The Fear

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.

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66 Replies to “The Fear”

  1. Fear… according to the StraVa my last ride was a month ago tomorrow. Not even on the commuter since then. This weekend a ride is a must.

    And on the topic of lights – I fully agree with @brett about flashing front lights. They succeed in drawing attention to the hazard (poorly padded meat puppet on a metal/carbon toothpick with wheels) but then substantially fail in assisting to gauge ones proximity to that hazard. The other issue is that lights I have seen are frequently set up to shine directly into the eye socket (unlike the latest BMW or Audi… unless they hit a speed bump), further exacerbating the issue. A slight pitch down to illuminate the road immediately in front or behind the bike would go a long way to keeping everyone’s tempers in check.

  2. Flashing lights confuse old people. Old people drive.

    Agree with above about difficulty judging distance with flashers.

    In low light I will set rear light (serfa thunderbolt or one of those cheap Knog deals) to flashing to be seen. When riding in dark, unless battery dying I set to solid light.

    Forward lighting I go between 2 on bar and 1 bar/helmet. Helmet set as spot, other as flood. Works pretty well. Hadn’t thought about flat changing utility of helmet mount, one helmet mount already broke…

  3. @brett article is spot on. The fear is real, and not something easily conquered.

    Bravo @antihero and @universio it’s rare to see people resolve their stuff online. I have been guilty of sending heated responses and never caring about the fallout. Thanks for showing another way.

  4. Hmm, I’m beginning to think the cycling gods are after me. riding to work today (on a track bike, awaiting the road bike being fixed), ended up in an ambulance. Nothing too bad, but am beginning to feel The Fear creeping up on me.

  5. Quote from this excellent article: “Risk is always there when we ride our bikes, but it’s there in everything we do every minute of every day.”

    This. The fear is as real as can be, but honestly: you could set a foot wrong in the perceived relative safety of your own bathroom today, and not tell the tale. Ride prudently if you can – and even carefully, if you prefer (as I do) – but for Merckx’ sake: Ride.

    @markb Ouch! Sorry to hear that, man – may you heal swiftly and well.

  6. @therealpeel

    Bravo @antihero and @universio it’s rare to see people resolve their stuff online. I have been guilty of sending heated responses and never caring about the fallout. Thanks for showing another way.

    Seconded. Well played, gents.

  7. @unversio

    @antihero

    @unversio

    @antihero

    O, brother, I do know first hand what I’m talking about. Can’t imaging telling your family or friends “I must not fear, so FUCK IT. Go.” It sounds thoughtless to me. Poor form to use the “not riding enough” tactic as well.

    This is precisely what I tell them, my wife, daughter, parents, and all.  In my family, suiting up and attacking a problem, even at some risk, is considered thoughtful and appropriate behavior.

    Re: not riding enough, I stand corrected – a low blow.  However, you might consider that calling someone stupid without giving full consideration to the motivations and qualities of their actions is also very poor form.  I am many things, but stupid is not a quality that I possess in any measure.

    Buttons were pushed, I apologize, and call for cease-fire and year long treaty. I understand completely and could’ve called myself down first of all.

    It is nothing, my friend.  Deal :-)

  8. @markb

    Hmm, I’m beginning to think the cycling gods are after me. riding to work today (on a track bike, awaiting the road bike being fixed), ended up in an ambulance. Nothing too bad, but am beginning to feel The Fear creeping up on me.

    Ugh.  That’s going to leave a mark.  I very much hope you weren’t concussed.  Fast recovery, @markb.

  9. @antihero

    no, it should be OK, a crack in the cheekbone but nothing to worry about. Thankfully I was riding in to work with a recent convert to cycling, so he has filled in the bits I don’t remember. We were over-taking a skip lorry (dumpster truck?) as it slowed down over a speed hump. Either the front wheel hit a pot hole or something, but I went down face first and decorated the road for a few metres.

    Riding a track bike, so that didn’t help, maybe. On the plus side, my fellow rider told me the lorry driver stopped in front of me to block on-coming traffic & called the ambulance. They don’t have a good image in London as they have killed a few cyclists, but this one was a decent guy.

    But on to the subject, got hit by a car 3 weeks a go, so now have no working bikes and covered in pain and bruises, but no where near as the guys with broken femurs etc. Still feel scared though about going back out there.

  10. @markb

    @antihero

    no, it should be OK, a crack in the cheekbone but nothing to worry about. Thankfully I was riding in to work with a recent convert to cycling, so he has filled in the bits I don’t remember. We were over-taking a skip lorry (dumpster truck?) as it slowed down over a speed hump. Either the front wheel hit a pot hole or something, but I went down face first and decorated the road for a few metres.

    Riding a track bike, so that didn’t help, maybe. On the plus side, my fellow rider told me the lorry driver stopped in front of me to block on-coming traffic & called the ambulance. They don’t have a good image in London as they have killed a few cyclists, but this one was a decent guy.

    But on to the subject, got hit by a car 3 weeks a go, so now have no working bikes and covered in pain and bruises, but no where near as the guys with broken femurs etc. Still feel scared though about going back out there.

    Shit, that’s plain rotten luck.  Heal well.

  11. Track bikes can be wayward on the road.  That’s rotten luck indeed.  Glad you’re in one piece.

    At least now you’ve burned any negative karma that might be lying around, right?  Here’s to a 2015 that’s henceforth sans accident.

  12. @Teocalli

    The worse thing is it signals the end of my Film career – before it even started. Actually, the face injuries don’t hurt too much, but my shoulder has a real bad case of road-rash (through 3 layers), that does ache.

  13. Today on a downhill right hand corner I hit something on the road (no idea what) which deflected the bike into the path of oncoming traffic at about 30km/h. Quickly contemplating which rules come into play under these conditions, I decided the best course of action would be to nonchalantly keep the bike upright and avoid getting hit. It was a close thing I tells you, but the only skid marks are on the road from my rear wheel as I stopped as quickly as possible.

    Such a thing has never happened to me before and it just goes to show how quickly things can go bad without warning. It happened too quickly to do anything other than respond automatically and I was very, very lucky the drive of the oncoming vehicle was paying attention and stopped in time.

    There was no time to panic – I suspect there never is. But it was a clear reminder to pay attention and watch where you are going.

    Respect the fear.

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