Removing the fear of riding OUTDOORS

Steps you can take to build confidence and shake fear about riding outside from Mental Performance Coach, Neil Edge.

Steps you can take to build confidence and shake fear about riding outside from Mental Performance Coach, Neil Edge.

How can I get over my fear of riding outside on the road?

As a triathlon mental performance coach, I have been asked this question many times.

This fear of riding outside increases when we hear of club-mates, friends and other triathletes suffering a crash. Social media is full of gory images shared by athletes who have suffered crashes. We are inundated with pictures and stories of road rash, broken bones and gashes from those who were hit by cars or crashed on descents.  

The seed of a crash has been planted and these very thoughts trigger the fight or flight response. It is only natural that you will want to stick to the trainer and avoid riding outside. In addition, some of the pros, such as Lionel Sanders, are doing most of their riding indoors, adding further fuel to the fire.

But before you give up on riding outdoors all together, we need to first identify if indeed the fight or flight response which is often triggered by thoughts of the above is actually justified.

Our thoughts are not facts, they are simply our opinion at that moment in time

The following is a short process to identify if your fear of riding outside is real and if not, how can we remove it. (My definition of FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real.)

Step 1 – Clarity

Draw a line down the centre of your page. On the left-hand side, write a list of everything that concerns you about riding outside on the roads. For example: being hit by a car. Write as many points as possible that are relevant to you, whether it be a level one concern or a level ten.

Just thinking about this may trigger a response. You may suddenly find yourself feeling uneasy, as our brain is not able to identify the difference between a situation that is real or one that is not. If this happens, take 10-15 minutes away from your desk to relax and think about something else.

Step 2 – Thought validation

For each point that you have written in the left-hand column, ask yourself if there is actually a probability that this will happen.

Let’s use the example above. 

Take a minute to Google how many cyclists ride each day in your state or country compared to how many are hit by cars and seriously injured. The reality is that whilst this number is increasing due to the increase in the number of cyclists, the percentage – and therefore the reality of this happening – is very low.

How many times have you ridden outside versus the number of serious accidents you have had involving cars? I imagine that the percentage is very low and therefore, the fight or flight response is being triggered without any form of validation. Yes of course there are variables that can increase this percentage such as riding next to busy highways, riding recklessly etc., but in general, the probability is very low.

Now, in the right-hand column opposite your previous list, I would like you to write, “I feel safe riding with cars around me,” (or similar wording) using either “I am,” or “I feel.”

I would like you to follow the same process for each point that you noted, using either “I am” or “I feel” so that the statement is in the present tense. Once you have completed this, I would like you to tear the page in half and throw the left-hand column away.

These were old beliefs that we are about to change by using the right-hand column as our positive affirmations.

Step 3 – Stating positive affirmations

State those positive affirmations for two to three minutes in the morning, within three to five minutes of waking. Over time, this consistency will form your new beliefs.

Step 4 – Systematic desensitization

Systematic desensitization is a tool that I use with athletes in my Fear of Overcoming Fast Descents Program and it involves exposing yourself to the feeling that triggers the fear on a gradual basis.

We do this by first creating a hierarchy of fear using images, videos and the physical. This is personal to each person but can begin with an image such as a cyclist riding next to cars. This progresses from an image → to a video showing a cyclist riding on a busy road → back to the cyclist riding on a quiet road. We then grade each example from one to 10, one being no response at all and 10 being a panic attack. Over a period of time, we expose you to each element on the scale several times before moving on. 

Note: I recommend working with a knowledgeable person such as a mental performance coach, therapist or similar to guide you correctly through the process.

Neil Edge is an experienced triathlon Mental Performance Coach, working with age groupers and pros. He works with triathletes to overcome fear of open water and fast descents, setbacks including a less than expected performance and injury, increasing motivation, removing performance anxiety and building confidence and resilience. You can learn more about his mental performance courses at


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