Why is riding fast so much better than riding slow?

Yesterday I did two rides, both on the same trail but each with its own group and pace. The difference in experience was striking.

Trail choice. Picture Rock Trail winds from the top of Heil Ranch north of Boulder to the town of Lyons. It’s a challenging mix of rocky/smooth and technical/flowy. In the right hands, it’s a 5-mile, slightly downhill pump track. Compared with the steep gnar I’ve been riding all season, it’s pretty mellow — and it allows me to attack with impunity.

Ride 1: Super mellow and slow with a couple new friends. It was a nice morning, and we had a nice time. My darkness wasn’t overwhelming, but it was there, kind of a heavy, dull presence. The whole ride my body hurt. Afterward I felt emotionally down, and my physical energy was low. I laid in the grass and dozed.

Ride 2: Moderate climb and fast descent with two of my main riding bros. We had a killer time. Mega stoke! Full on Flow experience! Afterward I was super invigorated! Not a trace of the darkness.

Why was Ride 2 so much better? There are lots of variables, but here are some thoughts.

Endorphins. I have pain most of the time. Mostly in the shoulders but often all over my body; it’s a combination of physical wear and psychosomatic bad energy wayward chi; kind of like rotten electricity in the wires. Riding slow doesn’t clear the pain. Riding fast does. I think it’s the endorphins — a natural painkiller that activates when you pin it.

Finding Flow. Every serious mountain biker knows and craves this feeling. It’s that sense of no time, of no mind, when everything flows seamlessly and unconsciously. It’s the highest form of fun. Bonus: You cannot simultaneously experience Darkness and Flow.

Arousal level. One of the keys to attaining Flow is your excitement level. Too low and you’re disengaged. Too high and you’re panicking. On the first descent I was at a 2 out of 10; the second descent I was at an 8 — which is perfect for me. As a matter of fact, at the top of the descent I purposefully amped myself up. This is one key to hacking Flow.

Engagement. At low speed your Sine Wave of Love has a short wavelength and low amplitude. You basically run into every object. Bam bam bam. At high speed your Sine Wave of Love has a long wavelength and potentially high amplitude. You can hop over every rock. Braaap! That was my goal: To not run into anything and instead pump everything. When you ride like that, you’re super focused and engaged — and you have a very clear, intrinsic goal. This is another Flow trigger.

Group flow. When you find Flow by yourself, it’s one of the most wonderful, powerful experiences you can enjoy. When you find Flow in a group, it’s even more powerful. Part of it is the extra energy and aggression of wanting to hang with the crew. Part is your shared respect and sense of safety. A huge part is a shared goal: In our case to ride well. At the top of the descent I was like, Let’s make this smooth and pretty. That’s a great goal — and another Flow trigger.

Plus faster is generally funner. If you have the skills and focus, when you go fast enough the demands on your system are so extreme that your conscious mind is too slow, and your subconscious has to take over. Hence the glorious feeling of no mind. When you’re not feeling your mind, it can’t bother you.

Suspension setup. Minor but worth mentioning. Every suspension tune is a compromise. My suspension works best at my sweet-spot speed. It was OK in Ride 1 but excellent in Ride 2.

Donut power! I had a donut right before Ride 2. A bit of happiness plus lots of sugar. That can’t hurt!!

How about you? What changes your rides from “that was nice” to Mega Stoke?


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