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On singletrack. turns oftencome so quickly that pedaling in between isn't an option. That’s when moving gracefully, braking minimally and carrying speed is paramount. (Contributed photo.)

Raw power gets a lot of press as the thing you need a bunch of in order to ride a bike fast. When we think of someone truly fast on a bike we tend to picture bulging quads and ripped calves. And while it’s true that you need a big engine to go really fast, a bunch of the skills needed to go safely and quickly — especially on singletrack on a mountain bike — lean more towards grace and balance.

Speed isn’t everything — hopefully readers of this column will know my position on putting speed on a pedestal — but sometimes the ability to ride fast means a skilled rider. Think of riding twisty singletrack: Each turn you have to lean your bike and body, and because your wheel ideally shouldn’t leave the narrow trail, the amount of leaning has to be almost perfectly coordinated with the amount of turning in your handlebars. Skill more than speed is something to strive for. For example, a skilled knitter doesn’t bumble around, drop stitches and mess up their pattern.  Of course there’s no shame in a beginner doing that, but before speed and efficiency comes learning the basic skills. Same with everything from cooking to hanging drywall to riding singletrack. Speed follows skill, not the other way around.  

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