Downhill confidence crisis
August 10, 2013
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A recent trip round the classic Jacob’s Ladder loop in the Peak district highlighted a problem that’s been developing for a while. Whilst I’m fine on the smoother, more flowing descents, when it comes to the technical rocky stuff with drop offs and loose boulders I seem to have lost my bottle.
Any non-mountain bikers reading this may well be thinking “What the hell are you trying to ride that kind of trail for anyway?” but that’s mountain biking. At least in the Peak District anyway, other UK regions may have easier riding geology, but I don’t want to stir up the North/South divide.
The ride had me thinking back to 10 years ago when I first started biking round there: bumping down the same trails on a heavy bike with 80mm of unresponsive front suspension and dangerously ineffective v-brakes. I don’t remember being as cautious as I am now on my fat tyred custom hard tail. So what’s going wrong?
Lack of practice?
I reckon this is a big part of my current problem: too much time spent mincing around in lycra on the road bike. I’ve always mixed the disciplines up, but this year has had a distinct lack of ‘proper’ mountain biking. The majority of my off-road mileage has been on the cross bike on trails considerably tamer than Jacobs Ladder. It’s not been entirely wasted though, as my off-road climbing is faster than ever thanks to my high mileage.
A healthy fear of injury
I’m crap at being injured. If I can’t ride then I start going a bit weird. This is in my mind as I bounce down rocky trails, maybe more than it should be. As you get older you become aware of responsibilities and I’m not the carefree young man that I was. There’s a pro road cyclist who overcame his fear of fast descending by listening to classical music, but I think I’ll need more than a change of playlist to sort this out.
So what’s the plan? Well having slept on it, I’ve realised that like most things in life, if I want to get better I’ll have to practice. I’ve never deliberately practiced riding before, I’ve just ridden. So I might actually go out and find a difficult section of trail and repeat it a few times (I believe proper riders call it ‘sessioning’ a section) then move on to a harder section. Sounds quite dull but I reckon the returns should pay back massively.
I might also take to wearing knee and elbow pads to help with confidence whilst practicing. I suspect going back to riding full suspension would also help me get my downhill mojo back, but I know I’ll not get clearance for it at home….