What’s your speed? Slowing down to go faster


By Nicole Duke. Photo by Nils Nilsen/N2Photoservices

We all have a choice—What speed would you like to live your life? Tackle the obstacle or revel in the moment? As a professional cyclist and just all around bike lover, I’ve learned a lot about speed throughout my life and career. When I was younger and a downhill mountain bike racer on the World Cup and national circuit, it was all about how fast I could do everything, without regard for one very important rule: sometimes, you have to go slower to go faster.

As my cycling life and career have progressed, fast seems to be less of a concern for me. I’ve learned that speed—used correctly in the precise moment needed—is the key to enjoyment and success. I was riding just the other day on something I like to call my soul loop. I’ve done it with friends, by myself, in shape, out of shape, slow and sometimes just flat-out, soul-crushingly fast. It’s been awhile since I’ve done this loop alone and without agenda of pace. I’m just starting to train again, so my legs are just warming up.

This loop takes a little over two hours and has over 4,300 feet of vertical gain, mostly on gravel, with breathtaking views. On this day, I left all judgement behind; the pace was slow, many views were absorbed, pictures were taken, and a smile stayed on my face. Later, I noticed my time on the loop—even with all my departures from pushing the pedals—was only six minutes off my normal pace, and I received so much more enjoyment from the ride than I had in years.

Conversely, the rest of my day moved at a much more productive pace than usual after a hard ride like this. Maximum speed is not always best; find your flow and your rhythm and it will lead to more beauty and grace on and off the bike. This is a lesson for me every day now. I’ve managed to fine-tune this on the bike but need to transfer more of this awareness in everyday life. The bike can be such a great life giver and source of self-awareness.

When do I choose fast to go faster? It’s when most of us want to grab the brakes and our minds scream, “Danger, danger! Must slow down!” Most of us have a survival gene, thank God, that tries to keep us intact. Our first reaction to rough terrain is to freeze and grab the brakes. This is where most of us need to hit the override button. Speed is now your friend.

Sometimes you want to embrace the peaks and valleys, but not this time. You want to skim effortlessly across the tops, avoid the deep holes and bumpy crags. The only way to manage this is to trust yourself, the laws of nature; just let go and relax. Like a river flowing over rocks, this is what speed allows: smooth transition. Speed is now your friend! Speed is also about timing and approach. You must learn its subtleties, when to use it and how. Much like life it’s a balance, an ebb and flow. I’ve used speed throughout my life on the bike and in sports to actually find my limits, to feel my primal instincts, to arouse excitement. At one point everything had to be fast, or else I felt like I wasn’t living. Now, life comes to me more in those times of slow and delicate approach. Speed is beginning to leave my ego. I will use it for the moments needed with fire and grace, and dismiss it when it cries and begs my ego to rear its ugly head.

Yes, sometimes I want to skim across the top of life. I don’t want to feel every bump, but more and more, I want to feel, absorb and appreciate the stillness and beauty in my ride and in life. Speed is all in the approach.

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This piece originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #35. Support your favorite independent cycling magazine by ordering a subscription today.

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