Last man standing Payson McElveen’s quest for the White Rim Trail’s FKT
At 7:39am on March 27, 2019, Payson McElveen set out to ride the fastest known time (FKT) on the legendary 100-mile White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park.
In “Standing Man,” the new film from Red Bull Bike, you’ll see his emotional journey on and off the bike, and get the inside line on what it takes to achieve a dream decades in the making.
The rules of an FKT (Fastest Known Time) are simple: ride a set route, record your time, and make it public. The fastest time gets a moment of personal glory that lasts however long it takes for someone else to ride the same route faster.
FKTs are popular in trail-running, especially on historic routes like the Appalachian Trail and Vermont Long Trail, but they’re a rarer phenomenon in mountain biking. Payson McElveen, the mustachioed mountain bike cowboy out of Durango, is leading a charge to make them a part of mainstream cycling culture.
And that, along with a decades-long dream to leave his mark on a legendary course, drove him to battle the FKT on the 100-mile White Rim Trail in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park.
“The only way to get better is to explore your boundaries, and I knew tackling this epic loop as fast as I could would push me to my absolute limit,” he said.
Spoiler alert: he bested the FKT by 15 minutes. It was a massive achievement—one bigger than the record itself. His attempt created an enormous amount of buzz about the whole idea of FKTs in mountain biking and what it could mean for the future of the sport.
There’s beauty in simplicity. A rider on the trail, racing the clock. No race fees, no numbers, no crowd. An FKT, the way Payson sees it, is an invitation. So when Quinn Simmons, a young rider out of McElveen’s hometown with five junior National Championships under his belt, beat Payson’s time by four minutes, starting and ending the 100-mile ride at another spot on the loop, Payson felt only respect and pride.
A few weeks after setting his record, Payson rode White Rim again, this time at a far more leisurely pace. A solo rider caught up to him on the trail and shouted, “I’m out here because of your project! I’m not gonna beat your record, but I wanted to see how I stacked up!”
It was the biggest compliment Payson could have gotten. This FKT thing is taking off in all the right ways. The only question is: who’s next?
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