We all suffer from fear from time to time. Riding, Road, Track or Dirt all comes with its fear factors.
The trouble with fear is that it gets in the way of our rational actions and thought process. We often lockup or worse do the wrong thing because of fear, even if its momentary doubt.
Most of the time there is no room for fear in our actions, we simply do not have time to replan or adjust to overcome our hesitation, so how do we control fear and make sure we react accordingly?
Now firstly fear or apprehension is normal and should not be quashed, its part of the mechanism that keeps us safe and introduces barriers for us to ensure we don’t over step our abilities. So there has to be a way to train out those moments of hesitation that are inappropriate whilst not affecting those that are?
In the military or Police training they talk about combat mindset. Jeff Cooper came up with the concept many years ago and it has been expanded on ever since, like so many other good ideas.
The upside of Combat mindset is that you can train yourself to react in a certain way to stimuli, those same stimuli that create a fear, hesitation or block in your mindset.
When you are training to hop over logs, you are training a mindset as much as a technique you are just not fully aware of it when you are practicing. Once mastered if you suddenly come around a corner on the trail and see a log in your way, instead of freezing or going to the default action (STOP) you go straight into log hopping mode and focus.
The same is true for suddenly finding a corner tightening up on you on the road, you’ll either fall into the default action or a trained one. i.e. if you have trained using the rear brake against throttle to tighten and slow corners, you’ll just fall straight into that action or your’ll try to brake your way through the corner.
You see a trend here don’t you…. our default action. it almost always results in us grabbing a brake lever and pulling hard.
Imagine the impact this has when you have just had a hesitation (Fear) reaction because you’ve locked the front wheel….. yeah…. not a good combination. I mean usually, grabbing a brake lever is not a good solution.
So obviously from this there are two very good paths to address a Fear Mindset.
The first is train for the situation. Train again and again, making sure the, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, stimuli is activated and you react appropriately. The locked front wheel for instance involves, the front of the bike lifting and moving away from you, the sense that the brakes are not working and the appropriate action is ease off and back on the brake lever gently.
When you practice the skill, YOU MUST MAKE SURE THAT THE STIMULI is part of the practice. In other words practicing easing off the brake and back on WITHOUT locking the front wheel…. won’t create an appropriate Fear Mindset action.
By training the right way you are linking the stimui with the correct action, log hopping is a little easier… the stimuli is just a log in front of your path :-).
The next step though is more general, and perhaps explains why so many of those really good riders, just never seem to get fussed, even when something unexpected pops up in front of them.
The generic reaction
Great riders seem to breeze through problems and maintain momentum or wash it off confidently and then walk away from the problem like they meant to do it that way.
The one thing you don’t very often see them doing is grabbing a handful of brake!!!
The reason for this is that they have trained their default reaction, either intentionally or from years of failures and skills building honing their desire and belief to find a way through an obstacle rather than “stop” before it.
Even if they don’t have a way through, they will lose speed in a controlled manner whilst they shuffle their skills pack ready for an option and by the time they realise the option is stepping off, they are at a speed that they can make it look comfortable and easy.
So how do you go about training your default action
train based on momentum. That’s the key, keep moving forward, even if you are in a position where you need to stop eventually, do it further down the trail , road, or even in the gravel trap if need be.
When we are riding we often feel like the only path forward is the one we are on now, the only line through a corner is the one we are riding now, the only path is the single track in front of us etc. We need to train our brains to be continually looking for options, the line we are on now is not the only line, just look at the guy who passes you on the inside or outside etc. same goes for the single track.
The Poison path
It’s fairly complex to train this as an exercise but a as a single rider you can use the “Poison Path” approach to learning it. This involves, on a casual ride, every now and then deciding that the path you are on is Poison, you can no longer stay on it NO MATTER WHAT.
The Idea of the Poison Path is to adjust your path to a different one that comes out in the same location, i.e. joins up again. On the road it might be a different entry point on the corner, or perhaps a different turn point, on the trail it might be getting off the trail altogether and going bush for a few hundred metres.
When I first saw someone doing the Poison Path I thought he was a complete idiot, but later when things got more serious, that Idiot was able to find passing point that I just didn’t think were possible. When the path was suddenly blocked or slowed by a crash, or mud bog etc. he seemed to quickly without slowing find a way around and pass us all…. whilst we were on the brakes!!!!
The same goes for track riding, if you only know “The Line” how are you going to pass anyone? or cope if you are forced off line?
The “Poison Path” is a great exercise and fun to boot. You should approach with some caution, of course, don’t go full speed into the inside of a tight corner until you know you can cope and how, but it also will build enormous skills in coping and will re-wire your brains default action… from Brake to find a way through.
Introduce your riding mates to the Poison Path, it’ll be hilarious…. but eventually it will be a concern as they no longer struggle to find a way past you and when things go wrong they are looking for ways past instead of ways to stop!!!