Riding down descents on a mountain bike. Catching up speed. Losing control clipped in. Washouts. Flying over the bar. Crashing. Few things are immobilizing as the fear of falling off a MTB at speed or worse, crashing and breaking your bones.
There’s never been a mountain biker who’s never felt alone and vulnerable riding fast downhill. But you must overcome this fear if getting better at mountain biking is important to you.
Here, you’ll learn 9 tips about how to get over the fear of mountain biking so you can enjoy downhill MTB more while avoiding wipeouts.
9 Tips for Overcoming with Mountain Biking Fears
The tips below are part of the practical knowledge you need to become a more confident downhill mountain biker. I must admit that I didn’t scoop all these tips out of my experience.
I dug some of these strategies out of my DH riding experience and obtained the rest from more experienced riders.
So, let’s roll.
1. Lower Your Saddle On the Descents
When biking downhill, stay low. And one way to stay low and low your center of gravity is lowering your seat a bit. How much should I lower my saddle? You ask. About 2-3 centimeters or roughly 0.5 inches should be reasonable.
If you ever fall (and what self-respecting mountain biker lacks scars?), it won’t be a life sapping thud. You’re nearer the ground with a lowered saddle. And that means there’s less distance between you and the hard, rocky ground.
2. Wear a Properly Certified Cycling Helmet
A helmet is the most important piece of cycling equipment when entering the adventurous world of downhill MTB. Make sure to helmet up before getting in the saddle.
Why do you need a helmet for downhill? Because studies show that downhill cycling results in more crashes than road cycling and street riding.
You never know when you’ll lose control of your downhill bike, catch speed, and crash into a giant baby head. My husband can’t count the number of times his helmet saved his brain riding downhill at supersonic speed.
I’ve overcome the fear of falling off my bike flying down descents, but I can’t say DH is my favorite riding style. I’m more of a trail rider. But who doesn’t crave a little adrenaline rush every once in a while?
Get a Certified Cycling Helmet from a Reputable Brand
I’ve not taken any kind of a serious spills downhilling, yet. But if that ever happens down the road, I pray that my cycling helmet will protect my noggin.
The T8 Downhill Racer is a certified full-face helmet. The safety standards for DH cycling helmets don’t require a full-face helmet, though.
However, most riders wear a full-face helmet. Because a certified full-face helmet is the most protective helmet for DH cycling that can be had. You’re likely to fall face-down, and things can get pretty nasty if that face is uncovered.
So, helmet up. Your brain ism’t replaceable remember. And while you’re at it, make sure to choose a helmet whose visor isn’t known to shatter during a crash.
Read a few reviews online or ask around your riding circle. Or just look at what experienced DH racers wear and get something like that.
What Safety Standards Should a Downhill Cycling Helmet Meet?
Pick a helmet that’s properly certified to the ASTM F1952 Downhill Mountain Bicycle Racing helmet standard.
I say properly certified because some helmet manufacturers can be deceptive when referencing the safety standard(s) their helmets meet.If the helmet you’re looking at is only CPSC certified, understand that it’s unfit for DH cycling.
Some manufacturers include a removable ASTMF1952-certified chinbar while the helmet itself isn’t ASTMF1952 certified. Such a helmet isn’t a properly certified brain bucket.
Don’t Skimp on Your Downhill Helmet
When it comes to buying a downhill mountain bike helmet, don’t skimp. Get a high-quality lid that’s been properly tested and found fit for downhill riding.
Make sure to choose a fitting helmet, too. Learn how to select a fitting helmet here: How to measure your helmet for a helmet.
3. Wear Protective Pads
Lots of pro-level DH cyclists ride without protective pads. You might see them wearing knee pads or shin pads, but you’ll rarely see pads on their elbows. Also, most don’t put on protective gloves or wristguards. But they’re expert riders, and that does mean something, right?
When starting off in the DH MTB space, I strongly suggest to at least put on knee pads and wristguards or gloves. Studies show that the hands and wrists take tons of beating in a crash, whether you’re biking, skateboarding, longboarding, or whatever.
I use Triple 8 and 187 Killer pads, and I’m happy with what I got. These are the same pads I use while roller skating or inline skating. They’re good, and I’m not the only person that holds that positive opinion of these protective pads.
Good roller skating/inline skating pads should be good enough for downhill. But if you find cycling-specific pads you like, grab them — and wear them, always.
4. Take it Slow; Persist like Your Monthly Bills
One mistake many beginner downhill riders make is being too much of a people pleaser. They’re out there, and others are watching.
Experienced cyclists are watching, and these neophytes don’t want to disappoint. They want others to think they’re cool. Which means they’re always under tons of pressure to perform, often beyond their riding ability.
Look, it’s OK to not ride like the wind, to roll downhill faster than more experienced riders. The best approach is to focus on one and only one thing — happiness. Fun. Enjoyment. I call it the test of happiness.
To pass this test, stay laser-focused on drawing as much pleasure as possible out of the present moment. Appreciate every technical feature on the descents. View the baby heads along the way.
Study every strangely cambered turn and every technical rock garden. Session that berm until you start navigating it with complete confidence.
Ride and re-ride that rock garden. Persist until you finally develop the kind of finesse you need to clear that rock garden like a real downhill pro. Be like your monthly bills — show up every time to ride.
So, immerse yourself in the present moment. Be happy. Learn. Practice. Learn more. Practice harder.
That’s how you garner enough confidence to overcome and strangle the demon that causes your fear of downhill mountain biking.
