The Stoke is an occasional opinion series highlighting the things that get us stoked about mountain biking. 🤘 👍 👏 🙏
The phrase “fastest known time” (FKT) is among my favorites in the world of mountain biking. To me, those three simple words suggest that anything is possible while at the same time lifting up not just the individual but the entire community. For that reason, the FKT is just one of the many things that has me stoked to be a mountain biker this year.
In 2020, the year of our Covid, FKTs were officially trending in the world of mountain biking. At a time when traditional, in-person competition was limited, athletes found an outlet for setting and achieving goals, while also inspiring others to do the same. In a podcast interview in January, athlete and coach Rab Wardell told me his own FKT effort was “an outlet for me to, to kind of set a set of goals that challenge and then try and complete and basically try and better myself and just see what I was capable of.”
The world is full of FKTs waiting to be discovered. Most of us will never get to test our mettle on the EWS tracks at Finale Ligure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create courses to challenge ourselves and others around us. The democratization of competition within mountain biking is something few other sports can match.
Of course humans have been racing against the clock, and racing against themselves, since the invention of time itself. What’s new and different about FKTs is the K; saying a time is the fastest known acknowledges that there could just as well be someone out there who is even faster than us. Maybe a faster rider hasn’t had a chance to ride the course yet; maybe he or she doesn’t even own a bike because they can’t afford one. Maybe the fastest course rider isn’t even on Strava so chill out and take that KOM with a grain of salt. FKTs are broadly inclusive by definition, open to anyone and everyone at any time. The crucial K exists as a good-natured challenge for others to step up, join in, and show off what they can do. Maybe you are faster than me; here’s a chance to prove it.
Yet showing off is in some ways the opposite of the FKT ethos. I can’t imagine a boxer holding up a title belt with the words “Boxing Champ (We Think)” on it. Telling the winning boxer that in fact, there could be someone out there who is even better than them is just asking for a fat lip. Anyone who makes an FKT attempt has to be comfortable with the fact that their accomplishment comes with an asterisk that serves to dial down their ego a notch or two. As mountain bikers we’re routinely humbled by the hills we can’t quite climb, the rocky descents we decide to walk, or the fact that we’ve been riding for ten years and still can’t do a damn wheelie. Sure, we could all show more humility at times but as a whole, the mountain bike community is thankfully nearly void of insufferable ego maniacs.
For me, mountain biking is much more of a journey than a destination, and the FKT captures this perfectly. It’s as if we’re saying, “this person is the fastest… so far.” And unlike a race, there isn’t a winner or loser; just the fastest known, and everyone else who attempted the course. Even the phrase “failed attempt” is an oxymoron; it’s only true of those who fail to get off the couch and even make an attempt. There isn’t a finish-line tape or a podium signifying the end of the race; the journey toward fastest known will continue forever.
Mountain biking is full of things to be stoked about, and right now, FKTs are at the top of my list.