Control Leads to Performance

I just read and online article from a popular website that says, “if you’r’e crashing, you’re learning. It’s a necessary part of becoming a better mountain biker.”

Here’s the thing. No, it isn’t.

The post talks about mentally overcoming you’re fear of crashing and just accepting that you will crash so you can huck off bigger things. This is not a good strategy. I like the idea in the article of mental preparedness and managing emotions that may hold you back, but fear is a handy and useful emotion that can save your butt sometimes. I always try to say, “If you’re not feeling it, this [rock, roll, jump, whatever] will be here next time.” Feeling prepared and confident is the key for me when I want to attempt bigger trails or features. Managing fear as an element of preparedness is what matters to me. Disregarding your gut feelings about safety is not something we encourage. Ever.

The idea that you need to crash to improve is totally incorrect. Did you crash several cars during driving lessons before you got your license? No, you drove around in empty parking lots, then on mostly empty side streets, and worked up to the freeway. It was terrifying but then it became easier. Imagine if downhill ski racers had to crash in order to get better and faster every season. A ski crash can be a career ending injury. Strength training and repetition on manageable runs are the formula for improvement in many sports like skiing. And lots of repetitive laps.

As an instructor, I will tell you that if you are crashing, then something is missing. It could be many things. Experienced riders crash when they are not combining skills well for particular trails or features, often when they are tired. Experienced riders make mistakes too. But riding beyond your ability and trying to survive is not a methodology for MTB improvement. Even if you manage to survive a particular feature after failed attempts, how will you know what you did that made the difference? How will you repeat it if you don’t know what adjustments you made? Especially if they were not conscious or intentional? How much riding time do you want to lose to injury?


Riders need a solid foundation of skills including body position, body movement and timing to be able to tackle ever more challenging terrain and features. You will not achieve this quickly or as effectively simply by riding hard trails and “just going for it”. Don’t get me wrong here, riding MORE is the key to putting things into practice to make them into habits. To do maneuvers like drops, you need to practice on controlled and safe terrain which is typically smaller or less gnarly than your desired feature difficulty. Blue trails, not black. Typically this is a smaller drop that can be repeated a bunch of times until you are consistent. Then you can make small changes in your position, timing, pressure (or whatever) to see what happens and how it affects your performance. Then you find the next slightly bigger drop and apply proper form and control to the feature. You build control, and practice leads to greater performance.

You may crash when you’re biking. It’s not a sign that you are getting better, especially if you keep doing it. I agree that mental preparedness and control is part of becoming a better athlete. As a PMBIA instructor I believe that learning foundation skills and then more complex maneuvers helps with this preparedness because you will have more control on your bike. And this leads to more performance which might mean more speed, bigger drops, or just more fun.

“Insanity” is doing the same thing over and over, like crashing, and expecting a different result.


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