Friday, 14 March 2014

Cycling doesn't have to be an "equipment" sport!

Many folks get sucked into the marketing machine of the "best bike" being the most expensive, and you should be moving onto more and more expensive bikes as you can afford them.


It's the legs and lungs, not the wallet that counts.

Put a Tour de France rider on a typical $1k road bike, and he will beat almost every non-pro cyclist on ANY bike, no matter how much it cost.
Put the same Tour de France rider on a "department store" cheap bike, and he still going to beat most folks on bikes that cost up to 100 times more.

The professional rider has the legs and the lungs of a fast (and very, very, very, fit) rider.

But stores can't just sell you a good set of legs and lungs, so for many (especially large retailers and large bike manufacturers), cycling has become an equipment sport, not a fitness sport.

The same old lie is told - get a better bike, and you'll be a better cyclist.

Folks then harp on about how much difference the new (always more expensive) equipment they have just bought makes, not realising that part of their satisfaction is a self-justification of the very large sums of money they have just spent, and, if measured in a remotely "scientific" way, the gains get smaller and smaller for each step up in equipment - and sometimes there is no gain at all!
A good way to do a proper "test" would be, say, on a treadmill/"rolling road" by a selection of professional riders who have no financial connection to the outcome of the tests - if they are paid, they are paid the same if there is a big gain, a small gain, or no gain at all.

Notice that NONE of the major bike and equipment makers use such a "neutral" method.
The "sponsored rider" and the advertisement featuring well-known figures have no check to make sure the "facts" being presented are actually either true or relevant or significant.
As I said, NONE of the major bike- and equipment- makers publishes such tests.
Want to compare brakes?
What is the stopping distance with a particular type of brake with a particular type of tyre in the dry and in the wet, with a particular weight of bike and rider? Does suspension make this distance shorter or longer?
More importantly, why does no-one publish such data?

Better to concentrate on sales rather than testing, perhaps?
Selling ever more expensive "upgrades" to folks sure makes a lot of money.

The only things that get near "objective" tests are the TdF bikes, where the results of the various teams can be a proxy for the worth of their equipment.
But the results are also a proxy for the individual riders, as well as their ability to function as a team. After all, not all riders are paid the same, so some are presumably better than others, and not all teams pay their support staff the same either, so presumably there is a decent level of individual variation.
Does the winning team in the TdF have the "best" bikes?
Or are they merely the "best" riders, or do they just have the "best" support staff, making the team gel and function better than the others, and planning the most effective strategy for the team to adopt, given the characteristics of the particular riders and the competing characteristsics of the invidual riders of the other teams?
So it is very hard to disentangle the "equipment" data from the "rider" and "team" data.

Better to concentrate on sales, maybe?
Bask in the reflected glory of the latest winner, and not worry too much about the fine details?
That certainly isn't a new strategy for selling bikes either - my old second-hand Falcon tourer (originally built in the 1960s) that I owned as a young man played heavily on the sporting success of Ernie Clements, and had a head badge with "Designed by Ernie Clements", and the five Olympic rings on it. But my Falcon, although it had 531 main tubing, certainly wasn't the exotic beast one might have thought from the head badge :-) A decent enough bike, but not a TdF special!
Peugeot used to do the same, and sold everything from "gas pipe" bikes to lightweight machines during the '80's, all basking in the reflected glory of their racing team.

However, many folks are taken in by the myth that more money spent on bikes makes a cyclist better (instead of the truth, which is a fancier bike MAY - not always, but sometimes - make a cyclist a little bit quicker, and maybe be able to cycle just a few more miles).
Then, when folks have these fancy "top end" bikes, how many of them are afraid to ride them in the rain, or go to a coffee shop (in case it gets stolen)?
So they end up driving more as their bikes get more expensive, not less!

Two of the biggest myths are about weight and the number of gears. Rather than go through a lot of theory, I went on a ride on a heavy bike. A three-speed. Surely only good enough for short trips on the flat?
Well, on that Pashley Mailstar, I went on a 60km ride (about 37 miles).
So I chose a nice flat route?
Well, not exactly ... I went up into the Chilterns - a significant range of hills north of London.
So I am young and super-fit?
Not exactly. I am 49 (at the age of writing), and at least 5kg (11 lbs) overweight, and I don't jog, or use a gym, or anything like that.
So the bike I rode is not as heavy or slow as I am making out?
Actually it is. The Pashley Mailstar I rode on that trip weighs 25.2 kg (about 55 lbs), and of course I took a pannier with me with water and stuff. It has a Sturmey archer 3-speed and hub brakes front and rear.
So how did I get on?
Some bits were easier than others.
One hill, in particular, was a challenge, but it is a challenge on any bike - the gradient hits (briefly) about 17%. Folks don't cycle up it much :-)
I had to stop a few times to get my breathe back, but I got up it!
I get major bragging rights at work for doing that hill, even with a few breaks, whatever bike I did it on (that hill, Whiteleaf Hill, is listed on Strava as one of 100 "great" UK hill climbs, and the Strava list is based on a book on the same subject.)
TdF riders can get up that hill. But it is super-tough for the rest of us.
And I (with breaks to get my breath back) got up it on a three-speed "cargo" bike, weighing about 30kg (66 lbs) all up.
The steepest parts were so steep that merely standing on the pedals did not produce any forwards movement on the Pashley at all - I had to pull up HARD on the handlebars while forcing the pedals downwards with my feet, forcing the pedal and the handlebars apart!