5. Consider Riding Solo If Need Be
Everyone says to ride with the best downhill cyclists. They say that’s a great way to overcome your MTB fears and get your riding to a really nice place fast.
That’s definitely good advice. Except when it’s not.
Do you feel like your DH gang is pushing you a little too hard? Are they overdemanding to the point where all you’re experiencing is endless frustration and no more fun?
Well, it’s time to start riding solo. Unless the goal you’re gunning for is becoming a famous downhill racer.
But if all you want is personal pleasure and a little fitness, start riding solo more and more. I know this isn’t what you’ve heard, but in my experience, nothing crushes MTB fear like maximizing your natural pace.
6. Try to Get Better With Each Ride
Riding solo isn’t enough, though. You need to let a spirit of competitiveness drive you as you glide down hills.
Here’s the thing — learn to compete with yourself. Do just a little bit more than you did yesterday. Ride just a little faster today. Clean that cambered corner with a little more skill than you did last week.
Start viewing every minute of your saddle time as an opportunity to get better, to shine. Push yourself a little harder. As time passes, you’ll find you’re becoming a better, faster rider. And your DH bike-handling skills will soar.
There’s a reason Toyota worships at the altar of Kaizen. There’s also a reason the Japanese people used this success principle to rebuild their country. And there’s a reason Britain’s cycling team became a cycling competition powerhouse for over a decade.
So, as a DH cyclist wanting to get better, embrace the idea of continuous improvement. Kick out complacency. Try to ride outside of your comfort zone each time you’re out practicing.
7. Hit Those Brakes, But…
A bike’s brakes are there for a good reason. Use them. But don’t overuse the brakes. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself getting tossed over the handlebars all the time.
Some DH cyclists even say braking down when riding downhill causes more trouble than does catching up speed. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know this — good braking helps.
Using brakes correctly helps you to slow down when you need to, and that can boost your confidence dramatically. Be careful with the front brake, though. It keeps throwing inexperienced, brake-loving riders off their bike.
Learn feathering, too. Keep your baby finger on the brake lever the entire time. That helps you to reduce speed gradually rather than abruptly.
Brake feathering becomes extremely important when cornering. It helps approach turns, especially loose and flat corners, at a comfortable speed.
Knowing you have reliable brakes on your DH bike dramatically diminishes downhill fear.
8. Learn How Ride Clipped and Unclipped
Whether to ride clipped in or unclipped is a matter of personal preference. I’m comfortable going downhill clipped as well as unclipped.
But for some reason, I feel somewhat more secure clipped in than on flat pedals. Still, I ride on flat pedals once in a while so I won’t lose my touch.
When rolling downhill at speed or up a steep hill clipped in as a beginner, try not to unclip. At least, try not to do it while still on the saddle. That often causes trouble in my experience.
So, learn to not have to clip out at all. You’re going to love staying clipped in throughout the spin. As you learn to clip in and out, don’t look down at the pedals. Looking down just isn’t a great habit for a DH rider.
How to Clip in and Out On Clipless Pedals
To learn how to clip in and out easily, walk your bike to your garage. Then, mount it and lean against a wall. Next, clip in with the pedal in the bottom position and then do it with the pedal up.
Also, clip out with the pedal up and then down. Practice clipping in and clipping out about 100 times. At that point, your confidence around clipping in and out will be at a great place.
Now, go for a spin and repeat the steps above. Do this a couple rides. You’ll eventually absorb this little technique into your muscle memory. The process will become second nature — you’ll clip in or out without thinking.
Finally, ride moderately fast on a gentle slope and slam on your brakes. Once you’ve come to a stop, unclip. You can clip out starting with the left foot or the right one. Just make sure you end up standing away from traffic.
If you have the tension in the pedals set right, your feet shouldn’t take more than a fraction of a second to unclip.
Unclipping only works when your bike (and you) are standing at an angle to the ground. It won’t happen when you’re standing perpendicular to the trail.
9. Give Yourself Some Pep Talk
You’re a cyclist, not a motivational speaker. But giving yourself a little pep talk especially at the top of the descent sure helps.
Thoughts are things, they say.
If you’re thinking, “IMA miss and fall off the side of the mountain” all the time, guess what’ll happen? You’ll wipe out more often. Cycling may be mechanical, but it’s also mental to some extent.
Instead, start saying things like, “IMA learning to ride downhill faster even without needing the brakes. IMA becoming a better rider. IMA practicing harder each day. And now, IMA ride downhill without fear.”
But talk is just…talk. In the end, consistent practice delivers the greatest ROI.
How to Conquer the Fear of Downhill MTB: Final Thoughts
Battling mountain biking fears is normal, but you shouldn’t let the fear immobilize you completely.
First off, wear a good helmet before getting in the saddle. Helmeting up is an extremely effective confidence booster. Also, wear decent shin pads, elbow pads, and elbow pads. It may feel like overkill down the road, but when starting out, putting on protective pads makes tons of sense.
Don’t try to ride too fast in an attempt to seem cool or competent. Ride at your level of ability, which might mean riding solo in some cases. Tell yourself you won’t fall, and that you’ll be OK each ride. Part of the battle against mountain biking fear is mental.
One more thing. Learn how to brake like a pro. Additionally, learn how to clip out as that can save your life literally. Most importantly, keep practicing. Keep improving and doing more each time you go out MTBing.
If you do all these things consistently, you’ll definitely overcome the fear of crashing mountain biking.