I was following behind a very fit woman rider on a group ride the other day as we wound our way down a rutted and twisty singletrack. She had a very nice bike, had the look of a very competent rider, and yet was barely moving down the trail....brakes on, arms locked, body nearly rigid. This trail was not that hard and has very good flow, but she was making it sooo difficult and the only thing flowing was the sweat running in bullets down her face.
So what turned this fit, capable looking rider into a scared rabbit? She did not trust her bike. And this is not a 'chick thing'. The guys that crash the most often on our group rides are the ones that trust the least. They blame the tires or the fork set-up or the trail conditions, when really none of that is true.
A mountain bike is an amazing conveyance. With its big tires, suspension (if any), gears (even if it's only one), and great brakes, they can be pedaled over a surprising variety of surfaces and conditions....if you believe they can. If you trust the bike it will do its job nicely, brakes will be used sparingly, and it will roll smoothly and flow under a relaxed rider.
If you do not believe, do not trust, then it all goes wrong. Every obstacle is doom waiting to happen in the eyes of the non-believer. Progress will be a continuous path of near misses and bobbles, all ridden with a death grip on the bars, brakes firmly on, body unable to move and adjust as it needs to.
Trust your bike. Obviously there are margins of safety here, so just letting go of the brakes and closing your eyes is a bit much, but the truth lies in between the imagined precipice of disaster and the bliss of Shangri-La.
Try this. Slow down a bit on a trail that you know well, but one that causes you to struggle a bit. Consciously use less brakes. Put your fingers off the brake levers. Relax your elbows and knees...eyes down the trail and let go a bit. It will be hard and it will take time to trust, but you will have tiny victories...a corner taken with a smooth line, rock steps rolled down, sandy patches floated across. Eventually the little victories add up to a better ride and they create habits that you will carry with you for years.
This Old Dog has learned to trust his bike, yet I still find myself doubting on occasion, using too much brake, wavering off the best line and drifting into the the path of self doubt. Even Old Dogs can forget how to hunt every so often.
Trust your bike and you will become a better rider.