Singletrack crashes - Tunnel Vision?

WARNING: Do not read this if you are prone to suggestion. I don’t want anyone else to suffer my woes.

Yesterday was a routine ride. My once a week outside ride where i decided to work on cornering and other takeaways from my Soldier Hollow race. It did not go well.

I crashed on a corner when my rear tire slid out. no big deal but worth questionining as i didn’t think I braked too hard or leaned the bike over too much.

But then I crashed hard on an uphill climb when my wheel went off the right side of the singletrack and hit something that threw me down, violently.
(Last Tuesday I had the same crash, only it was the left side and I jacknifed the wheel.)
Then, at the end of my climbing, I started down a green that I’ve ridden a hundred times. On the straightaway, going fast, i drifted off the right side of the singletrack. Instead of reacting with urgency, I thought i’d just ride it through and merge onto the singletrack again. BOOM!
Wheel hit something and jacknifed, I heard what I thought was my tire rip off (nope, was the rim folding like a wallet) as I tumbled over the bars.
Front wheel is broken. And my brand new saddle (first ride) broke. I’m scabbed, battered and bruised EVERYWHERE from my ankles to my shoulders.
And I cannot figure out why.

I seem to be having trouble staying on the singletrack… in the straights. slight bends, even no bend, I just can’t stay in the dirt.

  1. So is it attentional tunneling? Am I fixating on something and riding towards it?
  2. I’ve had a few recoveries from this where i just cannot seem to move the wheel. The head and shoulders are leaning but the hands won’t comply. Like that moment of sleep paralysis. But I usually manage to escape these situations.
  3. I cannot get my wheel/handlebars straight. It always seems to be a couple of degrees out of alignment no matter how many times I loosen and adjust. It looks right, then the next day it’s appears off again.
  4. Attentional tunneling is a big problem in many domains, but it is usually about missing alerts and signals because one fixates on something. Mine is more drunk driver syndrome (drivers fixate on headlights of oncoming cars and just drive into em). Maybe i am spotting something on the ground and just fixating on it.

I am hesistant to believe it’s 4. I was going too fast to pick an object on the ground. And (perhaps hazy) memory seems to suggest that I notice I am going off trail then shift my eyes toward the side to assess the risks. But I could be wrong.

Can anyone relate? Short of hypnosis or a better night’s sleep, what can I do about this? Next crash like that, and I won’t be walking out on my own.

A ride with this many crashes is routine? Yikes! I’m not sure I can offer a lot of advice regarding tunnel vision or what is commonly referred to as target fixation but it sounds to me like you need to practice basic cornering skills & it sounds like you may be riding “over your head” at times. Something that really jumps out at me is this:

You can lean until you fall off the bike but that’s not how to turn a bicycle. The turn is initiated by counter steering at the handlebars. Simply put, this means if you want to turn left you will slightly push the left grip of your bars toward the right & the bike will begin to fall into the turn where you will need to moderate the lean angle of the bike but your body will be leaning a lot less than the bike.

I’d highly recommend checking out this book: Book: Mastering Mountain Bike Skills 2nd Edition - Lee Likes Bikes as well as watching youtube videos about cornering on mountain bikes. If I remember correctly, Skills with Phil has a few videos worth checking out.

I hope this doesn’t come off as me being a jerk, it’s not my intention at all. I constantly practice cornering & still screw up due to bad habits ingrained from riding motorcycles for a lot of years where one hangs off the bike (leaning way more than the machine) which does not work on bicycles. Counter steering to initiate turns is the same though.

1 Like

I’ve had issues with this too, usually stiffen up for no reason during a corner or once I get some slip. The best rides I’ve had on trails have been when I’m herbally relaxed though I obviously can’t recommend that to someone else. During those times I almost feel like I’m dancing on the bike and everything just flows so well.

I DO also find that if I have a crash, I tend to have way more close calls that day after, I think it just spooks me a bit and intense up again in similar situations. Kind of a “when it rains it pours” type of thing.

I’ve also found the biggest difference is to look ahead. Such a simple concept but hard to do sometimes especially when you’re worried about the front tire and are looking 1 foot ahead instead of 10. I think learning to look further forward and just trust my front tire has been the best recent change I’ve made to my riding

Sorry. I meant, it was supposed to be a routine ride.

It’s fair to interpret my opening as me riding over my head. my opening post suggests i am clueless. While I am not happy with my cornering skills. But you missed the point my problem. I do know how to turn my handlebars to initiate a turn.
The issue is I am crashing in the straights! No turns. Just flat riding off the side of the trail. And I don’t understand why. It’s like a mental block or something.

