When you’re Riding (with a capital R), you roll over most trail features without a care. You’re Flowing in the moment, and your body is executing trained patterns in a fluid and, I might add, awesome way. But sometimes you encounter a thing. That thing could be a drop, a jump — anything that makes you stop and have to decide whether to go for it.
In my classes (and with myself) I ask these questions:
1. Do you want to ride this thing?
Do you want to roll off this ledge? Do you want to boost this double jump?
If your answer is anything but an emphatic “yes” — if it’s a “maybe,” or an “I dunno,” or an “I’ll just try it” — don’t do the thing. Your lizard (the lower part of your brain that runs your body in the moments that matter) knows exactly what you’re capable of. Lack of clarity often signals lack of readiness.
Once you have that clear yes, ask yourself what kind of yes you have.
Are you saying yes for extrinsic reasons? These include peer pressure (Jim just did it), ego-driven self expectation (I should be able to do this) and basically anything from the Should Bucket of Crappy Living. Your loud ego voice is not your real you. It’s the noise of culture and your own baggage. If you’re doing this thing for anyone else — anyone but your inner self — don’t do it.
Are you saying yes for intrinsic reasons? Is this move a natural expression of your ability? Are you creating something beautiful? Is it going to feel sweet? These are the best reasons of all. If your quiet kung fu voice says it’s good, it’s truly good.
If you have a pristine yes, continue to No. 2.
2. Do you know how to do this thing?
Have you mastered the techniques required to land this big jump or climb this exposed ledge? Even if you can’t write a book about it, do you understand, at a body level, how to do this thing?
If this seems like a new challenge, have you done something similar? Does this move use a combination of skills you already have? (For example, jumping into a turn combines turning and jumping.) Can you see and feel yourself doing this thing?
If yes, continue to No. 3.
3. Can you do this thing right now?
This question is about this moment right here, right now. Maybe you’re tired, or you’re hungry, or you’re on a different bike, or your front tire has burped some air, or you’re worried about work, or your shoulders hurt.
It’s completely OK to say “Not today.” Actually, that’s much better than getting hurt.
If you can see and feel yourself doing this thing right now, continue to No. 4.
4. Are you afraid?
If you’re afraid, your lizard will use your oldest and worst habits, and this is likely to go wrong.
If you’re optimally aroused, your lizard will use your newest and best skills, and this is likely to be sweet.
Imagine an arousal scale from 1 to 10. One is sleeping soundly. 10 is freaked out.
In my experience, most riders perform their best somewhere around 8. You might feel nervousness in your chest, but you can see and feel yourself doing this thing, and you’re excited to do it. At 7.9, you feel a healthy sense of urgency, your whole body is active and you can ride at the peak of your abilities. This is the sweet spot for shred.
When your arousal level peaks above this line, you step into fear. You might feel tension in your muscles, you might imagine yourself getting hurt, your mind might go blank, you might brake involuntarily and — pay attention to this — you might feel a twinge in your stomach. Any sign in your tummy is a danger sign. At 8.1 you’ve spilled into fear and stupidity, and a crash is much more likely.
If you’re afraid, don’t do the thing. If you’re properly stoked, go for it! If you’re not sure, save it for another day.
Have fun out there!
Random challenge in Florence, Italy while my wife and I were on vacation. When the owner of Firenze Freeride figured out who I was (he has Mastering Mountain Bike Skills in Italian), he invited me to hit this drop that no one had ridden yet. My first thought was “no way, not today on in a foreign country on a rental bike,” but I asked myself the four questions and went for it. Sweet!
Know more. Have more fun!
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