I feel that conceding to The Fear will never be wise. If we let it win, then we’d never step foot out of the house and sling a leg over any top tube, whether it be sloped and fat or svelte and flat. Risk is always there when we ride our bikes, but it’s there in everything we do every minute of every day. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop riding for three months so I can ride in three months.

// Musings from the V-Bunker

  1. Well thought article. We can’t control the ciclismo universe. We have to remain an integral part of the swirling mass and wait for all else to be aligned with our goals.

  2. Great article! My nickname in college was “crash.” The experiences which earned me that moniker have since forged an uncanny ability to remain upright which has served me well into my latter years. Adopting a “fuck everything and everyone” attitude of staying upright has also proven helpful. It’s the crashes which teach us the most sometimes (being able to asses your tire’s traction through your feet and ass is a learned skill). And I’ll be god damed if I’m not going to not ride today to be ok for a ride tomorrow.

  3. @Ccos

    I’ll be god damed if I’m not going to not ride today to be ok for a ride tomorrow.

    Good and perfect point. It’s the ride today that makes us better equipped for the ride coming up.

  4. Life is what happens while executing our plans is what I was told. Nice write up. All that said, there has been a rash of high profile biking deaths/severe crashes this last month or so. 2015 hopefully brings a fresh start. HNY!

  5. I’m glad you posted that now Brett. It’s been going through my head and I’m sure my first ride back on the bike will be a nervous time.

    at the moment it looks like being three months away. Getting back will be the first thing and then the next question will be Getting back the nerve to race. TTs are looking good for a while.

    But you’re right – there’s no point letting risk put you off when the chances of a serious injury are really quite small.

  6. Brett, it’s like you read my mind – I’m in exactly the same place. I’ve been dealing with the fear in a big way these last few weeks. I had a nasty (but manageable) crash, and my body has healed up, but I can feel the wound in my mind still, off the bike or on. It’s a constant back-of-the-mind sense of “what if I get hit what if I slip in that corner what if what if what if…”

    Like @gaswepass said, it’s not helped by the constant barrage of death reports in the news.

    The only solution is to say FUCK IT. And to ride, and ride, and ride again. With every mile we beat back the fear, and V is our weapon.

    I’ve posted this before, and I’ll post it again, because it’s as true as anything I know:

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”


  7. Great article- I have “donated” a few layers of my epidermis on Mt. Diablo. However, I’ve become a great descender and bike handler in the process!

  8. Oh, The Fear. I know The Fear well, we’re old mates. Fucker kept me off a bike for nearly three years in what should have been my prime years of recklessness.

    See, I’m really a semi-reformed Dirty Mountain Biking Hippie. It’s only in the last year that I’ve ever owned a bike without big knobbly tires. And part of the reason I now have my fake-Italian wunder-bike is The Fear.

    Five or six years ago I loaded my old stumpjumper and a bunch of gear into the back of my truck and headed out of town into the wilderness of Central Texas. You can properly get away from it all out there, if you know where to go. I took food and gear for three days going up and down old railbeds and power rights-of-way and what have you. I’d done this kind of long weekend hundreds of times. Except this time, on day one, a mere ten miles from the truck, ol’ Stumpy and I were bombing down a hill and having a grand old time when the fork decided it had had enough and tore out one side. I don’t remember the mechanics of the crash but when I regained my senses we had bits of gear strewn all over about a hundred yards of hill, an utterly broken bicycle, and I had a fractured left ankle and left shinbone for my trouble. I carried an old flip phone, which broke neatly in half at the hinge.

    Myself being a resourceful redneck, ol’ Stumpy sacrificed its seatstays and a pedal for me, and that and a lot of duct tape made a semi-serviceable boot/splint arrangement. Lashing the saddle, seatpost, and a bit of top tube to a convenient stick made a halfway decent crutch, and I made my way back to the truck in a mere day and a half. I don’t remember much about that walk besides feeling nearly blind for most of it. We eventually got to a hospital, where I got a long and very patronizing lecture from an orthopedic surgeon who apparently thought I could have just wished a helicopter out of thin air. He did a good job fixing my ankle, though.

