Getting Past "Don't Watch Me!"- The Mountain Biking Introduction

Working on bridge riding at Levis
One of my top concerns when Travis started introducing me to off-road riding was the concern of being "watched." My fitness level wasn't high and I really felt self-conscious about my riding skills. Rather, the lack of.

I remember after a few rides Travis really pushed me to lead, and I simply wouldn't have it. Why would I want him to see me mess up? Why would I want him to see me not make a climb or clean a section?

Eventually I decided to include some solo rides, which allowed me to work on some of the tricky areas or my handling skills without an audience.

This way, I could gauge if I felt comfortable enough riding in front and would lead on specific trails when we rode together. Of course, I would default to the rear if we took a trail I either hadn't ridden solo yet or if I simply felt I wasn't "ready."

My word of advice- do not push your partner into leading until they are ready to. It will save you a lot of headaches and frustration in the long run. However, someone may be stubborn (I know I was) and they might need to be coaxed into leading at some point if they do not initiate it themselves. Do this on a trail that is enjoyable and the partner has ridden dabless on. (Dabless, another term for riding clean and/or not putting a foot down.)
If Travis hadn't pushed me, I would've been stuck in a rut. I also wouldn't have pushed myself to get beyond my comfort zone. Growth can be scary, but it can be completely doable!

Taking the lead...

1. It allows your partner to follow you at a pace that is truly comfortable for YOU. If you have a partner who cares about your experience, they are probably spending most of the time on the ride wondering if they are going "too fast" or "too slow." Do them a favor, once you are able to ride a trail clean, start leading on that trail and go from there.

2. If you have not started riding by yourself, this is a great opportunity to experience what it's like seeing the trail first-hand. I found myself flubbing up more often when I rode behind Travis simply because I rode too close sometimes. I couldn't see what was coming up next and would pick a poor line. Being first allows you to see the "whole" picture, and gives you an advantage rather than seeing your partner's back tire.
Taken sometime in April '14, during one of my first few rides.

3. Not to put pressure on you as a new rider, but if you ride ahead your partner can see things you may not be aware of when it comes to how you ride. Maybe you aren't putting your foot up enough when cornering or possibly you aren't leaning back far enough on your seat when going down a steep hill. The thing to remember is when riding with someone more experienced, do not take their feedback as a criticism.

4. For the more experienced rider trying to assist their partner by pointing out everything they aren't doing correctly. Don't load them all up at once. It's best to offer a couple pointers but not completely unload on all of the wrongs that occurred during the ride. Also, keep comments to yourself if you see your partner messing up on something that is easy- everyone has off days and comments such as "What the h*ll was that?" or "Really?" will not be appreciated nor will it inspire them to feel comfortable riding with you. For the more sensitive rider, even joking about it may rub them the wrong way- they may feel shame over it vs. the casual "let it go" attitude. Sometimes the best thing is to let them "ride it out."

Once Travis and I were riding trails elsewhere. It had bridge features that I easily psyched myself out over (which is a long story.) There was one in particular that I made 3-4 attempts to go over while Travis waited further up the trail for me. I couldn't do it and I walked. I was on the brink of tears due to how frustrated I was and how I felt I let him down. He didn't make any comments or say anything- he knew that it was best to just let me keep riding and pedal thru it. Shortly after I was back to focusing on riding what was in front of me vs. dwelling on what I couldn't ride.

Another good idea is to ASK your partner what they want to learn for the day and focus attention on that. If they want to session a particular trail or feature- they made the decision on what to do, so they will expect feedback on that.

5. There may always be "performance anxiety" when riding with others and it is something you have to get used to, otherwise you won't have much fun. I remember the first few times my girlfriends wanted me to take them out on rides. Assuming the lead made me nervous, however I got over it quickly. I found it refreshing to ride with others who were closer to my level, it took away a lot of my worries/concerns and I put less pressure on myself. I was my harshest critic, my girlfriends didn't care if I didn't make a climb or walked a section. They were happy to be out riding bikes and that was their focus, not to judge my skills or lack of.

Group rides are also stressful sometimes, especially when there are really good riders in attendance. I have not been on a ride where I haven't had fun, and all I've gotten is props for my riding and simply being out there. Long story short- I battle a skewed view of myself and my riding abilities.

Really it boils down to this: There is always going to be someone better or worse than you- you need to find your own story, ride how you want to ride, and ENJOY it.

Taken the day I rode the climbs on River
Trail successfully for the first time.
The best thing about mountain biking is that you can progress with it in a way that works the best for you. Progression is one of the reasons I gravitated towards mountain biking- it was much more entertaining for me to make a rocky climb than it was for me to simply ride up a hill on a paved trail. Mountain biking also teaches you trust. You learn to trust your partner, you learn to trust your bike, and you learn to trust yourself. You'll find trust with your bike and yourself faster if you take the leap and ride on your own. You may find it's easier to handle making mistakes if you've made them solo vs. always with your riding partner. Soon you learn that mistakes are more like possibilities, then you make those possibilities into "I finally did it!"

It's all about the journey and discovering you really can accomplish far more than you thought possible.