6 observations on confidence: lessons learned from the seat of my mountain bike

Adam Beasley
8 min readMay 5, 2021

Confidence is fluid. Some people have too much in certain situations, but zero in other situations. Areas, where you feel super confident, might cause others to tremble in fear. My journey to becoming a better mountain biker has taught me a lot about confidence and it relates well to becoming more confident in other areas of life. Here are a few of the impactful lessons.

  1. Everyone has to start somewhere, just get on the bike!

When I decided I wanted to give mountain biking a try in 2008, I could’ve started by chewing through piles of books, devouring YouTube videos, meeting professional mountain bikers, but none of those things would’ve made me a mountain biker. For me, it meant investing in the gear and getting on a bike. Think about the 70/20/10 rule–the biggest percentage is learned by doing.

2. You might think you’re a fraud at first.

A few months after I got my starter bike, I nervously registered for an 8-mile race at a nearby ski hill. Who races up ski hills? I knew this would be challenging, but I also uNderstood it would propel me to get better and stronger faster. With practice, I was less nervous at being clipped in, but I certainly hadn’t mastered it yet. The day before the race, I went to the ski hill to pre-ride the racecourse. I was about a mile into the course when I turned a corner and saw a short, steep hill coming up in 15 yards. I felt my heart leap and could feel my blood pumping through my veins. I was nervous! I knew I had to pick up some speed, so I bore down, got 2 solid pedal pumps in, and my front wheel crested the hill. But then, I lost momentum. I knew I was screwed. I tried desperately to unclip but my feet felt welded to this bike. Time slowed as I yanked up with all my strength to get my foot out of that pedal, but I couldn’t. My knee turned to the side and I fell, kneecap first, into a bowling-ball-sized rock half-buried on the side of the trail. It was excruciating, I was dizzy and seeing stars. Was I going to puke? At that moment, I felt like a fraud; I was definitely not a mountain biker. After a minute, my vision stopped spinning, my legs got less shaky, and I got back on the bike.

At the beginning of a new, daunting challenge, you may feel like a fraud. Now is not the time to give up. Everyone was once a beginner, so give yourself grace as you learn, even when blood is running down your leg and soaking your socks and shoes. Get back on the bike and keep improving, even when it hurts.

Mountain biking up a ski hill!

3. Seek feedback, especially at the beginning.

As I got better, I knew I could learn from others. I started by seeking out mountain biker friends to learn from and group rides to join in. As I started to ride with more experienced riders, I watched how they approached a tight turn or where they positioned their body weight as their front tires hit deep sand. Watch the more experienced riders, ask for tips, and learn from them!

Even professionals had to start somewhere, so they’ve been in your shoes. They are happy to share their experiences and failures. Seek feedback, especially at the beginning. The patterns you’re cementing now will become your foundation as you get better. Make sure they’re sound.

4. Momentum can be your friend — and your enemy.

In my third year of riding, I learned a hard lesson at the trail closest to my house, Luton. I knew that trail like the back of my hand. The very first time I rode that trail, it took me an hour and forty minutes. At my fastest, I was finishing it in 39 to 41 minutes. I knew how to fly through turns, float over obstacles, when to slow down and lean back for sand, and where to watch for deer on sunrise rides. I felt like I could almost blaze that trail with my eyes closed. As I approached a worn-down log pile on the orange loop, I picked up speed. Every other time, I had tapped my brakes, leaned back, and rolled over that obstacle with ease. This time, I was going to hit a new PR, and I thought, “I could shave a few seconds off my time if I could bunny-hop that log pile!” I approached the line to the logs, slammed down a few crushing pedal-strokes, and launched myself up. It was glorious, right up until my back wheel snagged the top log and catapulted me forward. My front wheel wretched to the left and threw me off to the right. I was flying through the air and looked up just in time to see my head careening towards a very solid pine tree. I managed to duck just enough to catch the tree with the front of my helmet and my cheek, rather than a nose-crushing, face-wrecking collision into that stupid pine tree. I woke up on the trial, not sure how much time had passed, with something hot and sticky running down my cheek and a skull-splitting headache. I was fortunate to only escape with a minor concussion, a 2-inch abrasion on my cheek, and a bit of nerve damage above my eye.

