Mountain Bike Rides that Feel Fast but are Actually Slow!

If it looks fast or feels fast it is probably slow! How to go faster while riding safer and more efficiently.

Ever have that descent on your mountain bike where you felt like you were flat hauling?! At the bottom you were thinking (or telling a riding buddy), “wow, I nearly hit two trees, a big rock and that huge stump! I was flying!”. Believe it or not, despite feeling like you were right on the edge of your skill limits that was probably not near as fast as you could ride that descent (with your current skill).

I first stumbled upon this phenomenon as a snowboard racer. I had a super fast training run and asked my coach, “Nick did you see that run? What was my time, that was my fastest run yet!” Nick replied, “that was 30.2, your fastest run so far was a 29.1!” I was shocked and thought Nick was lying and trying make me mad to motivate me to go faster. A few runs later I had what felt like a technically perfect run but it felt kind of slow. “Nick, did you see that run? My hips, knees, and shoulders were perfect! I know it was slow but did you see my form?!” Nick’s reply, “slow?! That was a 28.3, you fastest run yet!”. I was really confused and didn’t really understand why the run that felt fast was slow and the run that felt slow was fast. It wasn’t until about 10 years later as mountain bike racer that I figured it out. It all had to do with vision and technique.

With good technique and looking as far ahead as you should riding will feel slow as you stay in you comfort zone and have plenty of time to pro-act to the trail. With poor technique and not looking far enough ahead you have to quickly react to the trail. This does a couple of things to you. First, it feels fast as heck as you are making one neck saving move after another (and probably pin-balling all over the trail, not exactly taking the most efficient line) all these reactions cause the body to go into the fight or flight mode which jacks up your adrenaline and tenses you up. This combined with not looking far enough ahead makes it feel like you are flying when in reality you are not going as fast you could be and not taking good lines down the trail. Ever look down at the dashed white lines when you are doing 75 miles an hour in your car? It feels like you are going 200! Then look up at a mountain a few miles away, it feels like you are crawling. Well the same thing happens on the trail! If you look at rock four feet in front on you, you are going to be there (at the rock) in a fraction of a second, if you see the rock when it is twenty-forty feet in front of you you have plenty of time to go around the rock and you stay calm and relaxed.

So, learn to look much further ahead down that trail! This will make riding much more fun, faster and safer!

This video reminded me of that. Notice how tense you get when the helmet cam is pointed down (you don’t know what the trail is going to do next) and how you almost breathe a sigh of relief when the rider looks further down the trail (and you know what the trail is going to throw at him).



6 replies
  1. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)
    John (aka Wish I Were Riding) says:

    Do the same concepts apply more | less | same amount when you ride a rigid bike?

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Hi John,

      The same concepts definitely apply to hardtail, more so because when you get what I call “eyeball jiggle” it feels really fast but usually means you aren’t being as smooth as you can be.

  2. Cristian
    Cristian says:

    hey Gene,

    Thanks for the advice. I am so glad you picked this video up from thousands of VODs. I am Chilean 🙂 and went to the 2012 edition of this race. Is even crippier and tighter than pictured.

    Keep the great advices coming!!!


  3. Max
    Max says:

    This is so true.
    I try and use this even as an indicator of how good my form and technique is on the bike.
    If I feel like I am going really fast, I know I need to double check my technique and vision. It usually means I am being a bit reckless, instead of riding smoothly and with calm.

  4. Wacek
    Wacek says:

    Gene what would be your advice on training vision skills? Any drills?

    Once I got advice to ride a possibly difficult trail and focus only on looking ahead. But there are so many things going through my head though, more forward, more neutral, oh! there’s a good braking spot – max out front brake, oh crap how steep – just keep calm, neutral, heavy on feet, check hands hanging/pushing on the bars – heels down supple feet! supple feet damn it!

    Is it about silencing those thoughts and trusting the brain to execute skills learned before in other drills/experiences?


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