How Fast Is a Zip Line Ride?

Your kids asked for your permission to go zip lining this weekend with a group of friends. Admittedly, you have your reservations. You don’t want your kids going too fast on the zip line cable and injuring themselves. How fast is a zip line ride anyway?

The average speed of a zip line ride varies, but it’s anywhere from 21 to 50 miles per hour, with a range of 30 to 40 MPH much more common. Factors such as how much you weigh and the angle of the slope can speed up your ride. 

In this article, we’ll fill you in on all the details about zip lining speed. We’ll delve further into the numbers above as well as discuss whether it’s possible to make yourself go faster as well as how you’ll stop your ride when the time comes.  You won’t want to miss it. 

How Fast Should You Expect to Go When Zip Lining?

When it comes to high-thrill activities, ziplining falls somewhere in the middle. Since it’s a sky-bound activity, ziplining already has a heart-pounding element to it. It’s more exciting than parasailing and certainly more so than hot air ballooning.

Yet if you want to go so high and fast that your heart is in your throat, you’re better off riding a roller coaster than you are gliding down a zip line course. 

Head Rush Technologies–which sells jumping, ziplining, and climbing equipment–published a pertinent study on the topic. They surveyed several ziplining enthusiasts about their top speeds. 

According to the results of the survey, the average zip-lining speed is between 31 and 40 MPH. This is pretty fast considering that the standard parasailing speed is 15 MPH and hot air balloons float through the sky at only 5 MPH.

In some instances, the riders in the Head Rush Technologies survey reported zip line experiences that were less than average. Their top speed would be around 21 to 30 MPH. This still isn’t slow by any means, but for kids looking for excitement, zip-lining at that speed might admittedly be a little disappointing. 

Other riders had speeds that were faster than average, topping out at around 41 to 50 MPH. Kids would love riding a zip line course at this speed, although parents would likely be none too pleased.

There do exist outliers, by the way. In Wales, Zip World promises some of the fastest experiences in the sky. This article from The Telegraph reports that riders at Zip World regularly achieve speeds of 125 MPH, which is insane for a zipline course.

With roller coasters reaching speeds of at least 80 MPH as an average, you’d be zip-lining at a pace that’s on par with some of the tallest, scariest coasters on the planet. Zip World is certainly not for the faint of heart! 

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The Factors That Influence Zip Line Speed

After reading the information in the last section, you can’t help but wonder why some zip line riders reported different speeds than others. Was it that they were riding on different courses? That can be part of it, yes, but it’s not the entire story.

In our post on how zip lines work, we discussed the factors that can make a zip line ride faster or slower. Per that post, here’s a recap. 

Rider Weight

To understand how your weight influences your zip lining speed, we have to go back to a concept that we discussed in the article linked above. That concept is known as terminal velocity. 

When an item is in freefall, the speed it’s achieved when it can accelerate no further is its terminal velocity. This speed is consistent so you get a fast zip line ride all the way to the bottom of the course. 

Since terminal velocity increases with heavy objects, a zip line rider who weighs 200 pounds will go faster than one who weighs 100 pounds. Nothing else has to change from one rider to another, including the layout of the course they ride on or the slope angle (more on this in a moment). The 200-pound person will still enjoy a faster ride. 

The reason for this is that a 200-pound rider has a greater force of gravity compared to a 100-pound person. Gravity is what guides you down the zip line cable when you step off the platform, so it’s a crucial part of the equation. 

Cable Slope Angle

As we said we would, let’s discuss the slope angle of the zip line course, as it’s very important if you want more speed. 

If you have only a very mild slope angle when zip-lining, such as one that’s between 3 and 4 percent, then your ride will be just as mildly exciting. Younger kids might be entertained for a while, but older kids are going to yawn. 

Choosing the slope angle for the zip line cable is all about precision. A cable with a low slope angle will break when high tension is applied, such as through a zip line rider coming down the cable. Yet if the angle is overly steep, then descending down the line can take a while, making the first half of the zip line ride boring.  

