What actually happens to your body when you’re scared during a ride

Being scared or fearful is a common human emotion. Our bodies react in a variety of ways when it senses fear. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or professional cyclist, it’s perfectly natural to get scared during a ride – it’s how you deal with it that matters. 

Here are 4 phenomena that might occur when you’re afraid during a ride.


1. What fear does to our eyes

Like ‘magic’, our bodies react a certain way to the incoming threats – and your facial expression actually does more to aid your survival than you might think. When we are scared, our eyes get wider, which makes us see better and process the threats that are coming ahead – such as a reckless driver or a cyclist swerving to your left. 

A study published in 2013 at the Psychological Science discovered that people who made a “scared face” have their peripheral vision enhanced by 9.4 percent when compared to other people who made a neutral facial expression. 


2. What fear does to our neck and shoulders

When we freak out or get petrified, our neck and shoulder muscles get tensed. This can be dangerous for bike handling. To remediate this, relax your shoulders by performing shrugs or shoulder rolls. This may help you to loosen up.


3. What fear does to your heart

When you’re scared, your body responds to it by releasing adrenaline. The body releases adrenaline when you’re scared, which triggers a rise in heart rate. It’s part of the “fight or flight response.” It’s meant to prepare us to be stronger and faster.


4. What fear does to your hands and feet

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve clutched the handlebar with clammy hands after riding away in a jiffy from a menacing driver or dog?

If yes, then you do know how it left your hands and feet chilled? It’s because the body diverts all the blood away from the skin to aid the muscles, the heart and the lungs.

As a result, your muscles can perform better and do all the hard work and help you escape.


What fear does to your skin

It’s not easy to escape from a threat. There’s a lot of work involved sometimes. Your body calculates this by sweating.

Sweating makes you stay cool. If you get scared during a ride and don’t stop sprinting, you probably won’t feel that evaporative cooling. This is the main reason you find yourself shivering when in shock.


What fear does to your bladder

Our heart rate increases when we feel fear which induces the kidneys to process fluids faster than normal.  So urinating when you’re scared is, unfortunately, pretty natural. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to this! 


Tips on dealing with fear and adrenaline when mountain biking

Dr Tan Yung Khan, an avid mountain biker, adventure racer and Senior Urologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena, shared with us some of his personal tips when going on the trails. 


#1 Assess the route

If you’re unfamiliar with the trail, recce the area and take a walk through the route first. That way you’ll be able to find the easiest ‘line’ to follow. 


#2 Sectioning

When there are multiple sections of a trail, do one part at a time until you are confident.


#3 Know where to focus

Basic tips: don’t stare at the obstacle you are trying to avoid. Instead, focus on the line or trail that you want to take. If you focus on the obstacle, you will most likely crash into it.


#4 Commit to the ride

Avoid locking joints. Your body must be supple to absorb the shocks. Make a decision and commit to it. Often you can’t bail on the more difficult rides.


#5 Have fun and go with the flow!

As of every ride, be it mountain biking or road cycling, we do it mostly because it’s our version of fun. It gets our heart pumping and it’s pretty much liberating, so try to focus not only on what’s ahead of you but also on the fun aspect of it. Just go with the flow!



What other phenomenon do you experience when you’re scared during a ride? Share with us in the comments!

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