The voice in my head told me that running was easy compared to cycling. Runners keep their feet on the ground, placing one foot in front of the other. It's simple; unlike cycling.
I let my mind run away. The fear started as a small voice that got louder and louder as I piled on all the what-ifs: What if I fall? What if I crash? What if I am only meant to be a runner? What if I am not brave? What if anyone truly can do a marathon, but it's not the same for cycling?
These irrational thoughts kept me from purchasing a road bike for far too long. But once I bit the bullet and clipped in, I knew it was going to be close to love at first ride. That doesn't mean the fear wasn't there, it was, I just learned how to manage it.
Purchasing a Bike1 of 7
Okay come on, you were really afraid of buying a bike?
Yes. I may not be a broke 20-something anymore, but there were a couple of fears that kept me from handing over my hard-earned cash for a bike.
First was the fear of making the wrong choice. What do I need? What do I want? How much is a reasonable amount to spend? Should I be spending more so I don't have to upgrade shortly after buying this bike? In my case, some of this fear came from purchasing a hybrid bike that didn't work for my needs, shortly out of college. The sales associate didn't know what he was talking about, something I learned on a subsequent trip to the store while speaking with an associate who did know what he was talking about.
A hybrid bike wasn't what I needed and buying clipless pedals that I could never manage to unclip from didn't help either. I fell on every ride, eventually quitting because I was convinced I wasn't meant to become a cyclist.
Over a decade later when I went to purchase a road bike for the first time, I went to a store I trusted, and worked with a knowledgeable sales associate. They spent hours with me figuring out what was best for my needs, taking into consideration my budget, goals, and even future plans I hadn't even thought through yet.
Purchasing Clipless Pedals/Shoes2 of 7
Unlike my first hybrid bike purchase, the second time around, I didn't feel rushed into a sale. When I mentioned I really wanted clipless pedals, they suggested I get comfortable on the bike first. I needed to learn the gears and how things felt before taking the next step. Once I felt comfortable on the bike, I went back in and was fit for the pedals and shoes. The owner took the time to help me decide if I wanted shoes that were geared toward triathlon or just cycling. At that point, I didn't even realize there were different options. It was nice to feel I was at a store that wasn't making decisions for me, but were instead giving me the full picture and guiding me in my decisions.
Falling3 of 7
I've been wanting to participate in a triathlon for almost as long as I've been running, but the fear of falling was strong. Instead, I stuck to a sport where I kept my feet on the ground. What if I fell and hurt myself and couldn't run? That was my main concern; my running. Anything that would mess up my running had no place in my life.
But if I wanted to move forward into cycling and triathlon, I had to stop fearing I would hurt myself. The fastest way to move past the fear of falling is to fall. In my first month of cycling I experienced a minor fall, but it was enough to leave a lovely road rash scar on my leg. I wear that scar with pride, as it says I tried something new and I survived. Everyone falls; embrace it.
Crossing Intersections4 of 7
Just the mention of an intersection was enough to evoke a physical response in the pit of my stomach. What if I fell in an intersection? What if someone was driving and didn't see me laid out in the road and ran over me? I'd ride the same section of the trail with no intersections to cross over and over. That got old rather fast, considering I could traverse those miles faster on a bike than I ever did on foot.
Once I was completely comfortable getting in and out of my clipless pedals, it was time to attempt crossing minor intersections. I realized intersections took preparation, something that wasn't yet instinctual. I had to make sure my gear was at a level where I could get started again if I had to clip out at the last second to stop.
I learned this only after falling in an intersection. The cars saw me, stopped, and asked if I was okay or needed any help. One of my worst fears happened and I was okay! I'm still hesitant at times at intersections, but I know confidence comes with experience—and while there is still some fear there, I believe it's a healthy fear versus an irrational one.
Riding Downhill5 of 7
As a runner, I enjoy hills. When runners complain about how hard a hill is, I remind them that while it may not seem fun going up it's going to be a blast going down. As I was grinding up a particularly hard hill on my bike, I suddenly panicked: I have to ride down this thing! Slow and steady is my preferred speed, and there was going to be nothing close to slow or steady on the way back down.
I rode the brake for most of that first downhill, later cursing myself for being a wimp. Riding downhill combined a couple of my fears, which made it one of the worst to get over. What if I get going too fast and fall? What if I am going too fast and I run over a stick? Can a stick get stuck in your wheels? Does it make your bike fly off the trail? What if someone is walking with their child and the child jumps out in front of my bike while I'm riding downhill, much too fast for my liking? Downhill cycling made my thoughts go downhill fast. Like my other fears, there was no way around it, only through it.
After grinding up said hill on another ride, I told myself that not only was I going to stay off the brake on the way down, I was going to pedal while going fast. My mind kept saying "no, no, no," but the rational side of me knew I needed to push past all the fear and realize I was okay.
Baby steps weren't what I needed for this particular fear—I needed to get through it just as fast as I was going to ride it. Just like the other fears I confronted, once I was able to push past it, I realized it might not ever go away completely—but that's okay!
Crashing6 of 7
After working my way through my first six fears, the very real fear of crashing was the only one left. It was the one fear that had attached itself to all the other fears. "What if I crash?" was always the last thing I said to myself when attempting to work through other fears.
I've watched the Tour de France more times than I can count. I've witnessed the riders piled up, twisted around their bikes every which way. While watching the Olympics this summer, I saw a rider crash and said out loud, "Nope, not riding a bike, not now, not ever."
But I did buy the bike, and I do ride it—so what changed? Every time my kids fall off their bike I dust them off and tell them it's going to be okay. If they have wounds I patch them up and tell them they have to try again—if not today, another day.
While their falls are not what I imagine a crash would be like, the advice to myself remained the same. It may happen, it may not happen. If it does, you will dust yourself off, you will patch up your wounds and you will try again—maybe not today, but you will try again another day and it will all be okay.