Cycling Truths (Sort Of) – Part 2

Previously, we covered concepts such as matching kit, pickle juice, weight weenies, and Cat 5 dangers. Today, we look at a few more cycling “truths”.

This jet could take aero lessons from my bike.

Aero is Everything:  The air is my nemesis! It impedes us in all directions, and pushes against our best efforts, stealing KOMs and sapping strength. I want a bike so aero that I need to file my ride routes with the FAA, and a position so aero Cirque du Soleil performers are looking at me saying, “Nuh uh.”

  • Anecdotal Evidence: Lots. Not only do you just feel faster when your gear is aero, you can even feel slower when you are riding with others that have gear more aerodynamic than you. No matter how strong you are of a rider, it’s hard to believe that the aero edge won’t surpass whatever watts reside in your legs.
  • Scientific Evidence: Even more. This is one of those truths that actually is true, but that we can also put far too much stock in.  On flat, open roads, aero drag can account for anywhere from 70-90% of overall resistance. So yes, those aero rims and aero helmet and aero frame make a huge difference in your speed and efficiency. But there’s a lot to be said about the engine. The longer you ride, the more efficient your body becomes at riding. Not just in an aero position, but overall. And an experienced rider on a heavy, non-aero bike can still put the beat-down on a novice who got a second mortgage for their air-slicing speed machine.

“I signed up for the Cat 5 TT. Took this out of the storage closet behind my Lamborghini.”

Better Gear = Better Rider: Look at that rider! That frame’s gotta be worth at least five grand. And those wheels – I don’t even know what material that is. Some kind of tritanium/carbon quantum-entanglement blend? They must have been a pro when I was still learning to clip in!

  • Anecdotal Evidence: Lots. Again, we have one of those situations where perception shapes reality. We see high-end gear and we associate it with high-end cycling. Knowing what gear we started with and the expenses associated with cycling, it’s easy to make the leap in thinking that in order to acquire that high-end gear, they have invested lots of time (proportionate to their money) into their cycling.
  • Scientific Evidence: None. I’ve seen Cat 5 racers step up to the line with ZIPP 404 wheels, and I’ve seen cyclists with 20+ years of experience rolling triple-chainrings while dropping carbon newbs. Cycling – typically – is not a cheap sport, and so those who are more affluent can purchase higher end gear, regardless of experience. After all, you don’t need to be a race car driver to buy a McLaren P1 – you just need to be insanely rich.
He might look like this when he drives, but he’ll also look like that when he’s next to you in a tour ride.

Drivers: Bad. Cyclists: Good: Drivers use their cell phones, radios, and who-knows-what other media devices to distract themselves from driving. They only care about other drivers insofar as they’d like them to stay out of their way. They have no regard for pedestrians or cyclists, and no regard for the laws that they say those pedestrians and cyclists need to follow. They are the enemy.

  • Anecdotal Evidence: Some. Motor vehicles are designed as perfect little microcosms of moving glory, with more power and speed than can ever be utilized. These protections from the outside world makes drivers feel impervious to those things beyond their vehicle. Cyclists can’t feel that, because there are no protections. So it’s easier for a driver to disregard safety issues that cyclists would feel are life-threatening.
  • Scientific Evidence: None. That’s not to say drivers aren’t bad at, well, driving. It’s to say that almost every adult cyclist is ALSO a driver. And while a safe cyclist can often become a safer driver, having more direct interaction with the dangers of the road than other drivers, it doesn’t mean they will. To say that all drivers are bad is to say – by extension – that all cyclists that drive are bad. Turns out, it’s not about bad drivers or bad cyclists. It’s about bad people. If you take a dangerous driver and give them a bike, they will continue to behave dangerously – running stop signs, making right turns without looking or yielding, etc. You take a dangerous cyclist that does those things and put them in a car? They’ll behave the same way. The vehicle doesn’t change the person operating it.
Yes, it’s cool. Yes, it can be efficient. It can also be a serious pain in the padded saddle.

The Fastest Paceline is a Rolling Paceline: In a rolling paceline, every rider in the group experiences the full headwind for the same amount of time, and only a short amount of time at that. Everyone is working together to go faster.

  • Anecdotal Evidence: Some. A smoothly rolling paceline is a thing of beauty to feel, with each rider sharing the load and working to move everyone forward faster. Many breaks in large Pro tours use them, as do groups of riders driving the pace in races.
  • Scientific Evidence: Some. Though potentially very efficient, it’s a highly technical way of riding, requiring a lot of practice and skill to execute smoothly. And it usually doesn’t work as well with riders that don’t know one another.  So though it can be faster, in most casual situations it’s typically slower than a standard single or double pacelines, as those are much easier to maintain. Whereas some inefficiencies in a single/double paceline might create small gaps or yo-yoing, those same inefficiencies in a rolling paceline tend to disrupt the entire rhythm.