Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The act of cycling is a physical one by its very nature. It is an activity revolving entirely around movement, and that movement is generated by human means.

Because of the predominant nature of the physical side of the activity, the mental side is often overlooked, the important role it plays often underestimated. And while it is true that any person physically able to ride a bike, could ride a bike if they applied themselves, to take riding a step beyond, to excel at the activity, requires a certain degree of mental conditioning. There are a number of mental attributes which come into play. Based on my experience, two of the most important of these are confidence, and the willingness to suffer.

Willingness to suffer I will consider at a future time - for now lets just look at confidence. Confidence itself is multi-faceted. On one hand a rider must have confidence in his or her bike, that its component parts will function properly, that it will handle as expected given a wide variety of riding conditions, basically that it will allow the rider to succeed (whether success means getting to work and back home, or winning a race) without fear of mechanical failure. This aspect of confidence can largely be accomplished by proper and regular maintenance. 

A second facet of confidence relates to the riders' level of ability. This aspect of confidence can generally be expected to grow along with experience. Simply put, a newer rider may be expected to possess less confidence than a veteran rider; rider confidence can be expected to increase exponentially in tandem with rider experience. It is interesting that confidence can decrease and increase again over time given certain situations. Looking backward over my own riding career there are clear ups and downs. At first, I strictly rode road - sitting in the middle of a 200 strong peloton, maneuvering between riders to get to the front, was second nature, intuitive, no problem. I was full of confidence. Descending a curving mountain road at 40 mph, 50 mph, no problem. I had the confidence to do that. Railing a 90º turn at speed during a local criterium, no problem. But then things changed; I discovered mountain biking (that's right Mike, blame it all on mountain biking) spent more and more time on dirt, and less on pavement, and as my confidence riding a fat tired bike increased, my confidence while on a skinny tired bike decreased, right along with the amount of time I spent on the road. The correlation was direct and clear. As my time on the road bike decreased, so did my confidence, and I took less pleasure and satisfaction from riding it. As a result almost all my riding time was done on the mtb.

About three years ago I made a determined effort to get back to the road, maybe even back to racing if all went well. It was slow going. It wasn't a matter of relearning anything, that knowledge was still there, packed away in the grey matter, but the confidence was lacking, AWOL, and had to be earned all over again. It has been a process, quicker to earn in some regards, slower in others - you may recall a post from last year detailing my battle with the fear of front end wobble. One of the quickest aspects to reclaim was the confidence to ride in the peloton. That one seemed to present little problem. Descending, I must confess, is still not quite there, though it is markedly improved.

The correlation between experience and confidence is direct, though not inclusive. Some riders may never be fully confident with the type of riding they do. I can almost guarantee that given a lifetime to ride through rock gardens on a single-track trail, I would never be fully confident in my ability to do so. However, I do know that regular practice at it, would make me a better rider and help me to improve. When giving up is not an option, keep at it - you are likely to get to where you want to be. The more time one rides, the greater the ability of the rider to overcome obstacles in the rider's path, be they physical obstacles in the roadway or trail, or no less real, obstacles of the mind.


  1. My friend Meme Ortega is an artist and had a number of showings @ DT Pomona Arts Colony. He painted this picture for me. Its about 3' x 4'.


    Check it out.

  2. Confidence is an interesting topic. My confidence has gone up and down with crashes and injuries; riding with people faster, slower, more and less skilled than myself; riding lots then struggling to find time to ride. I've actually gained confidence by crashing once. "That wasn't so bad, after all." It is interesting how experience changes me...


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