Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - October 30, 2009

Confidence after a crash

I'm a 49-year-old male recreational road rider. I had a crash mid-August. Nothing serious, just road rash and a very sore hip. I was going easy at the end a ride when my front tyre caught in a crack in the pavement. It grabbed enough to peel the tyre off the rim. The bike stopped rather abruptly, but I didn't.

After a bunch of bandages, I was on the bike again in a couple of days, feeling a little nervous every time I saw anything that remotely looked like a crack in the road. A couple of months later, the physical wounds have healed, but I still don't have my confidence back.

I rode for over 20 years without getting a scratch, so this is all new to me. Before coming off the bike I really enjoyed going downhill (coming down Ventoux passing cars, that kind of thing), but now anything over 75km/h and I'm white-knuckled. It's coming to the off-season where I live, and I'm wondering if there's anything I can do off the bike that will help me regain confidence?

Scott Saifer says


Take some comfort in this: If you rode for 20 years without a scratch, you must be an excellent rider. I usually quote one crash per year as a normal and expected frequency for racers early in their careers, and maybe one ever two or three years later on.

Confidence is like most other cycling-related skills in that one can improve it with practice, and undermine it by practicing it's opposite. When you practice being scared, by pushing your envelope to the point that you are white-knuckled for instance, you improve your ability to be scared and make it harder not to be. The two main things you want to do going forward are to stay out of situations that make you more than a little scared, and to practice confidence.


1) Descend at speeds that don't bother you, and gradually increase those speeds as you become used to them again.
2) Don't dwell on the crash. If you find yourself mentally reviewing the crash, you are practicing to be scared. Stop. As soon as you notice playing the 'bad' video in your head, replace it with a good one. Picture yourself descending confidently and with control.
3) Accept that after a scary crash, it's normal and probably smart to have less confidence for a while. Your brain is processing what happened, trying to learn the lesson and prevent it from happening again. The process takes some time, but you will get back your nerve. Accepting this lets you not worry about the worry. Breaking the cycle of obsession with your lack of confidence lets you heal it.
Good luck.

Carrie Cheadle says


Often times we heal physically after a crash before our confidence does. After your first crash, it can be challenging to overcome the fear of crashing again. Suddenly you are reminded of the fact that you are vulnerable to injury and you don’t want to get injured again.

For some people the fear is more intense than others and usually you will experience that fear more intensely when you come into situations that are similar to the one that you crashed in. So now when you see something that looks like a crack in the road your brain goes 'Hey, I recognize this situation and last time I was here I hit the pavement' and you immediately trigger your stress response.

Once you trigger that response, the fear that you feel gets transferred to tension in the body. With that muscular tension comes a decrease in balance, a decrease in flexibility, and decrease in information processing affecting your ability to focus - all things that are important for bike handling and feeling confident on your bike! Some of the confidence will naturally return over time and Scott has some great advice on building your confidence back up by choosing to start at speeds that you are comfortable with.

So to start getting rid of your white knuckles, make sure you aren’t holding your breath when you approach a crack or are starting to increase your descending speed. Your mantra is: relax my hands, relax my face, breathe. Usually when you can relax your hands and face that will send a message down to the rest of your body to relax as well. The next thing is to work on your thoughts in that moment.

The most amazing part about our stress response is that once we decide there is no longer a threat, that response starts to cool off. So before you see that next shadow that might be a crack or crest the hill on the way to your next descent, decide now what you need to say to yourself in that moment and where your focus needs to be in order to take control of your confidence.

So an example might be to choose to focus on your breathing and relaxing your death grip and say to yourself 'I’m calm and confident' or 'I have great bike handling skills' - whatever it is that you connect with that helps you feel more relaxed and confident in that moment.

Coming back from a crash you can sometimes feel like you’re starting over again and forget that you still bring your 20 years of experience with you on every bike ride. Unfortunately, accepting the risk of cycling is part of the package that comes with doing something that you love. Make sure to breathe, control your thoughts, and keep reminding yourself that you have the skills and you’ll be flying back down Ventoux passing cars before you know it. Let us know how it goes!

Seatpost for a new bike

I'm thinking of ordering a custom frame for my wife - possibly titanium, probably cyclo-cross/winter bike configuration, possibly with S&S couplings or a similar demountable.

1. How do you manage, in your fitting, to achieve an adequately rearward saddle position with the inevitable steep seat tube angle that small frames require with a short enough top tube and sufficiently long stem; with 700c wheels? My wife stands 5'3" and currently rides an off-the-peg 52cm top tube road bike with 6cm stem and standard offset forks.