1 Like

Let’s clarify: Cornering is off topic here… I am losing time in the corners to other racers. So it’s a technical skill i need to work on. Especially off camber, downhill corners. I will continue to practice and I have considered a Lee McCormack or Ninja clinic. But you guys are all fixating on the first crash, which maybe was a fluke (it was sandy, off camber).

I am crashing on straightaways.

So I normally have a pretty good scan pattern. Look ahead, spot obstacle, spot path of least resistance, etc. It’s possible that I am fixating, but I am not normally just watching my wheel/one foot in front.

You’re right, I totally honed in on one part of your post -“tunnel visioned” it if you will :joy: I’ve drifted off the trail on straights, too but rarely. It’s happened when I’m quite fatigued or not paying attention but it sounds like neither of these apply to your situation. Maybe on the climbs you’re losing focus because you’re going too deep & are having trouble with the cognitive load of staying on the trail? I don’t think I have anything else to offer & sorry for the misunderstanding in my first reply.

Maybe you’re getting nervous from the other crashes you’ve had. Maybe you’re losing focus. Maybe you’re not fueling well and having issues with coordination. I don’t know but what I do know is once I crash during a ride I’m not the same for the rest of the day even on straights, and usually takes me a few more rides to shake my funk

1 Like

Too deep is a possibility. yesterday’s ride was a 116 TSS and I wasn’t drinking/fueling very well. I had a pretty full bottle at the end and only ate one gel by the time i crashed.

I should also point out that I have had as many races as outside rides in 2021. I’m not getting out much (pandemic, wife, kids). 2020 was bad too. hundreds of hours of training, but only about a dozen outside rides. My skills have deteriorated.

But my race numbers are great! two podiums and four top tens. So maybe its a focus issue? I’m not staying on task during training rides?

1 Like

Yeah, this. So the whole going off the trail thing is becoming a thing with me. Even though I don’t crash every time, it’s starting to mess with my head. Yesterday, perhaps we just saw a combination of factors come together in a big way.

1 Like

Sounds like a combination of factors but as you’ve said, it’s messing with your head. Maybe a few rides for fun without regard to numbers or training are in order? Just go ride your bike in the woods!

Yeah. That’s what yesterday was supposed to be!

Sounds like you aren’t looking far enough up the trail. Get your eyes up and focus farther down the trail.

You ride a mountain bike similar to the way you ride an dirt bike for the same reasons: cornering lugs. You also ride a road bike like you do a street bike. The dynamics are the same, you just come from the world of riding on pavement.

But yes, counter steering is the same. The only real difference between bicycles and motorcycles is power transfer, since we don’t have to worry about getting HP to the ground and/or keep the front end down.

1 Like

If you crash on the straights it sounds like you need to work on 2 things: riding straight, and correcting back to straight when you get off line. This maybe sounds simple, but I think it’s a common problem for those of us with average coordination, and I have issues with these too despite thousands of miles of trailing riding, and experience XC and enduro racing. Correcting back to straight as a drill seems to be overlooked by MTB teachers - maybe it’s just easy for them? I do these drills at the beginning of each MTB ride to get my brain-body connection warmed up. Only takes a few minutes to get the benefit.

Drill 1 - ride straight: ride a painted line on the road like it’s a ‘skinnie.’ See how long you can maintain this. If you need to start on trail then find a ‘line’ on the trail such as one edge and try to ride exactly on it. Once you do it with two hands, do a little with only the right hand on the grip and then only the left.

Drill 2 - correct back to straight: ride straight a few inches/cm to the left of a painted line then steer right to a couple inches to the right of the line and then precisely stay straight on that ride side of the line without going too far to the right or over-correctly back too far to the left (onto the line). Your path should look like: ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ \ _ _ _ _ / ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ \ _ _ _ _ / ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ and shouldn’t be all over the place. This is actually a little harder than it sounds to do it well. Once, you do that a few times with both hands, do it (carefully!) one handed for each hand as long as you are in a safe place to do so. If I start on trail I just find little marks on the trail like small pebbles: ride straight on left side of trail, steer to a pebble on right side of trail, then steer precisely straight again on that side of the trail. If you don’t have time for both drills, just do this one for a few minutes.

I also agree with above comments on practicing looking down the trail.

1 Like

Just to eliminate something obvious - recent eye exam?

Last year I had a PVD and it was affecting my vision and balance. Not dramatically and not all the time.

Am also concerned that you cannot align your handlebars (make them straight). That could be a mechanical technique issue or indicate something off with your vision processing. Lets go with technique for now. Will assume the stem fits the steerer properly and the bolts are good and that it is an alignment issue. But check the other parts.

