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Bouncing Back After A Bike Crash

How to break the post-crash mental barriers so you can ride again.

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How to break the post-crash mental barriers so you can ride again.

Let’s face it—no matter how safely we ride, sooner or later some of us will be involved in cycling-related accidents. Getting back on the bike after recovering from a crash can be a momentous mental challenge but one that can be made easier with professional guidance. We asked Dr. Mitchell Greene, who serves as the official sports psychologist to New Jersey-based DelMoSports and has worked with numerous pros including Olympian triathlete Joe Maloy, for his advice on overcoming post-crash mental barriers.

Be Realistic, If Not Relaxed

Feeling relaxed on the bike seems an obvious first goal when you start cycling again but, in fact, it’s a goal that has the potential to work against you. “Sometimes, in an effort to feel relaxed, athletes get frustrated because they can’t settle their minds down the way they think they should,” says Greene. “This can lead to more discouragement as the seeds of doubt grow larger and larger. Returning from injury is a process where expectations need to be as realistic as they are optimistic. And, realistically speaking, it takes time for the mind to learn to manage the doubts that come with riding the roads again.”

Acknowledge Your Doubts

Greene says that “mind chatter”—the internal voice that is focused on your physical and psychological safety—is in hyperdrive post-accident, producing excessive worry about everything that could go wrong once you clip in. “Mind chatter can easily sabotage your mission to get back on the road, so it’s important to see the chatter as part of the recovery process, rather than a sign that you’re not prepared to try,” says Greene. “As you acknowledge that there will be doubts along the way, you can then focus on other aspects of your return ride that will ultimately lead to you feeling more and more comfortable on the bike.”

Focus On Small Goals

Before clipping in, set small goals for the ride ahead. For instance, a nervous cyclist Greene recently worked with who was returning from injury would repeatedly “mark the spot” on downhills, picking an attainable goal rather than focusing on her fear of increasing speed. Another small goal might be riding with a friend, then building up to riding at faster speeds with a larger group to ready yourself for race-like conditions.

Communicate Your Fears

Communicate with family members and/or friends about how you’re feeling. Returning riders often face the fear that they won’t ride as fast or as confidently as they used to. Keeping that feeling inside can derail motivation and lead to negative thinking. Likewise, family members (and training partners and coaches) should be aware that the process of returning often takes more courage than it does confidence. “It’s persistence over perfection,” Greene says. “You may never feel exactly the same as you once did on the roads, so being a bit more cautious isn’t a bad thing, especially if it helps you return to something that you truly love.”

Give Yourself Props

The last five minutes of a ride may be the most important, says Greene. Use that time to remind yourself how courageous you are for not letting the mind chatter ruin something that has great meaning to you. “Courage by definition,” Greene says, “can’t show up except in the presence of fear. So finish off your ride with self-praise for your courageousness, despite your nervousness.”