Would you believe me if I told you that giving people permission to “not” do something is one of the best pieces of advice I pass to people as a mountain bike skills coach? I own TakeAim Cycling, a skills company that has coached riders and new instructors for almost 10 years from Vermont to Florida. I started this business thinking that I’d be showing people how to ride bikes better but I quickly learned that I’d also be spending a lot of time letting people off the hook from the world’s pressures to perform and to help them redefine success. Here are a few conversations I often have with clients that have helped them turn their fear and frustration into flow. 

Feature image and above image by Joe Foley.

Often I’ll have a client beating themselves up about how they can’t stop braking in corners and that if only they could master going brakeless they’d reach some riding nirvana. Gently I’ll break the news to them that the dogma of “just letting go” will not solve all their problems. I’ll then explain that the main issue is suddenly “adding” braking forces in the middle of a corner. So we practice braking more before the corner and either maintaining or letting off the brakes through the corner. The result is they suddenly flow more through corners and then we can work on other skills that help them brake even less. Reframing what “braking” is lets us stop hating the action and begin using it with more intention to find more flow in every corner. 

Speaking of struggling with expectations, let’s talk about the next scenario that a recent client struggled with. After only about a year of riding he decided to try to ride the Shenandoah Mountain 100. He came to me and we started working on an eight month plan to get him ready to have a successful race. One day he mentioned how he was really struggling on a section of the course and how frustrated he was to not be able to ride it. Once I realized where he was struggling I quickly reassured him that few people actually ride those technical climbs and even fewer would burn matches to try in the middle of a 100 mile race. Since he didn’t ride with others, he assumed that most people must ride it. We then went out and rode other tough sections of the trail together and I showed him where it’s better to get off and walk than waste energy or risk injury. This rider had no perspective on what was hard for others and assumed he was doing something wrong. Even if he had gone out with a couple riders, they may have been the 1% of those able to ride certain sections and he’d still be wondering why “everyone” can ride it but him! 

These days access to dirt jumps is easier than ever but that doesn’t mean you have to jump them to have fun and find flow. I’ll point at a series of tabletop jumps and tell people to just ride them but not stress about jumping. So many people are blind to this option and just telling them they don’t have to jump is a major shift in their perception. I’ll have them start by rolling and pumping jumps with wheels down at slower speeds and they’ll immediately be having fun and improving skills without the worry of needing to jump. I always tell people you’ve “got to roll it to know it” and drop all other expectations. 

Enjoying the process is a big part of success in mountain biking but unfortunately getting into it can be intimidating. In all of these cases I get to help people reframe their goals in a way that leads to more fun and flow everytime they ride. Let us know what you’re working on and we’ll help you tackle your goals no matter your skill level. TakeAim Cycling provides private group and individual instruction, as well as open camps and clinics. Check us out on the web and Instagram.