We’re just a few months away from on the road bike season, where I need to venture out of the safe cocoon of basement training sessions onto the actual road. Yes, the road that defeated me last summer when debilitating fear kept me off the bike pretty much all season except during actual races.
Since I’m totally public about my bike fear, I get a lot of people trying to help me with it in different kinds of ways (mostly pep talks). Sam sent me this link the other day, to an article that’s an interview with cyclist Evelyn Stevens, where she talks about anxiety versus fear. Hers comes up when she’s doing a fast descent in a peloton, so it’s not quite the same as mine, but here’s what she says:
You need fear, but not anxiety. For example, if you’re on a hike, and you see a rattlesnake come out at you, you need fear to get out of the way. But you don’t need anxiety to tell you ‘I’m not going to walk in the woods ever again’.
I think it’s safe to say: I have both. It’s normal to have a healthy fear of cars (I think). I had it when I rode a motorcycle for a few years and they teach you to keep it with you. It makes you stay alert, practice your handling skills and safety habits (shoulder check!), and ride defensively. I get that. I have applied a similar strategy to road biking.
It’s the anxiety that gets to me though. My motorbike anxiety was just starting to subside when, riding together with a group on a road trip in the US, my brother-in-law had a horrible accident just outside of Lake Placid. I remember being in shock as we waited to see if he would live. And we had to ride our bikes from one hospital to another over an hour away in the pouring rain.
Anxiety kicked in after that trip. I basically didn’t want to ride anymore.
So with cycling, as soon as I start to think, “maybe I can do this,” I hear about something awful. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the radio one morning as I always do, and they interviewed a young woman from Blythe who was a former triathlete who was now paralyzed because she got hit by a car when she was training on her bike on country roads.
Accidents do happen. And you don’t know who they’re going to happen to, right? I feel like every trip out on a country road is playing the odds. I think that’s anxiety, not fear, right? I mean, you could say the same about driving, but I don’t let it stop me. Or about walking (Sam likes to point out to me the stats about pedestrian deaths).
I don’t know what the summer is going to bring. Right now, I want to try. But I wanted to try last year this time as well. In the end, it didn’t happen. I rode to work on my commuter bike most days, but I struggled with mounting panic every time I thought about going out on the road bike.
Here is my dream bike path – stretch of highway in Germany that’s dedicated to bike traffic only. Look Ma, no cars!
I’m open to pep talks! If you have overcome bike anxiety and have a strategy to share with me, fire away!