Cycling Truths (Sort Of) – Part 1

There are many things that we hold true that have only anecdotal support at best, or is just stuff we were taught as kids that kinda stuck. Things like sitting too close to the TV will make you go blind (it won’t), or playing outside in the cold without a jacket will make you catch pneumonia (you won’t), or cutting your hair will make you look younger (really?).

So it is, that we cyclists – despite no supporting evidence, or even having countervailing evidence – hold some truths to be sacrosanct.

If not for that tiny spec of green on the saddle (which should obviously be red) he’d be 0.23% faster.

Matching Kit Makes You Faster: It’s a well-known fact that not only do you look awesome in a kit that matches from head to toe and coordinates with your gear, but it also makes you faster. That’s right. We already have a bond with our riding machines that some would call, um, disturbing. But when we take on the style of our trusty steeds, we deepen that connection ten-fold. The air, seeing the awe-inspiring beauty and power of this human/machine hybrid beast, will know: this is something to be feared, and I must move out of the way.

  • Anecdotal Evidence: Some. Though the colors and styling of your kit probably don’t make a physical difference – apart from say, a well-fitted race jersey or skin suit that is more aerodynamic – there’s a lot to be said about the positive effects of self-image. If you like your gear, you’ll enjoy your ride more. If you like your appearance, you’ll have a better outlook on your ride. These positive aspects on your psychology can translate to better performance.
  • Scientific Evidence: None.
If I drank pickle juice, I wouldn’t care about my cramps, because I’d be too busy throwing up.

Pickle Juice; For What Ails Ya: THE go-to cure for cramps. you just can’t beat a big batch o’ brine.  A wee bit of this miracle elixir, and you’ll be back on the road in no time. The water is good for you; the salt is good for you; the pickle is good for you. Heck, just seeing the jar when approaching a rest stop helps you fight cramps.

  • Anecdotal Evidence: Tons. Riders of all levels will gladly eat pickles at rest stops and down shots of pickle juice if it means not cramping. Athletic trainers for decades have handed out cups of the stuff to cramping athletes. And it does work, for the most part. Some riders have tried it to no avail. Most believe it’s the salty brine that replaces lost electrolytes.
  • Scientific Evidence: Some. Many, many studies have been done on cramping and its causes. Some researchers believed it was dehydration – coupled with the loss of sodium and potassium – that lead to cramping. But studies have shown there isn’t a direct correlation between dehydration and cramping. Moreover, the salts and majority of the liquid don’t have enough time to be absorbed and dispersed throughout the body fast enough to stop a cramp. That’s not to say it doesn’t work: studies have shown drinking pickle juice can help cramps resolve up to 45% faster than by drinking water. So what gives? Well, leading theories now link the vinegar (or any strong sour, acidic, or spicy foods) in the pickle juice to specific triggers in the mouth, throat, and stomach (transient receptor potential and acid sensing ion channels). Stimulating one part of the nervous system tends to reduce the activity of other parts. So what seems to be most likely happening is that by drinking pickle juice, you’re really distracting the body from the cramp.
The bike is there. It’s just so light you can’t see it.

The Lighter, the Better: My bike weighs less than a fart and I haven’t eaten in three days. Let’s go climb some hills!

  • Anecdotal Evidence: Tons. I’ve seen people pour out some water from a bottle before a race. I’ve heard of some pretty crazy diets. And I’ve seen cyclists that are pretty scary thin. Some of them perform well. Others, perform like any other non-scary-thin rider. And far too many have targeted “race weights”, many of which aren’t realistic or healthy.
  • Scientific Evidence: Counter-Indicative. It’s not just about weight. You can have the lightest bike and weigh 75 lbs soaking wet, but if you don’t have any power, you won’t get anywhere. More than just being light, cyclists need to balance both weight and power output in order to be effective. Now for the pros, this formula is skewed because they have specialists: sprinters tend to be hulks, and climbers tend to be scarecrows. But even they have limits. At some point, you don’t have any more fat your body can afford to lose. So the next step is you lose muscle. And when you lose muscle, you lose power. So you may be lighter, but you’re also weaker.

[Author’s Note: Eating disorders are far-too prevalent in the cycling community. If you’re trying to lose weight, please do it in a healthy, nutritional, doctor-approved manner.]

Cat 5 is More Dangerous Than Cat 4 is More Dangerous than Cat 3…: Cat 5 racer: “Dude! I’ve gotta get my ten races so I can upgrade. These entry level racers are crazy!” Cat 4 racer: “Man, I’m glad I catted up. But it’s like those dangerous Cat 5 guys came up with me. I need to get to Cat 3. It’ll be faster and harder, but safer.” Cat 3 racer: “Phew, I survived Cat 4, and trained hard so that I can race with the Cat 3s. But These guys are seriously fast, and when they crash, it’s like their bikes explode and their medical insurance is forfeit… maybe I’d be better off racing Masters?”

  • Anecdotal Evidence: Some. As we continue to do longer tour rides, or we do more races and upgrade to harder categories, you’ll have more experience, and those around you doing those longer tours and harder races will also have more experience. So you should all be safer for it. But the better we get, the more risks we tend to take, and so though our skills have gone up to make us safer, our risks have gone up as well. So the whole thing can be a wash.
  • Scientific Evidence: Some. The Dunning-Kruger effect is strong in cycling – a little experience leads to an abundance of overconfidence, which in turn leads to dangerous behavior. And it only takes a couple of racers for this to kick, making the lowest racing levels more likely the more dangerous ones (on average). But being in faster races is inherently more dangerous – a smaller mistake can lead to a much more disastrous outcome. And you’re riding for much longer at faster speeds, giving you even more chances for an error to occur.

Stay tuned for more cycling “truths”.