    Even after physical therapy did its thing and I got most of my strength back, I couldn’t even look at a bike for years without thinking about that walk back. The Fear and I know each other well, at this point. I still like to ride in the middle of nowhere, but I take people with me or at least let somebody know where I am. And now I have a fake-Italian wunderbike and I ride in civilization a fair bit. Turns out that when you’re not dodging dogs, little old ladies, confused children, or the drunk, it’s fun to go fast on a lightweight thing. Who knew?

  9. @ChrisO

    Wishing you a speedy recovery!

  10. This was a timely article. On a whim I decided to take the MTB out on the local single track for the first time in over a year today. To me, trying to pick my way down a steep, rocky hill is much more scary than riding my road bike on a heavily trafficked urban thoroughfare. Last time I attempted the more advanced trails I took a couple painful spills, so I have been hesitant to give it another shot. It’s like a feedback loop: discomfort comes from lack of practice, lack of practice leads to more discomfort.

    So anyway, I figured it’s a new year so I’ll just go for it and I managed to make it home without hitting the deck. It’s the most satisfied I’ve felt after a ride in a while. More than 99% of my recent riding is road riding, but I think my new year’s resolution will be to work in more trails in 2015 and if it goes well enough maybe upgrade my now obsolete MTB.

  11. @il muro di manayunk

    Nice one, there’s no better feeling of accomplishment than riding some techy trail and cleaning it.

    I ride more tech stuff with more success now than ever, I think due in no small part to the modern bikes… more suspension, better geometry, and dropper posts. They make the best upgrade to any bike, and make riding safer/more fun, because you can actually have your body in the correct position to distribute weight where it needs to be.

    And your road bike handling definitely benefits from riding the dirt, no doubt.

  12. A little fear is a good thing. It keeps us from apex-ing inside lanes on fast descents or blasting through red lights during rush hour. I try not to over think these things and enjoy the ride but I have noticed that my downhill speeds have lessened with age and numerous broken bones. :)

  13. When I went down in April, at a time of form and oneness with my steed that I had never reached previously, I was stoked not to break anything or hit my head. A month of bandage changes and I was back on the bike. But fuck me if I can’t descend like I used to, can only explain it as feeling on top of rather than inside the bike, and no amount of positional changes make me feel better about it. The fear has taken hold, and it causes too much over thinking. When I stop thinking on a descent, back in flow again, I know the recovery will be complete. But the snatching brakes and wobbly descending is doing my head in meantime!

  14. The fear is essential, although my Fear is based on my imagination of what could happen rather than any actual knowledge, because as yet (touch wood) I’ve not suffered any injuries from crashing my mountain bike, and have yet to come off my road bike at all (and in the latter cast, I’m much more concerned about damage to the bike!).

    I must admit, I’ve been fortunate when mountain biking. My wife says I ride off road like I’m about to fall off at any second, but somehow don’t. And on those occasions when I’ve been forced into a rapid disembarkation, I’ve usually managed to hit something soft.

    The crashes that stick in my mind (and scar my body), and continue to make me wince have all been commuting. I’ve mentioned the spill on wet leaves which caused a significant shoulder injury here before, but I’ve also come off my bike at approximately 0.5kph, rolling off my drive when my chain snapped. This catapulted me elbow-first onto the tarmac and gouged a hole in my skin so big I had to be stitched with fishing line and have the arm set in plaster so I couldn’t bend it.

    Hilariously, I also once managed to catch one end of my handlebars in the lifting loop of a 1 tonne gravel bag, causing an unexpected and sudden meeting with the tarmac, although on that occasion I wasn’t injured.

  15. Nicely written, and a good read for sure.

    The Fear was made real for our little cycling community when news of a crash took the life one of its members this month. Riding trails he knew as well as anyone, solo, hikers found him hours later. Very sad to hear, and somehow made me a bit nervous the next time I tossed a leg over my top bar…..

  16. Odd timing. Two weeks ago today I crashed on the road bike and broke my right pelvis! I can’t say I have fear about getting back on the bike but I haven’t lifted the leg over the top tube yet. I do wonder though what my thought will be as I round that sharp little corner down the street on that first ride back. I guess we’ll find out on about another for or give weeks.


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