Mountain Biking & Superstition

6:57 AM

I stood at the top of the feature and looked down, unable to even place my foot on the pedal.  With two sharp drops between trees and roots and four severe turns, it wasn’t a particularly difficult feature.  It required relaxed hands, feathered brakes, off the back positioning, and a calm mind.  I had actually done this feature multiple times – comfortably, easily – but today each of the four times I rode up to the top, my bike stopped, almost by itself.

Sports and superstitions go naturally together – watching the athletes at the London Olympics complete ever more elaborate pre- and during-competition rituals gives us an almost comic look into the awkward positions these magical beliefs can place us in.  Though they surface differently in all of us, I have yet to meet an athlete of any stripe that doesn’t admit, sometimes reluctantly, to an odd behavior or two.  It is not surprising, when you think about it, as these silly ceremonies give us a feeling of control over something that is, at least in part, beyond our control. 

In cycling I have found mountain biking to be the one discipline that heightens my superstitious nature.  Rather than engage in rituals, however, I find myself constantly listening for signs from the universe.  A good day will see me floating along the trail and effortlessly rolling over everything in my path – rocks, roots, you name it.  If I come upon a feature I’ve been working my way up to, I am more likely to try it if the day’s signs have been positive.  A bad day – a small slide-out of the front tire, an unexpectedly bumpy ride through a rock garden – will have me second guessing any plans for a go at something untested. 

Technically, everything about mountain biking is within our control.  The rider controls everything – the weight on the front end, the pressure in the tires, the power transmitted to the pedals, our reactions to the terrain, and the all-important driving of the bike – though we might not always be aware of all of the factors that go into a ride.  When I started riding the dirt I knew the basics of getting my bike to go, but I wasn’t aware of how I could control the actions of the rear wheel with the balance of my weight up a hill; consequently, I found myself spinning out on technical uphills that I now find easy to navigate.  As we advance our skills we incorporate more awareness of the totality of a trail’s variables, and are able to adroitly adjust and keep the rubber side down when things get sketchy.  No superstitions needed.

But here I was, once again, standing at the top of the hill, my bike refusing to move.  The last couple of weeks had found me reading the tea leaves not from each ride, but from weeks before.  It is true, my skills in my second year of mountain biking are light years ahead of where they were during my first year, but there also seems to be a higher propensity for crashes.  Every time I slip on a pair of shorts this summer you can bet that I am sporting a bruise on my shin that matches the shape of my top tube, and the lumps and bumps on my elbows makes it look like I’ve been in a few bar brawls. 

Are the signs telling me to keep it safe?  Or am I simply suffering the (sometimes painful) consequences that any rider who is expanding her skills through the occasional risk would face?  Would I think differently if there were some lingering physical effect from every successful ride?  What if we got a little glow that hung about us for a couple of weeks every time we made it through that expert loop unscathed?  Wouldn’t I be shining enough to provide illumination for an awesome night ride by now?

Or does my brain need to just shut up?

With that, I backed my bike up, took a drink of water, emptied everything out of the old cranium and rode down the trail… 

You Might Also Like