If it’s an alignment issue, and if you aren’t already using a straightedge as a reference, just learn that technique. This guy gives a long winded version of how to get handlebars straight: HOW TO: Align Bicycle Handlebars Perfectly // The BEST Method! - YouTube

Hope you get it all sorted. Riding is supposed to be fun and crashing is definitely not fun.

Thanks for all the feedback and suggestions, folks. I got a chance to ride outside again last night (weekly race) and it was a big deal. I knew i needed to get the taste of a crash out of my head and maybe even see if there is something serious underlying my issues.
My conclusion is two things:

  1. I have a tendency to get in front of the BB when out of the saddle. Thus putting a lot of weight on my hands and making me vulnerable to a jacknifed wheel. When i noticed this, i got my hinge right and felt more in control of the bike.
  2. I am still freezing up a little. I can initiate the turn with the bars, then point my body in the direction of the turn, but sometimes, I can feel my body wanting to go right to left, but my hands and arms won’t comply. I think this is fear. Fear of oversteering and crashing. Its a mental block.

Yesterday’s race was two laps and i improved on the second lap’s downhil strava segment by 35 seconds! I hadn’t preridden the course, so an improvement is expected with familiarity, but i was following someone on lap 1 and was alone in lap 2. So i was able to pace myself faster and push-pull (AKA Lee McCormack) a little better.

All of this is probably a result of a lack of practice. I’ve got kids and a wife who has sacrificed everything for the family during the pandemic. I got fewer than 20 rides outside last year and maybe 10 so far this year. Just not enough time to hone those technical skills.

I think my prescription, if i am self medicating, is to make outside rides about finding a couple turns, and repeating them. check the ego, forget about hitting a climbing goal, or a power goal. Instead of training my power systems, I will just use the time to practice technique. Incidentally, this was my plan last wednesday, but it went out the window after I took a flow track and got a taste for fun.

1 Like

I think that this is most of the story. You would have been deep in the pain cave and low on glycogen. You know what the number one user of blood sugar is? Your brain! It can only fuel from blood sugar. So your cognitive ability was likely impaired.

Which brings me to the second issue. Since you were cognitively impaired, reaction times are slow and your lizard brain, not your main thought process, was in control. Since you haven’t been riding much your lizard brain was out of practice and made bad choices. You probably developed bad habits on the trainer. Certainly you didn’t have to steer on the Trainer.

If you rode Zwift or watched others ride while on the trainer you maybe even unintentionally trained your lizard brain that turning happens on its own and you can just keep your arms straight.

In any case, you need skills practice more than fitness training. Cut back on training volume (but not intensity) for a week or two and focus on skills riding. You won’t lose much fitness and you will gain speed and safety by practicing the skills.

Also, I am a bit concerned about your eye sight and brain health. Between the feeling of disconnectedness in perceiving an issue and your body not responding and not being able to get your bars straight, those could be symptoms of something. I know many people have slipped normal doctors appointments due to COVID. I suggest getting your vision checked and a physical. Talk to your doctor about this and any other weird stuff. Better to be safe than sorry.

1 Like

It’s happened to me a few times when I know I need to turn, but I can’t make myself turn.

It’s usually been on loose trails with low traction, where turning can cause the front wheel to slide out - so on my fat bike in the snow, loose over hard on my MTB, or loose gravel. I think part of my brain is saying “if you turn you’ll slide out” - so I end up not turning.

It doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, I’ve braked instead and slowed down enough where I can either stop before running off the trail, or I have a low speed “crash” of low consequence.

I think it’s been due to lack of concentration, and not paying attention to and anticipating changes in direction of the trail ahead.

I’ve learned when descending to switch on my brain to full focus, no distractions, and “get in the zone”.

It’s possible with all your indoor rides, and lack of outdoor rides, your brain has detrained to being on alert. Let’s face it - when riding indoors its very easy to zone-out and just pedal.

I’d bet things will come back for you with more outside rides.

I can’t add much to what’s already been said, but I would book up some skills coaching. You can join a group which is more fun(IMO) and often you can do a day/2 day clinic.
A word of warning; don’t turn up tired! Skills work is very demanding mentally and physically.
Also buy some knee and elbow protection , and possibly a full face helmet if you are worried about getting hurt.

1 Like

I doubt it’s due to lack of concentration. Like when people say they tell themselves to turn and it just doesn’t happen, often this is an issue of cognitive load and the actions that are not automatic—ie where you have to think about it—just won’t happen, when you have too much to think about.

So I would say keep drilling the fundamentals including correcting to straight, and as those get better, you’ll also do better in the weird novel situations you find yourself in.

And bro, you might also just be tired. I crash a lot more when I’m tired.