How Zip Line Brakes Work
There is no disputing that zip lines are fun, unless you have a physical aversion to them. It is amazing how a simple cable with a handle and brakes can raise your pulse and wring a grin. It does that for many, and that is why zip lines are so popular. However, for some, understanding the mechanism adds a sense of security when they are gliding down a line.
The brake system in a zip line is what essentially guarantees the safety of the glider, because this thing is what keeps you from nailing a tree at high speed. It is easier to trust a zip line brake after you understand how it works. All professionally designed zip lines have this component, so as to let you find all the fun you are looking for.
Your standard zip line brake is one of two types based on the mode of operation – active and passive. The active brake lets the glider control it manually, using a depress and release pattern. Passive zip line brakes kick in by themselves as you approach the other end of the line, where the ‘brake’ is actually an upward slope at that end so that your forward motion is gradually slowed and halted.
The thing with a passive zip line brake is that although it gives much more by way of apparent safety, it also takes away some of the thrill of being in control. But it is the best option if the line is being used by inexperienced gliders, who would be more comfortable with the safety this affords. If you are a regular zip liner and fun is what matters most, active brakes would pull out all the stops, excuse the pun.
It is easily deduced that zip lines started being used in the first place by people living in mountainous areas, such as the Himalayas and the Alps. This was a good way for carrying supplies and getting across dangerous country. Climbers use zip lines too, and understandably prefer having a passive zip line brake installed. They commonly use something called the Tyrolean traverse to get from one peak to another, usually raising the line at the near end, to increase the effects of gravity.