The leader of the pack

The other day, I came upon a Facebook post from GMBN to a video: “10 Easy Ways To Get Faster On Your Mountain Bike”. The video gives some perfectly good technical advice but ignores the single biggest problem slow riders have. For almost every one of them, they simply don’t have a good reason for going faster. Without a good reason, it isn’t going to happen.

I love “go fast shit”. Riding skateboards got me hooked on adrenaline when I was young. I continued to ride them later, plus motorcycles, bicycles and snowboards. I love the thrill of of getting to the edge of control and sticking it. Getting to the bottom safe, after coming as close as possible to the limit of what I thought I could do.

There’s one problem, I’m not a fast guy. In motorcycling, there’s a term of art that I love: KFG, or Known Fast Guy. I’m not that guy. Most of this comes from terrible eye/hand coordination evident since childhood, that kept me from getting picked for the team and genetics that destined me for life as a fat guy, happy in a soft chair somewhere.

I was born to -not- be an athlete. Nothing in me was good for it. I was heavy. I was slow (without wheels). I lacked stamina. I lacked strength. Things looked pretty grim for a future in competitive play. I was good with computers and liked to watch movies…so there’s that. Added to my early challenges, a street motorcycle accident when I was 20 fractured 3 vertebrae in my back, causing spasms and pain in my lumbar area for about two decades after whenever I pushed the core section of my body hard.

I’m always “trying” to go faster. I know why I want to go fast. I’ve proven I can from time to time. The honest problem is that I don’t have the skills, or the body, to pay the bills every time. I relied for years on one advantage my body did have, a heavyweight frame. I could take a lot of abuse. I could crash hard and get up. Light framed riders can’t do that. This meant that I could make the mistakes, crash, and try again. Year after year. Playing hard takes its toll, but after 40 years, I have learned some of the basics. I’d never be the best but I could show up and play the game. At 50 years old, all of that is going out the window as my drive for going fast isn’t the same as it was when I was younger and my body is beat down.

I’ve got hundreds of excuses.

The thing about going fast on bikes, or big on skateboards, or ‘winning’ a SMR, is that it is really really dangerous and extremely physically demanding to do it. You need to be willing to gamble consequences ranging from a month in the hospital to death, that you can stick it. You need to do that while your body is groaning from exhaustion or lack of oxygen in the blood and is trying to stop you. It’s a terrible position to be in. That’s why the folks that are the fastest aren’t there by choice, they are compelled. It’s unreasonable. The can’t use excuses.

The fast guys BELIEVE they can do it! This is faith, and faith can often be stronger than science.

Known Fast Guys don’t have excuses. They have to go fast, or faster than the others. As an artist needs to create, the fast guy needs to be in front. They will do anything within their power to be there. This is about a real NEED! I’ve seen it.

Back in the late nineties, I used to ride with a guy named Russ. Russ was solidly faster than me climbing and a little faster going down. He was a very good rider with a good attitude. But if you challenged him, the race was on and he could suddenly do magic. One time, he went to a regional downhill race and somebody said something that put fire in his eye. That day, he handily beat everyone on the hill, on the “wrong” bike. He had to. There wasn’t a question for Russ. Go fast or die trying.

Over the years, I’ve known a lot of guys that are fast, or good, or who go big. Each of them, whether they know it or not, have an important reason for doing it. They have to. It’s existential. It’s what they were born to do.

For the rest of us, we have to figure out how close to the leader we are willing to ride. On most rides, I’m the fast guy. Because most often, I’m not riding with a pack of wolves, maybe a couple cubs. In with serious bloodthirsty adversaries, I’m a mid-pack jerk off. But I fight hard, hoping to take one or two down with me. I’m always working on a plan.

So, when you are sitting around having beers after a ride and asking; “How do I ride fast?”, be prepared to answer “Why?”

If your reason is some bullshit or something your read in a magazine, or something you’ve heard others say, then forget it. You don’t have what it takes. You need a good fucking reason. Passion is that that you are willing to suffer for, and to go fast you will really have to suffer. It’s agonizing. Are you really up to it?

Go out to your local riding area. Find a nice spot on the hardest climb section or gnarliest decent. Sit and watch for a while as folks go by. Look at their faces. Look into their eyes. Are they quitters? Are they full of intention? Do they try again until they get it? You can learn a lot watching this.

There’s another point here and another key member of the pack.

The tuner.

The motorcycle world does a lot more to discuss tuners and what they do. In bicycles, it’s almost non-existent. The tuner is someone who makes decisions on setting up a motorcycle. How to tune the engine, suspension and chassis adjustments, control position so that the rider can do their best on a particular track. They know the tricks. They know why. This is what they got good at. Why?

Why would the tuner do this?

It’s simple. Tuners are not KFGs. They never were. They wanted to be. They understood that they didn’t have the talent, the strength, the skill, or daring to run up front. To get as close as they could, they were going to have to use their brains. I’ve known a few in the motorcycle world and I’ve learned a lot from each. There really needs to be more in bicycling but it isn’t very popular or profitable. I consider myself a tuner. 

The KFG can ride anything and go fast. That’s why professionals are paid for promotion, because they can ride any garbage and win. That’s their value in the market. Their performance isn’t tied to their equipment. It’s inside them, not outside. They don’t need to know how to make it better or how it works. They need to keep answering “Why do I need to win?”. That’s their imperative. So they leave the machine to others.

This is important as being a KFG is not an intellectual task. It’s visceral. That’s why we listen to the KFG a bit differently when they talk about setup. When they discuss what is working well or isn’t we listen. We don’t listen to the KFG when they start talking about why. That’s something they can’t understand. That’s when the tuner is needed.

The point of this post is to point out something basic about life that some young folks may not understand. You probably suck at lots of things. Everyone has challenge somewhere in their life. Know who you are. Learn your strengths and weaknesses. Know why. Find a way to leverage your strengths instead of focusing only on what you don’t have. Only one wolf can run in the front but several wolves can work flanking strategies and still be in on the kill.

Race in the race that you can win.