"I remember what it was like in the beginning. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was all I talked about with my mates. I used to daydream about it at work, desperately waiting for the next chance to do it. But it’s just not the same these days, the excitement has worn off, and now it’s a struggle even to think about it. I suppose the love affair is over. Maybe I should just call it quits?"
Mountain biking can be a lot like a love affair. Like any new relationship, the lust phase is pretty exciting. Everything is new and different, we’re learning heaps and being exposed to new challenges. But like a relationship, it’s easy to become complacent, to lose the spark, and to stop trying. Chances are, the things that motivated you in your early days of mountain biking aren’t the same as now, especially if it’s have been static for a while. Other things have a tendency to take up your and your mates’ time and energy, and it can get harder and harder to get out for a ride, or to drag your friends out on the weekend.
If you or your friends have lost the spark, here’s how to transition that love affair with mountain biking from the early lust phase to a long-term, sustainable relationship.
- Your bike has dust on it (and not from riding);
- You’ve gotten rid of mountain bike pages/likes from your Facebook feed;
- You have no idea who’s leading the EWS (worse, you don’t know what the EWS is);
- It’s been at least six months since you bought a part or component for your bike.
Your riding mates:
- They don’t reply to your messages about riding this weekend;
- They haven’t shown up for a group ride in at least three months;
- They stop liking/posting mountain bike-related stuff on Facebook.
- I’m too (insert one of the following: tired, busy, broke, unfit);
- It’s too (insert one of the following: hot, cold, wet, dry).
Your riding mates:
- As above.
Jokes aside, there are lots of reasons that people fall out of love with mountain biking. Here are a few of the most common:
- It takes too much time;
- Skills don’t progress and things feel boring;
- Riding the same trails without any change;
- It’s too expensive;
- To get beyond a moderate skill level is often scary;
- There aren’t people to ride with regularly;
- Lack of fitness.
Understanding what’s going on
It’s pretty normal for things that started off as new and exciting to lose their lustre over time. Most humans find it hard to sustain interest in anything without some sort of ongoing reinforcement. To understand this, we need to understand something called self-determination theory.
According to proponents of this theory, motivation comes in two flavours: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is external, for instance, being given a bonus for staying late at work, or going for a ride because your friends want you to. Extrinsic motivation can be pretty powerful but there are two downsides: i) it’s short lasting and, ii) the amount of stimulus/reward required for motivation increases over time. In other words, the first time your boss offers you $200 to work a Saturday you might say yes, but the second time you’ll want a lot more, and by the tenth time it’s unlikely that any reward would be sufficient.
It’s pretty normal for things that started off as new and exciting to lose their lustre over time. Most humans find it hard to sustain interest in anything without some sort of ongoing reinforcement.
Early mountain biking experiences are a lot about the extrinsic reinforcement: you ride because your friends or partner are into riding, or because you’ve got a new bike, or because you want to be able to ride as well as your mates. But because of the diminishing return (e.g., the bike doesn’t stay new and requires upgrades and maintenance, your skills don’t progress without a lot of work), motivation can drop off pretty quickly.
The other type of motivation is intrinsic motivation. This motivation is internal: you want to do something because it means something to you, rather than because someone else wants you to, or because you’ve been offered an incentive. Sustaining an interest in mountain biking has to come from internal reasons in order to be lasting – doing things because other people want you to, or because you feel pressured to, simply won’t last.
Try something new: a new trail, location, skill.
Breaking down barriers
Sustaining a mountain-biking habit is difficult. It requires time, money, access, and people to ride with. As well as developing an internal motivation to ride (see below), reducing the barriers to riding will make things a lot easier.
- Schedule time realistically. If you have to drive for ages to ride, share the ride with a friend. Negotiate the time with your partner in advance;
- Take some time to develop your skills. Take a skills course, or just find somewhere to practise (preferably with a friend who’s a little better than you). If you just go out and ride, you’ll probably end up riding around the same obstacles over and over again. Stop and session – this will also help with any fear issues that are getting in the way of your enjoyment (check out this article for some advice on improving skills: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/dealing-with-real-fear/);
- Try something new: a new trail, location, skill. There’s a lot of information out there… If you don’t have people to ride with, try a forum like Rotorburn – mountain bikers tend to be pretty friendly people!
- Don’t get fixated on what you don’t have – mountain biking doesn’t have to be about the latest gear (read here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/why-you-dont-really-need-to-upgrade/);
- Try riding more mindfully (read here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-riding-in-the-here-and-now/);
- Try to get a bit fitter. An off-mountain bike training program (gym work, some running, or time on the road bike) makes a big difference – riding is just more fun when it doesn’t hurt as much…
For your friends:
- Don’t give up on them – keep in touch;
- Don’t nag. Instead, make it easier for them: offer to pick them up and drive, find somewhere to ride that takes less time to get to, or see if you can do a skills-course together. Basically, you want to find out what’s in the way of their riding enjoyment and what you can do to help;
- Make sure they have fun first ride back. Dragging someone out on a painful epic or scary descent (even if it’s easy for you) will make it worse. No one likes being the guy at the back!
- Follow-up: getting someone back into riding requires patience and reinforcement. Remember, we’re after intrinsic motivation.
Keep in mind that a lack of barriers doesn’t guarantee motivation. I’ve lived within five-minutes ride of awesome single track, with good riding buddies, and perfect weather, and still struggled to get myself out the door.
The long-term love affair
Figuring out what’s reinforcing for you and your friends is the best way of maturing an early infatuation into a long-term interest. There are a heap of reasons people stay interested in mountain biking including but not limited to:
Skills: Continuing to learn new skills keeps mountain biking interesting. Learning new, faster, or more efficient ways to ride is a start. How about your bike? Are you interested in learning how to do your own servicing (even the basic stuff like bleeding your brakes or changing your chain)? Remember to be gentle on yourself with this one – it’s easy to get disheartened when things don’t progress as fast as you’d hoped.
Challenge: Not quite the same as skills, but related. As your skills increase, you’ll want more challenge. Riding new trails, trying new features that you’ve always gone around, and riding with people who are better than you, all help to up the challenge.
Relationships: This is a big part of mountain biking for a lot of people. Riding by yourself can be great, but riding with people you know and trust can make even an average ride a lot more fun. Take some time to cultivate mountain-bike friendships.
Involvement: Getting involved in something bigger than just you and your riding can make a big difference to your connection to the sport and the wider mountain-biking community. Joining a local club or shop-ride group, volunteering for some trail building or maintenance, or engaging with others on MTB forums can keep you connected.
Novelty: Riding the same stuff, no matter how challenging, can be really boring. While it’s great to have a local ride, it’s really important to try new things. There’s nothing like that new trail feeling.
Aesthetics: Last, but not least, we often forget that riding takes us to some really beautiful places. Instead of focusing exclusively on a Strava PB, stop from time to time and appreciate the view. Realising that you’re somewhere beautiful goes a long way to making a ride that much more rewarding.
About the author:
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 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) or on (03) 9016 0306.