So forget the new bike, and instead put your mind to it, train a bit, and get cycling, and never mind about weight and gears and stuff like that!

By the way, I rode that Pashley on the 95km (c.56 mile) London to Brighton route, too, along with a bunch of work colleagues doing the same. While we couldn't keep up with the fitter riders on lightweight bikes, we steamed past a LOT of MUCH more expensive bikes and riders with SPD shoes (you can hear the "clickety-click" when they are pushing!). I had quite a bit of the team kit (like the spare chain, etc.) in my panniers, as well as quite a few tools and a LOT of water with me, so the bike would have weighed in at around 35 kg (77 lbs) for the actual ride.
Other riders knew we were riding "monster" bikes, and frequently commented on it, and yet, apart from one mechanical breakdown (one of our team didn't prepare his bike properly before the event!) we ALL finished - even the "spare" rider who was roped in with less than a week's notice to make the numbers up after a string of "drop outs". He, from all of us, showed it is the rider that counts for more than the machine.
So get yourself in shape FIRST, then worry about the bike AFTER.

This Summer I did my first century on what is essentially a tarted-up supermarket bike, with a frame at least two sizes too small for me, too. Not sure about exact weight (been to busy to get it on the scales, but it was 20-odd kg (c. 45 lbs) before the rebuild, and I was carrying quite a lot of tools, so it will be in the 25 to 30 kg range (55 to 66 lbs range)

Folks would be better off increasing the number of hours they cycle, rather than increasing the number of hours they work in order to buy ever "better" bikes., and riding them less and less, due to lack of time, or fears about theft, etc. etc.

Cycling is a broad church and our commonality is the cycling, not the equipment.

Me, mixing it with the racers on a 100km sportive.
You know which one is me :-)
You know who was far from the last finisher.
Update (28th September 2015):
This Summer, while riding Mermaid, a bike that weighs in at 18kg "empty", I rode the local 100km Tour De Vale in 5 hrs 23 minutes, the 2015 BHF London to Brighton in 4hrs 30 minutes.
I also completed my first randonnee, a 208km route (that actually turned into 232km!).
Still riding the same bike.

Were those all "easy", flat, routes?
Each one contained a minimum of a decent Category 4 climb as well as multiple lesser climbs.
the London to Brighton contained the notorious "Ditchling Beacon" (category 3, when measured from the village of Ditchling, and reaching 16% in parts), where I slowly cycled past quite a few "walkers" pushing fancy bikes - indeed, I had been passing walkers all that day, with the choice of bike bearing little relationship to the likelyhood of a person walking.

Whether it is convenient reading for folks with expensive machines or not, the training of the rider is MUCH more important than even half-a dozen kilos here or there on the weight of a bike - indeed, I climbed Ditchling Beacon carrying a couple of panniers of water, tools and food, and passed folks who only had a water bottle or two on the frame and a credit card in their pocket. I was "giving" some of them as much as 15kg (33lbs), and they still couldn't manage it, while I could :-)

So, before folks tell me I am WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, remember that I am 50-years old, and I have completed a 200km ride. If you haven't ever cycled even half that distance, you might want to concentrate your spare time on training rather than reading reviews of fancy bikes ...

Update: 21st September 2016
So I bought a new bike back in the Spring.
Not an expensive bike, mind, just a new one.
My 2016 bike, with sensible hub dynamo, rack and mudguards.

Not exactly a lightweight racer!
The "official" weight is 15.6kg for a "Medium". (about 34 lbs)
Mine is an XL - it weighs about 16.5 kg (about 36 1/2 lbs) with the basic cable lock shown.

For the local charity sportive, I stripped off most of the accessories, and got the bike down to 14 kilos (about 29 lbs)

Testing. The rack and front mudguard were removed before the sportive, bringing the weight down to 14 kg.
So how did I get on?
Well, I finished about 200  out of 500, and a whole hour quicker than in 2015.
Most of the time I was surrounded by much lighter bikes.
Notice my big, fat, heavy, commuter tyres.
Yep, I left them on.
And I passed a LOT of 10kg bikes with skinny little tyres.

