Lately Mike Levy at Pinkbike and I (Big suspension and big sine waves) have told you that downhill bikes are too unwieldy and gnarly for average riders. That most of us are best served by mid-travel bikes. Well, that might be true, but let’s look at the opposite side of the travel chip:
Long-travel suspension erases mistakes. You can look at that as a bad thing or a good thing. Perhaps it’s just a thing.
This insulation from calamity can insulate you from learning real skill, but it also gives you the wiggle room to charge harder and have more fun. Which brings us to …
I could ride this section on a trail bike, but I’m way more confident on the big bike. Keystone G3, July 2007.
With the bike handling myriad details as well as the big impacts, this frees you to focus on charging. There’s less chance that you’ll lose traction in a turn, get pummeled in the rocks or—the worst—get bucked over the bars. The bike minimizes violence and maximizes control. Fewer and smaller forces get transmitted to your head, and you feel less sketchy. You feel more confident. You ride the trail in a bigger way, which brings us to …
Big sine waves
To me this is the holy promise of big bikes. Longer travel and higher speeds = greater amplitude and longer waves. Which means you can get lighter longer and heavier longer. Translated to the trail, this means you can skim over long rock sections and raaaiiilll corners.
The big sine waves encourage you to look farther ahead and plan bigger, better pump. They also help you absorb trail violence, which brings us to …
If you watch the best riders in the world—Atherton, Minnaar, Lopes, Peat, Gwin, McCormack, you know the best—you will see clean, consistent riding.
When you watch the next level down—the people who are still freakishly better than us—you will notice a breakdown of core skills and a greater use of the bike. What do I mean? Minnaar will pump and skim through rocks. B riders will slam into them. Lopes will always find backside to land on. The B riders will smack flat bottom. A modern DH bike will handle these moments of imperfection and allow a strong, skilled rider to carry on without disruption. These “accidents” become part of their flow.
Aaron Gwin is awesome for a lot of reasons. Here are two of them:
1) His riding technique is very clean and consistent. That said,
2) He freaking pins it. He pins it past his ability to stay perfect at all times. When things get a little sideways, so to speak, he lets his bike save the situation, then he gets right back to his precision.
Keep in mind that Gwin is highly skilled, strong and confident, plus he believes in God, which cannot hurt! When he gets into trouble, he is in the correct body position to let his bike, arms and legs deal with the situation. He is strong enough to handle the forces. He is confident enough to maintain focus. And he believes, at a deep level, that everything is going to be OK.
So: If you suck, a big bike will help you suck bigger and faster. If you rip, a big bike will help you rip at a higher level. Which brings us to …
Racing the Keystone G3 Super D on the Demo 8 with Fox 40. I could have ridden this stage on my Enduro, but I honestly wanted to ignore technique and focus on freakin’ pinning it.
In most areas of our lives, we are limited. Limited by time, money, talent, skill, teammates, etc. and etc. We go though life in a state of semi-apologetic half-assedness. I hate that.
Bike riding is one of the few areas where we can give it everything. Pin it fully. Dial it to 11.
Flow (capital F) happens at the intersection of challenge and ability. When you surrender completely to the moment. When you are using all of your kung fu in a situation that requires all of your kung fu.
Big, capable bikes give you the confidence to pedal harder, corner faster and jump bigger. You’re not worrying about breaking your bike or body; you are focused on seeing farther and riding faster. You expose yourself to massive amounts of visual and kinesthetic data, and this keeps your brain very busy.
Flow happens when the moment requires so much mental bandwidth that you have no computing power left to consider who you are, what time it is or what your bike is doing. You are There. In the Moment. And it is Rad.
In skilled hands, downhill bikes help you access this state of complete confidence and loving aggression.
This is all relative: The same can be said for an all-mountain bike on trail, a trail bike on XC terrain, an XC bike on smooth trails or a DJ bike on a pump track. When your bike is more capable than the situation and your skills require, it gives you the confidence to ride at a higher level.
Loving my DJ bike and 5-inch 29er, but itching to pin my DH bike!
If you’re skilled, a downhill bike lets you bend the rules in some cool ways. It’s sort of like mastering basic grammar then violating the rules for special effect. Peaty Himself at Big Bear in May 2004.
Know more. Have more fun!
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