Numbers are a cultural thing in cycling. From heart rate and functional threshold power to average speed and annual kilometres ridden, and on to bike weights, tyre pressures and trail figures, nothing is anything unless it is quantitatively qualified.
This data-driven approach extends into (or perhaps more likely, originates from) the research, development and marketing of new products. With every product launch, the ubiquitous ‘stiffer, lighter, faster’ trope is rolled out in one form or another.
I’ll admit, as Cyclist’s tech editor I play my part in perpetuating this, but the binary nature of the participation in cycling, as well as the commercialisation of it, is hardwired into this sport arguably to a greater extent than it is in any other.
Matthew Loveridge / Cyclist
Football boots aren’t sold on being 20g lighter than old models. Neither are new rugby balls marketed as being 8% more aerodynamic than their predecessors (come to think of it, though, the cross-section of a rugby ball bears more than a passing resemblance to an aerofoil, and the distance of their flight is often crucial to win territory and score points in a match, so perhaps their aerodynamic performance should be a bigger factor). But regardless, I think my point holds.
New technology isn’t necessarily as numerically defined in other sports as it is in cycling. And with that comes the tendency for consumers to take a cold-hearted approach when it comes to making new purchases.
Obviously price has to be the ultimate governor – if you can’t afford it, you aren’t getting it, no matter how much it tugs at your heartstrings – but, increasingly, decisions at a given price are made on numbers: weights, drag figures, stiffness measurements. On bikes most pertinently, but similarly with other significant investments as well – and considering the cost of cycling products these days, I would class anything above a new inner tube as a ‘significant investment’.
Yet this is a paradox, the opposite to the way cycling should be consumed given that it is such an emotive sport: thrilling, exhausting, unpredictable and dynamic. I think to truly experience the joy of cycling you must do it from the heart, not the head.
Cyclist features writer Emma Cole touched upon it recently when she encouraged readers to ditch their head units. After all, cycling should be about freedom and adventure rather than slavish adherence to training data. Likewise, when you’re about to financially (re)commit to it, you should be emotionally stirred, not pragmatically convinced.
Should that actually be the case, though? From buying houses to developing your career, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that going with your head is the best approach to take. Yet that same evidence also warns that the more emotion is involved in that process, the higher the risk that making the logical choice will lead to regret.
When the novelty wears off and reality sets in, something you’re fundamentally connected to will lead to more, longer-lasting satisfaction than something whose justification has to be explained. With bikes being such a vehicle for emotive experience, in their case I’d always go for gut over grey matter.
Besides, from a technological standpoint, at essentially every level of the market these days you’re unlikely to come across any good-looking duds. There’s a criticism often levelled at the cycling media that we rarely give any bad reviews anymore. It’s because there are rarely any truly bad products.
Concerning ourselves with bikes at the mid to high-end, differences in areas such as comfort, stiffness or aerodynamics become smaller and smaller as time passes and the technology improves. You can rest assured that whatever you’re buying, the legs and lungs that power it will play more of a role in its overall performance than its design features.
Joseph Branston / Cyclist
For that reason, the bike you choose to invest in might as well be the one that you like the look of best. If you like the bike, you’ll want to ride it more, and you’ll be more satisfied with the rides you do on it, which will ultimately make you a better bike rider than if you opted for a marginally better bike on paper that you end up wanting to ride less. So when the time comes for an upgrade, go for fun over figures. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
As tech editor, Sam eats, sleeps and dreams cycling kit, and is in charge of selecting which bikes and what gear gets featured in Cyclist. As such, he has some distinct opinions on what a product should offer the modern rider