Speed + Gnar + New Group = Fried Brain

Hi Lee,

The other day I rode with a different group of riders on a trail I’ve never ridden. It was dry and loose, rutted, and littered with gnar. Which, of course, is Rad. Being the guy that was unfamiliar with the trail (and probably attempting to fight above my weight class) I was the slowest rider. I also crashed the most.  I definitely pushed my limit on a few sections and the lizard in my head was not happy. I felt myself riding off the back and could not always correct in time to save it. My brain was fried on those sections.

This was the first time I reverted back to lizard auto pilot in a very long time. I’ve been in the same situation before but without smoking my brain stem and eating dirt.  Now I’m questioning what the heck went wrong. Does this ever happen to high level riders? Not that I’m anywhere near high level status but it just made me curious whether or not this affects all riders or just average joes. Of course, any recommendations you have for preventing this from happening again are more than welcome.



Thanks for the great note.

It sounds like you were over aroused, aka over stressed.


Here are some factors that might have contributed to your situation.

A new trail. This can be exciting, or, if it’s gnarly, it can be overwhelming.

A new group. Again, this can be exciting, or it can be stressful. Especially if you don’t have great vibes or if you’re trying to impress them.

Being the slowest rider in the group (and caring about that).

Internal pressure to do better. This is the big daddy of all stress factors.

Life. When you ride, your arousal level is the sum of everything that’s happening on the ride, at work, in your family and in your fantasy football league. If you’re stressed off the bike, you’re probably stressed on the bike. The more trouble I’m having with Life, the more I use my brakes.

Any rider that gets over aroused in these ways is bound to experience the same issues. Pros are good at managing themselves, so I’ll bet it’s rare that this happens to them. I asked Curtis Keene if he ever freaks out on rides. He said “Only if a mountain lion is chasing me.”

How to avoid these stressors

Pick trails you can handle, at a pace you can handle.

Ride with the right people. A healthy vibe is critical. I used to ride with high level pros often. While the riding was fantastic, sometimes the people were assholes. That makes for bad vibes. These days I ride with good, quality dudes. Who cares if they’re pro-fast?

Ride at your own pace. Don’t worry about the other riders.

Be kind to yourself. Seek YOUR optimal performance as measured by intrinsic goals like making great turns, not some arbitrary external goals like beating other people.

Do what you can to reduce life stress. Since that’s often impossible, learn to stuff the Life Shit into its own box. Don’t worry: I’ll be there after the ride.

I’m not a top level rider, but I can’t remember the last time I got so freaked out I can’t function. That’s because I’ve gotten pretty good at managing my riding situations (and myself). If I decide not to hit a feature, or if I let the rest of the group leave me in the dust, I try to be OK about that. Sometimes it’s hard to be OK about not being as awesome as I want to be, but it has to happen — so I’m making it happen.

How to fix these stressors

OK, so you’re on the ride, and you’re freaking out, and you’re judging yourself, and you’re making mistakes, and it’s a shit show. What can you do?

Stop trying to hang with the group. Let them go and do your own thing. If they’re salty about waiting for you, they’re not your people. If you’re salty about making them wait, talk about that with your therapist.

Focus on your own riding. The best cues are internal. The feeling in your hamstrings of a great hinge. The braaap of a beautiful turn. That sort of thing.

If all else fails, leave the ride. Tell everyone thanks, but this is too much for you, and they should have fun. This will require extreme self awareness and self love.

How to use these stressors

Let’s say you need to hang with these riders or, even better, you need to crush them. Maybe you’re a pro rider who has to push as hard as possible. Or maybe you’re a flawed human who has to prevail to feel good about yourself. Or maybe you just really want to shred, and you know the stoke is worth it. That last thing can be really great.

Good news: Your stress system is built to make you maximally badass. Embrace the intensity and use it.

The scariest, most-unqualified-for thing I’ve ever done is ride a bull at a Grand National rodeo. The first time I was terrified! Like, running away from a T-Rex terrified. No, like sitting on a bull terrified. When the gate opened the violence felt like getting hit by a car. Within a second, my body recognized the movement pattern and synced with the bull. When he rears up, pull myself forward. When he bows down, push myself back. When he spins, lean into the turn. Just like riding motocross or DH. Before I knew it, the 8-second buzzer buzzed, and it was over. And that terror switched, just like that, into the most intense euphoria I’ve ever felt.

As far as your body is concerned, terror and euphoria are similar. The biggest difference is perception. So take all that intensity and get stoked about it. Fuck yeah! Let’s pin it! COME ON!!!

Learn to down regulate. If 0 is sound sleeping and 10 is a total freakout, most people operate optimally at around 8. If you’re a 9 or 10, learn to calm yourself to an 8. Breathe deeply. Shake your hands out. Think about how qualified you are to be there. Smile.

Have fun! This is the biggie. Switching from “oh no this is too much” to “heck yeah this is rad!” is a powerful way to access your kung fu.

I hope that helps!


1 reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *