What is Gnar, What is Flow – pt. 1 The Gnar


One of SingletrAction’s regulars pontificates on the jargon, and the meaning, of mountainbiking in an effort to answer what at first seemed a simple couple of questions – What is gnar, and what is flow?

Part 1 – The Gnar

First things first. Us mountain bikers have silly names for things…




Style (yeah right, in our dreams)

Though not that silly because there’s a certain amount of onomatopoeia going on. For example, Nadgery [adjective – to have the quality of nadge]. Nadgery trails are often untailered, loose, tricksy trails that require focus and commitment, they make you work to get through them. The kind of trail where you’re not 100% you’re going to get through it – until you are out the other side.

Nadg-er-y, these three short sharp syllables to me reflect the way a rider might fast-slow-fast-slow-fast over a short tight loose steep technical (or nadgery) bit of trail, snatching short moments of braking where the trail surface will allow. Say the word ‘Nadgery’ amongst riders, everyone knows what you mean… It’s a universal sentiment. So in ‘Nadgery’ we have an adjective that can be applied to sections of trail as needed. We also have it’s associated noun, in this case ‘nadge’, “Watch out down this one, there’s a big bit of nadge at the bottom”. If a trail is technical, then the noun is ‘tech’, “We’ll go left up here, that’s an awesome bit of tech”. Once you have these nouns you can string an adjective in front to further describe the trail conditions.

Steep rocky tech – recipe for chipped frames and big grins across the world.

Sloppy Nadge? Just a few letters away from being unprintable, its the same as above but located in Yorkshire between the months of June and April, inclusive. Adding an inch of gravy-like mud to everything provides its own very distinct set of challenges. Some people like it, some don’t, but we just live here and so have little choice in the matter.

How's this going to end?

How’s this going to end?

It is what it sounds like.

But ones person’s Nadgery, or technical, is another persons insignificance, and someone else’s insurmountable obstacle. There is always someone who will fly through what others will falter at and refuse – either from experience, skill, suspension, casual disregard for personal safety or just the plain simple out and out love of the Gnar.So just what is Gnar? Is Gnar the same as nadge, or tech? Is it a describable tangible thing? From the trail-builders point of view, is it possible to build Gnar? Is there such a thing as a universal sense of Gnar?

Based on my observations The answers to those questions are:

  • errrrrrr
  • No, sort of but not really,
  • a bit,
  • You can try. But ultimately no, you might, but it tends to be luck
  • Yes, but mostly No.


See what I mean? Probably not, allow me to elaborate…

‘Nadgery’ is used to describe a specific quality of a specific section of trail. “Mind out at the bottom of this one it gets a little nadgery”

Gnar is a more obscure thing, and it isn’t something you can pick up, it isn’t something you can point to, it isn’t found in one specific place or another. Gnar does not exist in one trail feature or another. Gnar does not exist.

It is perceived.

A ride can be deemed to have had moderate, pleasing or inadequate amounts of ‘Gnar’ in it, based on the challenges found along the way. Gnar seems to be a cumulative thing, proportional to the length of the ride.

So Gnar isn’t tech?

Again, no though also yes, a bit.

"looking ahead looking ahead looking ahead - Christ this is fast! - looking ahead looking ahead"

“looking ahead looking ahead looking ahead – Christ this is fast! – looking ahead looking ahead”

Technical challenges can certainly up the Gnar score of a ride. A certain number of bits of tech per mile will give a good sense of Gnar. But a ride can have ‘gnar’ with out tight rocky technical sections or drops or peril or rock gardens. A fast rooty rutted dales descent can give the quality of gnar, but without ever truly being classed as technical. The speed being carried from one thing to another as we skit between different parts of the trail, stitching it together with split second decisions, can make for gnar.

Fast and flowy also adds to the thing we call Gnar.

So gnar is… flow?

Flow certainly adds to it, but as near as I can tell gnar is relative to the proportion of time we spend within spitting distance of our limits, riding with the feeling, that a little faster, or a little less cautioun and we could end up in trouble. Gnar comes from the feeling of triumph we get from having looked our limitations in the eye, of having ridden them down, if only just a little bit – and survived. Gnar is taking it almost too far, and risking ourselves. Gnar is absolutely not about ability, or skill. Its isn’t about bravery or the trail. That’s the truly wonderful thing about mountain biking.

Gnar is relative. Any rider can push their luck and survive. Any rider can find the gnar.

Gnar is what we talk about in the pub, it is our tales of near disaster, of saving it despite the seeming hopelessness of the situation in a moment of panic. Of being in hospital but for split second reflex reactions and some grippy tyres. For the few fallen, sore, limping compatriots who are still picking grit from their arm or trying to avoid stitches and a trip to A+E through the careful application of steri-strips and surgical tape – for those for whom there was too much gnar – it is a symbol of their inner strength for carrying on despite their fall, they are the veterans of the gnar, the survivors.

And for everyone else, well they can nod along, they can smile at the tales of victory or woe, but they can’t join in. They are separated from the Gnar. They weren’t there – [man].

So maybe gnar can be something else as well – Gnar can be adventure. Every now and then there’s a ride where the gnar is legendary. Some new trail centre or bridleway that either through the cruel elements, rough trail conditions, misjudged bike/tyre choice, doubtful navigation and the unspoken sense of being in way over your head gives an overwhelming sense of triumph. For the group that comes through such a ride the Gnar becomes a bond. A unifying experience that ties them together.

Now some riders overdo it. Posting every ride they go on to youtube, regardless of how pedestrian and tedious the challenges and accomplishments – but you can’t force the gnar, and you can rarely capture it on video. Gnar is only found then, in the moment, and the act of recording a phenomenon changes it, usually making it duller and two dimensional. Video can’t record the feeling of doubt, the split second when you don’t know if you are going to come out of this still on your wheels.

Conversely, more experienced mountain bikers sometimes lose this sense of awe and wonder. They feel the need to put down that wide eyed excitement and thrill. They’ve seen it all before and might scoff at such a child like sense of excitement. But I bet they recognise it.

And probably their bitterness comes from knowing they’ve lost a little something since they first took a bike in to the woods or onto the moors, a sense of joy and amazement in the world, that wonderful feeling of being overwhelmed and uncertain and overcoming it. Of reaching the reliable braking surface, of emerging from the cloud to recognisable land marks, of finally being able to stop, of returning from danger – to safety.

There are rides that go down in history for those who were on them. A shared experience that ties them together. They who may never have ridden together before, and may never ride together again. But for that ride they can be brothers in adventure.

Brothers in Gnar.