So how much was my new bike?
230 pounds (about 300 dollars, 275 Euros).
And what about the cost of the changes I made?
well, I already had almost all the suff anyway.
The wheels are tyres are the one I was using on Mermaid (last year's bike), as are the bars and gears.
The rear derailleur is one I have had in the cupboard for a couple of years, having picked it up at a REALLY cheap price (about 20% of full retail).
The saddle is new, and cost me 8 pounds (a bit over 10 dollars, a bit under 10 euros).

If I was "pricing as new", I suppose I have about 250 pounds (about 325 dollars, 300 euros) of upgrades. So, on that basis, rounding up, I have a 500 pound bike (about 650 dollars, 600 euros).
But a lot of the parts were used, and have been in use for a couple of years, so it would be fairer to compare my kit with used part on, say, eBay.
So I am guessing half-price for the upgrades. If anyone wants my wheels for about 50 quid (plus shipping!), you can have them! Want a pair of tired, cut, Marathon Plus tyres for 25 quid (+shipping)? - just drop me a line!

So pricing on a "fair value", rather than a "new" basis, the upgrades come in at more like 100 to 150 pounds (130 to 195 dollars, 120 to 180 euros).

Overall, then, I spent just 330 to 380 pounds (430 to 495 dollars, 395 to 455 euros) on my new steed, including upgrades, and yet I passed a LOT of 750 to 1000 pound (975 to 1300 dollars, 900 to 1200 euros) bikes (!)

Stripped down bike, with few accessories. Supplies up front, toolkit out back.
My bike at the stadium, waiting for the start of the 2016 sportive.
Notice the Marathon Plus tyres/
 So it's not just about how much the bike cost, or much you "love" the sport.

I did lose weight - about 10 kilos (22lbs).
So I officially "correct weight", now, rather than "overweight".
Instead of worrying about bike weight, get your weight sorted out first!
Indeed, I lost the weight BEFORE I bought the new bike.
No point being a "fat boy" on a fancy lightweight bike. You're just wasting your money.

Is weight all of it?
I gained the most from aero.

Note the central vents on my helmet are taped over - it is only 14 C (57 F), so I don't need the cooling.
Note also the overshoes (to clean up the rough air over my footwear).
Also shown are the more form-fitting clothing and the little aero-bars.
The aero bars certainly aren't UCI legal, but as the sportive is not UCI sanctioned, who cares!

Yes, my bike isn't UCI legal.
No, my saddle isn't that level.
My little aero bars are illegal, too.
I'm wearing "illegal" compression socks.

But none of that is against the rules for the local sportive.
Remember, even Olympic triathlons have different rules for the bikes than Olympic road races.
Think smart, and use the rules to your advantage.
If other folks want to pretend they are in the Tour de France, then let them.
I was after a "time", and that is what I got.

What about training?
I planned big, and rode small.
You know hoe life works out.
With "better" training, I could have gone faster still.
I intend to next year.

I'll never be first.
But the fastest riders don't just beat me because they have lightweight bikes.
They have a lower BMI than me, are younger, fitter, and train a LOT more.
Which of those things makes the biggest difference?
I'll wager it is their training.

And, taking us back to the first part of the original post, training is why a "pro" rider will beat an amateur, even if the pro is put on a cheap, heavy, bike.

For a second opinion, how about Durian Rider, reviewing a $500 (Australian dollars!) bike.
(Apologies, because Harley (aka Durian Rider) does like to curse quite often, but he really knows his stuff)

If I only wanted a modestly priced "road bike", I would have gone for the Decathlon BTwin 500SE
300 quid (390 dollars, 360 euros).
But I also shop and commute on my bike.
The hub dynamo that my bike came with is for my "dark months" commute. I have now (September) had the hyb dynamo wheel back on the bike for a few weeks, and I have the mudguards, lights, and carrier back on.
The carrier is for groceries.
Regular readers will know I have about half a dozen different panniers, so I like a pannier rack.
When the snow comes down, I will fit my studded "winter" tyres.
All that is why I didn't buy a budget "road bike", but I bought a budget "commuter/all-rounder" instead.

What's best for you?
1) ride a bike - any bike!
2) lose a bit of weight (off yourself) if your BMI is over about 20.
3) think about what you will do with your bike.
4) think about whether your bike is for riding or for impressing your friends.
5) remember that next year's bikes will be better than this years
6) buy a bike.

So many folks do the list in the order 6, 4, 3, 1, 5, 2.

What do you think the order shoud be?

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