Even if you are an experienced mountain biker – even if you regularly take risks and know what you’re doing, downhill and technical descents can be, well, frightening. If you’re travelling down an abnormally steep or technical slope, sometimes you have to inch and slide down like a cautious penguin on an icy hill.
Downhill mountain biking is becoming more and more relevant in the warm season tourist community, especially in Switzerland and France, and even in many American resorts. Perhaps this downhill community is a bit less-known to many. If you are an avid cross-country or endurance rider, you probably have a light-weight bike, and may just avoid downhill riding for pragmatic reasons.
But if you are able to get a more suitable bike, and summon courage, the downhill ride is more than just crashes and burns. Albeit, you will have to come to grips with the fact that falling, and sometime injuries, are part of the sport. Downhill biking isn’t just a way to build confidence, nor is it a thrill-seeker sport, it can also be a spiritual experience. The wind blowing across your face and the speed elating your spirits and allowing you to forget about stressful parts of your everyday life is important not only for focus, but also for the body and its need for dopamine and adrenaline release. Not to mention, it’s just an extremely fun and elevating experience when you get deeper into it.
To start out you will probably want to begin with a blue or green run (assuming you’re riding in a developed area, of course: they use identical color-coded terminology for the trails that skiing does), because if you do start out going on black runs there is a high chance of injury and crashes, which are never, ever fun.
It can be potentially nerve-racking the first time, especially if you crash. If you don’t have the proper confidence, or simply need to rebuild that confidence, you are more likely to tighten up, think too much, and end up in a messy and painful situation. In order to move beyond your fears and second thoughts you need to learn how to ride pretty impulsively. If it’s a very technical trail you will need to plan and navigate with much more precision, but eventually it is of the essence to move beyond hesitation.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it slow (after all, I’m not advocating dangerous behavior), but if you are focusing on one maneuver and end up changing that decision at the last moment you could end up hurting yourself, or even others depending on the population of the ride.
Ultimately, it’s a mind game. And sometimes your mind has to embrace the fear of failure rather than fighting it. Here’s one way to do that: buy and wear our precaryous crash & burn jersey. “Come to the downhill side, Luke.”