2. Which seat posts do you recommend to provide maximum setback?


Steve Hogg says


I'll answer your questions one-by-one

1 - Depending on the combination of bike and rider, sometimes it isn't possible. When it isn't possible, I use an adjustable bike to work out a position and then use CAD software to design a frame for that person as either a basis for comparison for shopping for a well fitting bike, or as a blueprint for a custom frame.

You don't state what the current issue is. Is it that you cannot get the seat back far enough on your wife's bike?

2 - I recommend whatever allows me to do my job properly. Good seat posts with more than standard offset are the FSA K Force Lite SB 32.5, the Oval Concepts Aergo R910, Look Ergopost and if by chance your wife needs a 31.6mm seat post diameter, Ritchey make or were making a WCS carbon post with a LOT of setback.

If none of these allow enough set back, you might need to consider a seat with longer rails than normal or more forward rail placement relative to seat upper than normal. Seats vary a lot where they force the rider to sit relative to the length of the upper, in rail length and where the rails are placed relative to the upper.

If the rails are placed forward relative to the upper, then the seat can be adjusted to allow the rider a more rearward position than if the rails are placed rearwards relative to the upper. The Selle SMP range is the best out there in terms of rail length and rail placement if the need is to get the rider back a way.

Switching to time trials

I am 16 and have been riding and road racing for a about a year now; I want to switch to time trialling, however. Is there any advice that you could give me to do this? For example, how would I adjust my training?

Tom Redwood

Scott Saifer says


It would be tough for me to say how you should adjust your training as you begin to focus on time trials given that you haven't told us how you have been training now. I can give some very general advice for people hoping to improve their time trial riding. You can send a more detailed question if you want a more detailed answer.

1) Get a decent fitting on your TT bike. You should be able to ride comfortably on your aerobars for hours at a time.

2) You don't need a TT-specific bike but it is worth investing in fast wheels

3) TT riding is almost 100 percent an aerobic activity, so it depends on aerobic fitness, which comes from aerobic training. To reach a high level of aerobic fitness, you need to do large volumes of aerobic training. As a very general plan, add about 10 percent per week to your total ride volume until you are doing as much as you have time for.

Ride at least every other day. Keep the intensity low enough that you can chat all the time, and sing most of the time (heart rate below 80% of maximum). Do one or two days each week where you ride near 70 rpm to build power. The rest of your rides should be at more appropriate TT cadence, like 90-110 rpm.

4) A few months before TT season, start including two days per week of tempo work in 2-3 intervals of 10-15 minutes. "Tempo" in this case means a few heart beats below LT. A month before TT season, start including two days per week of intervals nearer to LT. These can start as 6 intervals of five minutes, and add two minutes to the intervals and two minutes to the rests each time you successfully complete six intervals without feeling particularly tired. The other rides are long base rides during the interval months.

5) If you have time, do some practice TTs to dial in your sense of pace before the races. Remember that in a good TT, the heart rate rises gradually from beginning to end, you feel like it's too easy near the start, a bit of work in the middle, and as hard as you can at the end, but the power output is nearly steady.

The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers since 1986, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions.

Scott Saifer ( is head coach, CEO of Wenzel and has been coaching cyclists professionally for 18 years. He combines a master's degree in Exercise Physiology with experience in 20 years of touring and racing and over 300 road, track and MTB races to deliver training plans and advice that are both rigorously scientific and compatible with the real world of bike racing.

Scott has helped clients to turn pro as well as to win medals at US Masters National and World Championship events. He has worked with hundreds of beginning riders and racers and particularly enjoys working with the special or challenging rider. Scott is co-author of Bike Racing 101 with Kendra Wenzel and his monthly column appears in ROAD Magazine.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Pam Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an associate professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of energy balance on bone health. She has published on the effects of cycling and multi-day stage racing on bone density and turnover.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is a three-time Missouri State Road Champion.

David Fleckenstein, MPT, OCS ( is a physical therapist practicing in Eagle, ID and the president of Physiotherapy, PA, an outpatient orthopedic clinic focusing in orthopedics, spine, and sportsmedicine care.

His clients have included World and US champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his Masters degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University and is currently completing his doctorate at Regis University.

He is a board certified orthopedic specialist focusing in manual medicine and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilisation musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese ( is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Dario Fredrick ( is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

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