It has long been a standard part of mountain biking to pedal up to the trailhead at the end of the day and say to your partners, "Thanks. That was a great ride."
And we always mean it, but it's really a throwaway line because, more often than not, we don't give a moment's thought to the question of where a good ride ends and a great one begins. The line between good and great can be vague, and the deciding factors are varied.
One good sign is when you expected to ride trails for a couple of hours, but ended up riding for four—not because you got lost or suffered a mechanical, but because it was a beautiful day, you had the right partners and nobody was under pressure to be anywhere else. Another good sign is when the ride ends and you're spent, but happy. Happy because you just had a blast, but also because you're glad to be done.
It's also a good sign when there's not a crumb of food left anywhere on your bike, and when you start driving home and try to get a drink, you find that you can't pull another drop from the tube because your last sip on the trail drained the final fraction of an ounce from your Camelbak.
Great rides rock. Long live great rides.