What did I learn? Don’t get too arrogant that you forget what you know! Lack of preparation and recklessness can land you in a world of hurt. The same goes for any situation, go into it unprepared and reckless, and you’re bound to come out scarred.

My black eye and face abrasion, and swollen cheek, starting to heal. Photo © Rudy Malmquist

The more you try to be certain about something, the more uncertain and insecure you will feel.” — Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

Conversely, too much caution can really cause problems. There was a specific obstacle at the Merrell trail that seemed particularly daunting to me. It was called “threading the needle.” I had hit almost every other obstacle on the course, but I avoided this one every single time. It seemed really scary. I had heard of some serious injuries that had occurred at this obstacle. At this point, I had ridden past this one many times, but then one late summer day, I decided that I was going to do it. How hard could it be? The boards were about ten inches wide and went up about four feet into the “V” of a tree, then down the other side. I turned around, rode back about fifty feet, and went for it. At the last second, I bailed. I must’ve turned around twenty times. I even propped my phone up to record myself doing it. I had to delete twenty videos. Then, I did it! As soon as both wheels were back on the ground, I laughed, then I whooped. Ha!

Not as hard as it looks (although this obstacle has been removed because of injuries sustained here.)

It was substantially easier than I had made it out to be. I had pictured myself doing that obstacle, thought about every inch of that ramp, going up, and coming back down, many times. As soon as I did it, I had a combination of relief that I had done it, humility that I had fretted about it, and a bit of healthy regret that I hadn’t tackled it sooner. Sometimes we can get in our own heads and avoid doing the scary thing when in actuality, we’ve been ready for months, maybe even years.

5. Invest in your ecosystem.

I bought my first mountain bike from a friend for $300. It wasn’t a bad bike, it was just very much an entry-level bike. After a year of riding, I knew I wanted to upgrade. I talked to fellow riders, asked at my local bike shop, and looked at loads of brands and features, and various price points. Then, when I found a bike I really liked in theory, I looked for a demo where I could actually ride it.

Compared to my first bike, this one was like riding on air! Coming in at twenty-one pounds, with an awesome drive train, and stop-on-a-dime hydraulic disc brakes, this thing was a rocket. So I spent that season figuring out finances and a way to make that bike mine.

The point here wasn’t how much I spent or the brand, but that I found a bike that would match or exceed my riding level. Similarly, we can be the most skilled person in the world, but without the tools or equipment, we can’t do our thing! For a surgeon, it’s a scalpel. For my day job, it’s a whiteboard, sticky notes, my laptop, and in our remote-work world, a good internet connection! Invest in your ecosystem. What tools take away friction as well as add to your ability to focus?

6. Don’t get complacent.

I have been mountain biking for over twelve years. But if you ask me, I will tell you that I still have a ton to learn. And I couldn’t just open my garage, pull down my bike, and do a 31 mile Iceman Cometh race today. But I know that, with a few months of training, I could. I know enough about the sport to know what it takes to prepare for a ten-mile local trail ride or a thirty-mile, grueling and freezing race in November in Northern Michigan.

My wife and I at the starting line of the 2012 Iceman Cometh Challenge

As mentioned in the 70/20/10 rule above, the 20% and 10% rely on continuing to learn, especially from others. Any successful person will tell you that, whenever they were at a point of thinking they had mastered their skill, something would come up and remind them to always keep learning.

I’ve discovered the joy of sharing mountain biking and the things I’ve learned with other riders. So once you’ve done something long enough to be confident in your abilities, don’t hesitate to share what you’ve learned, after all, you might be the key to helping someone else gain confidence in that area and everyone has to start somewhere!

Thanks for reading!

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Adam Beasley

Husband, father, son. Michigan native, 3rd culture kid. Design Lead at Vervint by day, hobbyist mountain biker & weight lifter, cheeseburger enthusiast.