Is it more fun to be underbiked?

In the vein of slow car fast, what about bikes?

In the car world, particularly among enthusiasts, there’s a phenomenon called slow car fast. The gist of it is: driving a low-powered car at its very limit is more fun than driving a very fast or powerful car nowhere near its limit.

It’s popular for a number of very valid reasons. First, slow cars are more affordable and realistic. Second, truly fast cars tend to be garbage to drive on regular roads and in traffic, basically anywhere outside of a track where their full potential can be unleashed. 

I recently reviewed the Rocky Mountain Element 999 RSL — a 100mm XC and endurance bike — and it was eye-opening on tame trails, but a tad overwhelmed in the steeper, faster stuff. This got me thinking, is the same thing true with bikes? Is it better or more fun to ride a shorter travel bike at its limit and to reach the end of its capabilities?  

Have tires and suspension reached the point where further width and travel is needed? 

Which is better, a short-travel bike at the limit or a big bike everyday, everywhere?
Which is better, a short-travel bike at the limit or a big bike everyday, everywhere?

Or is it all silly if you have the leg power to push a big bike around? Is there any reason not to bring longer travel, wider tires and slacked out geometry? After all, how often do find yourself wishing for less travel and grip on a trail? 

Has technology (especially carbon) trimmed enough grams and has rear suspension improved enough in the pedaling department to make riding a low-slung 160mm travel rig everyday totally feasible?

How about in the road world? Does slow bike fast pertain to breaking off the front of the pack on a gravel road bike on something heavy and (gasp) not crafted out of carbon? Or the flip side of that, bombing chunky dirt roads on a full-on tarmac race machine wearing 23mm tires?  

So over to you...

What do you think, is it better to ride a shorter travel mountain bike pushed to the ragged edge or do you prefer the long-travel MTB every time? Do you like crushing other roadies on a heavy bike or lean towards the high-end, lightweight, uber bike? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Russell Eich

Tech Writer, US
Russell fell head over heels in love with bikes in the '90s, and has been involved in the bike industry ever since. Between wrenching in bike shops, guiding professionally, and writing about bikes, Russell has honed an appreciation for what works, gained knowledge of what doesn't, and can barely contain his enthusiasm for what comes next. His two-wheeled passion continues in the Rocky Mountains high above Boulder, Colorado.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: High altitudes, forgotten singletracks, bike parks, roads without cars
  • Current Bikes: Custom Meriwether steel hardtail, Specialized S-Works Enduro 29, Kona Jake the Snake, Trek 69er, and a bunch more
  • Dream Bike: Yeti SB5c, Intense Tracer 275C, Black Cat custom road
  • Beer of Choice: Gin + Tonic
  • Location: Rollinsville, CO, USA

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