Length of the Line

Your max speed when zip lining also comes down to how long the cable is. It’s not just that a shorter zip line cable means a shorter ride. Gravity can work better on a longer line, as can inertia. What inertia tells us is that matter will continue moving until an external force interrupts it. 

You also don’t have as much time to achieve terminal velocity on a short zip line course as you do on a longer one. 

Can You Make Yourself Go Faster on a Zip Line?

Now that you understand more about what makes a zip line fast, you’d like to increase the speed of your upcoming ride. Is there any way you can do that? 

When riding on a commercial course, no, not really. The zip line course is already designed and built, so nothing can be done about the cable length or slope angle. Before you think about wearing your bulkiest sweatshirt so you weigh more, know that this is a bad idea. Your clothes won’t increase your weight so much that you’ll notice a speed difference. 

If you’re building a backyard zip line kit, then the max speed of the course is completely in your hands. If your cable is long enough, then you might increase your slope angle from 4 percent to 6 percent. Although this seems like a small change, it will make a big difference in how exciting your zip line ride is.

You should also build a zip line course with a line that’s over 100 feet long. Even if you can only fit a line that’s 150 feet, that will build up the speed a decent amount more. If your line is 200 feet or even 300 feet long, then you’ll have such a fun zip line course in your yard that the neighborhood kids might line up around the block to ride it!  

The Basics of Stopping a Zip Line

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a backyard zip-lining course or a professional, commercial operation. The zip line ride will eventually end and the riders will have to come to a stop. Yet how does that happen? 

Well, two ways, really, either active or passive braking. We’ll explain both braking methods now.

Active Braking

Amateur and commercial zip line courses alike use active braking, which is named that because the rider is the one who stops themselves. The rider will have to wear a glove on one hand that’s usually made of leather. They might have to press on a brake pad before they want to come to a stop. The friction that the pad creates on the zip line cable allows the rider to stop.

If there’s no brake pad, then the rider has to use their gloved hand to grip the cable and hold on until they naturally bring themselves to a stop. 

That’s a lot of responsibility to ask of a rider, especially younger ones like kids. Those who are confused about how active braking works could apply the brake too late and end up hurt for their efforts. Others forget to brake at all because they’re enjoying their zip line ride so much. 

Even if a rider does remember to put their hand on the line, the speed at which they’re traveling down the cable can make using active brakes dangerous. Some zip liner riders have gotten their glove stuck in the trolley, which is where you sit when zip lining. 

The friction that’s crucial to stopping when active braking can also wear down the components of the zip line, from the cable to the brake pads, necessitating more frequent updates to the components of the zip line course. 

Passive Braking

That’s why commercial zip line companies use passive brakes much more often these days. With spring brakes, gravity brakes, or magnetic brakes, the rider will come to a natural, smooth stop at the end of the zip line course without any leather gloves or having to grab onto the zip line cable.

Here is an overview of the three types of passive brakes. 

  1. Spring Brakes

The sizable coils that comprise spring brakes include springs within, as the name implies. The springs will compress as your zip lining momentum nears the brakes. Absorbing that momentum allows the springs to help you stop. Then the springs will decompress, causing a sort of rebound effect. 

  1. Gravity Brakes

If a commercial zip line course isn’t designed so the angle of the cable has a downward slope, then gravity brakes can accommodate for the upward angle. You’ll begin slowing down before you ever reach the end of the cable, then ping-pong back and forth a bit before finally stopping altogether. 

  1. Magnetic Brakes

Eddy currents in magnetic brakes make for a much more consistent stop every time. Unlike gravity brakes and spring brakes, the magnetic variety has fewer components that require maintenance and downtime when they need repairs. 

Final Thoughts 

The speed of your zip line ride depends on the design of the course as well as your own weight. With average speeds of 30 to 40 MPH when zip-lining, kids and adults alike can safely and enjoyably ride, making awesome memories! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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