Whether you’re brand new to mountain biking and feeling a little scared, or have been riding for a while but are struggling to improve your technical skills, there are concrete steps you can take to improve your confidence.
The truth is most of us can benefit from working on our confidence on the bike. And it’s totally worth the effort, because as we improve our confidence on the bike, we have more fun on the trail.
And much of the confidence we gain on the bike transfers to other areas of our life as well. So stepping up your game on singletrack can help you step up your game in boardroom or at the dinner table also.
Use a few (or all) of the tips below and you’ll be feeling more confident on the mountain bike in no time.
Attend A Skills Clinic
Sometimes confidence is a mental issue, and sometimes it’s simply a lack of skills holding you back. In either case, a skills clinic is the #1 thing I recommend to women who want to take their riding to the next level.
A skills clinic is ideal for women brand new to mountain biking, as well as advanced riders who want to improve their jumping or technical skills.
To help you find a women’s bike camp or clinic near you, we’ve compiled a list.
Podcast Listen: Ladies AllRide Camps With Lindsey Richter
Ride With Other Supportive Women
One of the fastest ways to get a woman to quit the sport is for her to only ride with a husband or boyfriend. Our romantic male partners are great to ride with, buy they might not be great to learn from or to help build you up.
Instead, try to find a group of supportive women to ride with. If you haven’t found your tribe yet, check out our list of women’s group rides and clubs.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Don’t just go on trail rides. Instead, carve out time to specifically practice skills. You can do this with a friend, a coach, or on your own.
For each session, choose a specific skill you want to work on: braking, riding switchbacks, jumping, etc. Depending on what we’re working on, we like doing these “practices” in an empty parking lot, a grassy hill, or at a bike skills park.
Ahead of time, you might want to watch a YouTube video or two so you know what to focus on with you’re practicing.
Set A Goal
We gain confidence by setting goals and achieving them. What goal would make you feel awesome?
It might be completing your first mountain bike race, nailing a specific technical section of trail you’ve never cleared before, or learning to ride a wheelie.
Whatever it is, make it concrete. Write it down. Give yourself a deadline. And then craft specific steps you can take to help you achieve that goal–i.e. register for a race, train, practice eating and drinking on the bike.
To help you do this, we’ve created a goal setting workbook.
Download: Goal Setting Workbook
Practice Positive Self Talk
You have a little voice inside your head, and when you ride I’ll bet it sounds something like this:
“I didn’t make it over that rock! I’m terrible at this!”
“Don’t ride with those ladies. I’m are way too slow for them.”
“I didn’t make it up that hill. I’m so fat and slow. I should just give up now.”
Any of that sound familiar? If so, it’s time to change what your’re telling yourself in your head.
For every negative narrative you have, create a positive one to replace it. When you catch yourself in the act of negative self-talk, kindly but firmly tell that voice to shut up and listen to a new, nicer (and more accurate one).
Before I ride, especially if I’m feeling intimidated by faster riders or I’m getting ready to race, I say something like this to myself. And yes, I say it out loud. Confidently.
“I am going to kick butt on this ride. I’m feeling strong and capable. I’m really proud of how much I’ve been improving lately, and I think today is the day I’m going to clean that root section.”
Reflect On Your Accomplishments
We spend way too much time focusing on what we haven’t accomplished, than on celebrating what we have.
Get out a piece of paper and write down what you’re proud of or what you’ve achieved already on the mountain bike.
For instance: I did all this research on a great new mountain bike and picked it for myself. Last week, I did the longest ride I’ve ever done. Oh, and I even cleaned that steep hill.
And now, that you’re going to be setting some goals, don’t just achieve them. Once you’ve met them, take a moment to celebrate yourself. Reflecting on our accomplishments is how we build confidence.
Wear Protective Gear
If your lack of confidence on the mountain bike has to do with getting hurt, then get yourself some additional protective gear. When I was afraid of going bigger on jumps, I got myself a full-face helmet and knee and elbow pads.
Ride The Same Trail Over And Over Again
It sounds boring, but it’s one of the most effective ways to improve your skills (and gauge your progress). When I first started mountain biking in college, I rode the same 10 mile loop about 1,000 times.
In the beginning, I could only make it 1/4 of the way up the biggest, steepest hill. Over time I made it 1/2 way, then 3/4, and finally, one day, I made it the whole way without walking.
And you better believe I felt pretty awesome awesome that day.
If you haven’t already, sign up for your first mountain bike. It might sound counter-intuitive (“I’m not confident enough for that!” I can hear you protest), but racing is one of the best ways to sky-rocket your journey to confidence on the bike.
Even if you come in dead last (which you won’t), you’ll feel pretty darn proud of yourself for finishing something that hard.
For me personally, racing has been the single biggest factor in my gaining confidence (on the bike and off).
Read (or Listen): 9 Tips To Prepare For Your First Mountain Bike Race
Focus On Things You Can Control, Not On Things You Can’t
There’s a lot in mountain biking you can’t control. You can’t control the rain or the mud or your flat tire or how fast everybody else is riding.
Instead of spending your mental energy wishing the trail wasn’t so slick or that you were as fast as your buddy, focus that energy on what you can control. Take control of your thoughts–go back to that positive self-talk.
Also, consider what your trigger points are. What brings you down on a ride and busts your self-confidence? How can you be pro-active to deal with those things?
You might not be able to control getting a flat tire, but you CAN take a bike maintenance skills class so you know how to fix it out on the trail. You might not be able to control getting dropped by the other riders, but you can download Trailforks on your phone so you can make it back to the trailhead just fine, thank you.
Pick A Pair Of Shorts Or Another Accessory That Makes You Feel Rad
This might sound a little silly, but it works for me. And if it works for me, then hey, it might work for you too!
When I know I’m going to need a little extra confidence boost on a ride, I put on my favorite pair of bike shorts. It really has nothing to do with looking cute or with impressing others, it has to do with feeling RAD.
For you it might not be a pair of bike shorts. Maybe it’s a pair of goggles that’s going to let you FLY. Maybe its a sweet new pair of pedals and some flats.
Whatever it is that makes you feel a little more awesome, go for it.
More Stuff For You
- How To Build Mental Toughness With Joane Zeigler
- On Being A Middle Of The Pack Racer (And Proud Of It)
- Quit Your Job And Mountain Bike More
About The Author
Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.
An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.
Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life. Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son. If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.
Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.
Are You Listening To The Femme Cyclist Podcast?!?
A podcast for women who love bicycles! We we celebrate all forms of riding and all forms of women, so whether you’re a road cyclist, mountain biker, or bike commuter, you’ll find your community here. Each week we’ll week bring you interviews from inspiring women, and offer tips and tricks to help you thrive on the bike.