You would be forgiven in thinking that you drove past three lines of security guards, hoards of people and onto a professional cycling road race when traveling to your local shops. More and more frequently there are groups of ten or more riders travelling in a make shift peloton on public roads. At a quick glance these look like professionals cyclists however are enthusiastic beginners in disguise who are chasing false race times and an ever deflating ego. Trying to emulate your hero’s from road cycling seems senseless to me. Their kit and equipment is designed for competition over leisure and therefore emulating this comes at a cost.
Firstly, you will be uncomfortable and look like a something that fell out of an out of date jam jar. Secondly, you will spend vast amounts of money on kit that you do not need.
Carbon fibre is the new word in bicycle materials for the masses. This is a costly material that offers no benefit to amateur cyclists. Back to back tests and timing gates have demonstrated that over the course of a 20 mile ride that the benefit of having a carbon fibre bicycle would be lost if you had to stop even for the briefest of moments – say a traffic light or road junction. Also people are placing their wallets down instead of their work ethic. A term thrown around any athletic pursuit is ‘marginal gains’ however these marginal gains offer nothing if you are not already at the pinnacle of your training.
This fact is more present on mountain bikes. Reviewers and websites are honest in that when buying a Hardtail, for instance, anything over £1500 starts to pay for little reward whereas the difference in a £1000 and a £1500 bike is significant.
Similarly, it appears that clip on pedals and drop handlebars are mandatory on road bicycles now. I have never had clip on pedals and do not find the inconvenience and extra cost to be of any merit. A friend explained to me how they improve efficiency, stroke cadence and a ‘connected’ fell to the bicycle. Instead of spending the money on specific shoes and pedals I opted for cycling and going to the gym. Needless to say 30 miles into our 50 mile ride those pedals were not doing anything for him. His fitness had reached its threshold and each mile after that was a chore.
Likewise, drop handlebars are ridiculous as they offer limited manoeuvrability, poor braking control and add unnecessary complexity to braking and gear changes. Looking at the list of banned products from the UCI you can see why racing bikes have them but this does not mean that us amateurs have to endure. Handlebars come in all shapes and sizes that offer more control, simplicity and offer a user friendly approach. Personally I love my flat handle bars with small ‘bull horns’ on the outside. This gives me multiple hand position options, something to grab onto for climbs and fantastic braking control on descents. I value my comfort over my aerodynamic profile and know that if I was pitched forward more and blah blah blah then I would cut through the air blah blah blah. Again my fitness and skill is not at the point that this is relevant. However comfort and the ability to cover miles for me are directly linked.
But getting bogged down in parts and pieces misses the point of having a good ride notwithstanding the agony. The more that race bikes develop the more complexity is being trickled down to the beginners and amateurs unnecessarily.
Realistically if people are serious about improving times and outcomes on the bike they would not act opposingly, through their lifestyle, that conflicts with their goal. Which is fine for the amateurs but to buy a carbon bicycle and go to the cafe and buy a ‘sweet treat’ seems counterintuitive. Why spends thousands on marginal gains when you are ignoring the huge gains you could have with simple lifestyles choices.
Realistically cycling around in the sunshine, to and from work and socially is one of the best forms of exercise and way to spend your time. But having a frame of reference is important.