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Posts Tagged ‘Cycling Technology’

Over the holiday break I caught up on some TV which included watching the Tour du Faso.  Not exactly a Grand Tour by any stretch and yet the Tour du Faso seems to be cycling in as simple a form as you can have at the professional level – “You have a bike.  I have a bike.  Let’s race.”  Okay, I’m overstating it a bit.  Sure the bigger teams win a lot, but where else do you see guys racing bikes with downtube shifters and six-speed gears.  They race with what they have, end of story, which is such a contrast to the local scene.

I’ve got nothing against tricked out bikes or the guys who have the wherewithal to buy a new bike every year.  I do have a problem with the idea that you can buy your way to speed.  I have written this before, but there really is no secret to this sport.  If you want to ride better, you need to ride your bike.  To quote Crash Davis in that epic of epics Bull Durham, “You don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt.  What you need is a curveball.”

The issues with all the techno-geeks, gadget guys and new-bike-every-week guys are several (well not so much with the people themselves as with their practices.)  First is definitely this idea that you can buy your way to winning.  I know guys that will buy a new set of wheels every year because they’re a half-gram lighter when all they do is race in the local park races.  The differentiating factor in a Central Park race is not Harlem Hill or at least is shouldn’t be, and if you’re struggling to get up Harlem Hill, it’s not because your bike is too heavy, it’s because you’re in crappy shape.  The solution to going up the hill better is to ride more hills, and in the particular case of Harlem Hill, to attack the hill in different ways during your training.

Second, and this is directed more at power meter nerds, is that you need gadgets or you just can’t ride.  The power-meter and the like can definitely be useful aids in your training.  They’re helpful in making sure you are following the tried and true adage of training: make your hard days harder than you think you can; make your easy days easier than you think you need to.  That said, you can train just as effectively without being a slave to data.  You need to know your body and you need to know, in Joe Friel speak, your rating of perceived effort (i.e., you ought to be able to tell when you’re going hard and how hard you are going), which by the way, you get a feel for by, you guessed it, riding your bike more.  Unless you are in a solo break or doing a timetrial, there isn’t a heck of lot that your power meter is going to do for you.  How hard you need to go is dictated by the conditions of the race, and you either have the engine to compete or you don’t.  Now, where the power-meter can be useful is in helping you gauge progress from period to period, but even here you need only a standard test course, a HR monitor and the combined weight of you and your bike.  I use the climb at the end of River Road to the Alpine ranger station as my test, which I ride at a steady, below threshold HR.  Based on my time to complete the climb, I can calculate my average wattage and thus my power-to-weight ratio.  Pretty simple – if you want the calculation, let me know.  (By the way, I’m sure, if any power meter junkie reads this, I’ll get an earful about my ignorance and how important the power-meter is, and the truth be told, they will probably be right.  They’re just not $700 right.)

Third is that the skyrocketing cost of bikes and components these days is due in part to the fact that there are people who will buy anything because they have to have the latest and greatest.  $2500+ for a gruppo is obnoxious.  And yet you can expect the prices to keep going in one direction – up, up and up.  It makes it harder and harder for people to get into riding/racing because the entry cost is astronomical.  At least people have the perception that it has to be astronomical.

A reader asked me what I thought about the mixed componentry that comes on racing bikes at the lower end of the price spectrum.  Works for me.  I think the most important things if you’re looking to buy a bike are a) getting a bike that fits you well, b) getting the most bike for the money you are going to spend, and b) ensuring that your components work well enough to shift the gears when you want them to shift and stop the bike when your want to stop.  Over time you can upgrade the components which you can do piece-mail on an as needed basis which will reduce the sticker shock (and alwys remember, last year’s Record is this year’s Chorus, so do you really need the absolute top of the line?)  All of my bikes have some form of mix-and-match components, be it a different headset, different cranks, a lower level chain/cassette (because spending $300 for a cassette is insane.)  I haven’t bought a gruppo in almost six years, and I’m hard pressed to see doing it again anytime soon.  That’s not the reason I’m not winning races.  Sure I’ll update things are parts wear out, and I suppose with the advent of 11-speed at some point I’m going to have to make the dreaded transition which will require a small fortune, but until then, what I need to focus on is making the most efficient use of the time available for training. 

In the end, I’m all for new cycling technology and gear.  I’d love a new set of wheels to race on, but honestly my 2000 Cosmic Carbones fit my racing needs perfectly.  I’ll be using them for as long as they last.  If you have the means for all of the latest gadgets and components, then knock yourself out.  Just don’t believe that you’re going to go any faster or start winning races because of what you are riding.  A professional on a Schwinn Varsity would still crush most of us.

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