Lifestyle

Just Send It?

Just Send It?

There’s a certain smell to mountain biking that anyone who’s spent time shuttling or doing uplifts will recognise – it’s not just the waft of seldom washed jerseys or too many sweaty boys, it’s the stink of testosterone.

You’ll probably recognise it. It’s usually in the form of harmless “banter”, but peppered in there will be phrases like “harden up”, “just eat a bag of concrete”, or “if you’re not falling you’re not riding”. From the outside, these “just send it” comments sound harmless, but the message they imply is actually pretty screwed up.

If you’re an experienced mountain biker and comfortable with features and obstacles, it’s hard to remember what it was like when mountain biking was new and potentially scary. Human memory is strange, so once we’re good at something we forget what it was like not to be good at it.

Worse, most of us aren’t actually able to describe or explain exactly how we ride something*.

Learning requires many hours of repetition within our “skill zone”. So, learning to ride a mountain bike involves a lot of bike time riding trails that might, to experienced riders, seem tame.


Consequently, when we give instructional advice, we aren’t able to break it down because we “just do it”. Even worse, because we have a conscious knowledge gap, we try to fill that gap by giving stupid advice, and that advice usually sounds like “just hit it”, or “just send it”, “go fast”.

Learning requires many hours of repetition within our “skill zone”. So, learning to ride a mountain bike involves a lot of bike time riding trails that might, to experienced riders, seem tame. Simply staying upright on an undulating trail involves refinement of a load of individual skills (e.g., balance, smooth pedalling, weight shifting, braking, body positioning, etc.) that need to be integrated on the fly, in real time.

As we ride more, our skill zone increases, allowing us to start exposing ourselves to more complex challenges and to develop the appropriate skills to match these challenges.

Fear results in “avoidance” mode, where we seize up, focus on what could go wrong, and stop learning.


It’s worth adding that when we add fear to the equation, learning stops and so do we.

When we’re off the bike, pushing around an obstacle, we’re not learning or improving our skills, and we’re potentially reinforcing ongoing avoidance of that obstacle.

In fact, in order to learn we need to be in “approach” mode: a point where we’re relaxed and willing to try something new and that might be beyond our comfort zone. Fear results in “avoidance” mode, where we seize up, focus on what could go wrong, and stop learning.

What all this means is that what seems like a smooth, automatic process to an experienced rider is actually the result of many hours of “programming” in approach mode, resulting in the execution of skills that are actually extremely complex.


This makes evolutionary sense: because learning takes time, when we’re learning we’re slow, focused on the task at hand, and not necessarily paying attention to other things.

This made us vulnerable to attack, so we evolved to only allow learning when we perceive that we’re “safe”. (BTW – If you want to get more of a handle on fear and how to work with it in mountain biking, read here.)

What all this means is that what seems like a smooth, automatic process to an experienced rider is actually the result of many hours of “programming” in approach mode, resulting in the execution of skills that are actually extremely complex.

When we tell an inexperienced rider (who has yet to establish these skills) to “just send it”, we’re asking for failure, with potentially catastrophic results.


In order to be able to, for example, launch and land a drop, a myriad of other skills need to be established first: balance, body position, eye tracking, reaction to changes in the trail, braking (and not braking), pumping, etc.

When we tell an inexperienced rider (who has yet to establish these skills) to “just send it”, we’re asking for failure, with potentially catastrophic results. I’d even go so far as to say that this sort of advice isn’t just arrogant, it’s dangerously irresponsible.

Now you might be thinking, “well I can ride things fine and I learnt from riding with my more experienced mates. Sure, I got some injuries, but that’s all part of being a mountain biker.” I actually learnt to ride this way (and, for my sins, have separated a shoulder, popped a knee (surgery), torn my thumb ligament, and broken a wrist (surgery)) and was lucky enough to not be put off the sport that I love.


But injuries aside, I’ve always struggled with fear on the trails, which has put me off learning to ride bigger features.

Well-meaning but thoughtless advice (“just commit!”) has always made things harder for me because instead of being able to relax and learn how to ride these harder obstacles, I end up avoiding them because I’m struggling with both fear and shame.


You’ve hopefully noticed that, in recent years, there are more women taking up mountain biking. For a sport that has been male-dominated for a long time, this change is, to my mind, awesome.

Not only does it open up a fantastic activity to more than half the population, but it also has the capacity to change the way we view both learning to ride and the riding experience itself.

At the risk of stereotyping, women are less likely than men to succumb to peer pressure and “just send it”. They are also more understanding when it comes to remembering that embedded skills take time to learn and that beginners don’t learn by “just sending it”.

I’m going to propose one more thing that most (male) mountain bikers haven’t really thought about and that’s the opposite of “just sending it”.


When beginners are gently coached and encouraged, they will progress a lot faster, and rides that are about cooperation and engagement are a lot more fun than “follow the fast guy”.

I’m going to propose one more thing that most (male) mountain bikers haven’t really thought about and that’s the opposite of “just sending it”.

Most mountain bikers spend a lot of money on their bikes and bike upgrades, but very little on getting professional instruction. In comparison to other sports (like skiing, football, or tennis), mountain bikers simply learn by riding with friends.


This process is slow, inefficient, potentially dangerous, and fraught with the opportunity to pick up bad habits. To be fair, in other sports, participants have had access to properly certified instructors for ages. Mountain bikers not so much. That said, suitably certified and qualified mountain bike instructors are now mainstream and accessible.

“how about we stop and think before we mouth off about that big gap we just hipped, or offer “just send it advice”

Encouraging beginners to take instruction (group or one-on-one) is great because it allows for the proper establishment of skills in an approach-mode setting. Likewise, ongoing instruction is brilliant even for experienced riders. It gives us the opportunity to invest proper time in improving our skills, correcting bad habits, and overcoming deficits in our riding.

For me, mountain biking has always been about fun. It’s about learning new skills, challenging myself, being outdoors, going to amazing places, and spending time with worthwhile people.

To maximise the chances of all riders being able to enjoy these opportunities without being overly pressured, or simply put off, how about we stop and think before we mouth off about that big gap we just hipped, or offer “just send it advice” to riders who haven’t yet learnt the skills that we find so natural.


* This is because your cerebellum – the part of your brain that you spent ages programming to ride, and which rides for you – responds in milliseconds, but the part that you “live” in, is slow. The conscious part of our brain has as much as a half-second lag, meaning that you’re seldom actually aware of the features you ride because they happen so quickly (for example, a drop is usually over in less than half a second).


Dr.Jeremy Adams

Dr. Jeremy Adams has a PhD in sport psychology, is a registered psychologist, and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private psychology practice.
In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about the joys and perils of being human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy lives and works in Hobart and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com)
Dr.Jeremy Adams

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