Top Tips: how to gain confidence when cycling

Gaining confidence on your bike not only helps your performance, but means you’ll be a safer and happier cyclist. However, confidence doesn’t come overnight and the process of building, losing and regaining confidence can be a frustrating journey for many. For those who have an effortless confidence when cycling from day one, I am so happy for you, albeit a tad envious too! I came back to cycling in 2018 after a 15+ year hiatus. Prior to this I had only ever pootled about on a kids bike as a child and once briefly rented a Boris Bike around central London which proved to be a disaster! I came from a horseriding background so naively thought that the confidence in the saddle would translate onto the bike, but it didn’t and I began as a very nervous cyclist. My journey to becoming a more accomplished and relaxed cyclist has certainly had a few bumps in the road (bumps can be scary!) and I’m not 100% where I want to be yet, but here are some of the things I’ve found useful along the way.

Practice, practice, practice: Hills are my true nemesis. I love going up them, but coming down them still gives me a lot of nervous energy (both times I’ve done ride London I’ve been a bit hysterical about the descent off Leith Hill). I’ve found the key to addressing this fear is practice- ignoring and not training hills doesn’t make the problem go away, it just manifests itself and you’ll feel worse when you have to eventually confront the fear. I find quiet locations to practice hills where there is minimal or no traffic and try my best to relax on the descent. If you can find somewhere with very little/no cars it truly helps with the nerves as it takes some of the fear factor out of the situation. I’ve found that riding down a hill, then going back up and riding down the same hill again helps build my confidence. I get to know the road and rather than worry about potholes and I know how each part of the descent feels. Finding a hill where you can see the entirety of the descent ahead of you is also very helpful. I can then build up my confidence and control and take the time to practice descending rather than have my brain going 100mph worrying about factors like road surface, bends or cars pulling out of junctions. Getting a baseline confidence has been key to working through my demons when it comes to descending.

The Descent off Leith Hill Ride London 2019, spot the gritted teeth and desperately clinging to the brakes! Credit: Sportograf

Relax- make it easy: ‘just relax’ is one thing nervous cyclists are told a great deal. Despite being well meaning it can be quite a frustrating comment when often nerves come from nowhere and cannot be controlled. However there is method to this- tensing up can make everything feel more wobbly which perpetuates the situation, not to mention being jittery takes all the fun out of cycling. Taking deep breaths and regulating your breathing in situations that make you nervous can help control those butterflies and shakes. One thing I learned from my horse riding days is that talking to your horse (or in this case talking to your bike) or even humming along to a tune you like can help as a distraction and regulate your breathing. Reciting positive affirmations to yourself can really help you relax and you’ll frequently find me on my bike muttering ‘you’ve got this, come on, relax’ under my breath.

Riding with a group: this is a little trickier at the moment given the need for social distancing but having someone to ride with in a small organised group (where it is safe and legal to do so) or riding with a member of your household can help improve your confidence. Following the wheel in front and allowing someone else to plan the route means you can focus on yourself and address your nerves. Not to mention, that cycling groups point out potholes so you can be assured that none are going to spring up on you. Furthermore, riding with someone more experienced can help teach you skills that will make cycling feel safer and easier, thus improving your confidence. You can even book sessions with experts if you’re finding your nerves need a little more attention. Safety in numbers also helps with road cycling as cars tend to give you a wider berth. If you’re nervous in traffic tell those you’re riding with- everyone began somewhere and it is better for them to know if you’re nervous just in case you’re prone to slamming on the brakes.

Cycling with ASICS FrontRunner in Mallorca 2018. Credit Andy Astfalck

Try making some changes to your bike setup: when I first started cycling my bike had 26mm tyres and I felt every lump, bump and pothole which meant I didn’t get off to the best of starts. I changed my tyres to 28mm and have never looked back. The slightly wider tyre helps me feel less wobbly and is less likely to get stuck in cobbles (our local roads are lined with cobbled speed bumps). Having a bike fit can help you find a comfortable position on the bike which can improve confidence through better control and a posture where you can relax more easily. Also, having your brakes checked can help with confidence and keeping up with regular bike servicing can give you some added piece of mind.

One thing at a time: taking things one step at a time and setting yourself little goals along the way can help build your confidence when cycling and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by the learning curve ahead. For example I’m more nervous when I’m wearing cleats as I don’t quite trust myself to react and clip out quickly, and I’m still getting over my nerves on descents. I’ve practiced and gained confidence in both areas and now I’m slowly combining the two. Nerves in certain situations can end up interacting with each other so more often than not, isolating and addressing one area can then pave the way to help work on other nerves.

Keep track of the confidence and capability you’re gaining: Whether that is from adding notes on strava or keeping a record of how you felt on each ride. Sometimes gaining confidence can feel like such an uphill battle, but its important to keep track of where you started and the progress you’ve made. Every ride is a chance to improve so don’t forget to check in with yourself and give yourself a pat on the back for how far you’ve come.

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else: Some people are naturally more confident than others, whilst some just have a great poker face. Everyone starts somewhere and even the best cyclists will still get nerves from time to time. You’re a human being, not a robot and feeling nervous is just another emotion- its natural.

Gaining confidence on your bike won’t happen overnight, so don’t expect it to: Take the pressure off, keep working on the things/situations that make you feel less confident and be patient. Its also not a linear process, confidence can come in waves, sometimes there are setbacks. Check in with yourself about the things that build your confidence and use these as tools to rebuild it should you have a dip in confidence.

Thanks for stopping by, if you’ve enjoyed this blog please give it a like and subscribe for more tips and reviews. Please do add any of your top tips in the comments section. Best of luck conquering the nerves, Becca xo

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