My topic for cycling Wednesday changed abruptly this afternoon.
It was to be a report on yet another scientific publication (and editorial) about the deleterious cardiac effects of long-term endurance athletics. The paper was published recently in the scientifically-rigorous journal, Circulation.
(In fact, I went so far as to spend an hour on the phone with an American Heart Association representative trying to chisel my way to the cheapest possible Circulation subscription. Remember, I am a non-foundation-supported guy.)
However, since it’s Christmas week, a warmer, softer topic seemed decidedly apropos. This story comes by way of @250joules, an electrophysiology colleague from Vancouver, with whom I share a Twitter relationship.
The ‘lighter’ topic…
Even a distant fan of cycling knows that professional bike racers ride expensive, technologically superior bikes. The bike frame material du Jour is carbon-fibre. Carbon bikes are lighter, stiffer and more comfortable to ride. Think of a Lexus versus a Chevrolet.
An oft asked question is whether a lightweight carbon bike makes any real difference in performance?
For the answer one can look to science—a controlled clinical trial published in (“The Lives of Doctors” section) of the British Medical Journal. Dr J Groves, an anesthesia/intensive care specialist from Britain, actually designed a controlled clinical trial of his commute times on a lightweight carbon bike versus a 30lb steel clunker. (free content) He even performed a Student-t test on the ride times of the 809 total miles.
His results—after considering the effects of friction, gravity, and drag—were that there was no significant difference between the two vastly different bikes. His conclusion was instructive: even a 30% lighter bike was rendered insignificant when considered along with the total weight of bike plus rider.
“A new lightweight bicycle may have many attractions, but if the bicycle is used to commute, a reduction in the weight of the cyclist rather than that of the bicycle may deliver greater benefit and at reduced cost.”
Yes, Dr Groves is a master of the obvious. “It’s [really] not about the bike.”
Although his scientific vigor and attention to detailed documentation is laudable, I disagree with his conclusions.
As is always the case, for a scientific trial to have significant impact it has to be relevant in the real-world. This is where Dr Groves’ trial falls short. For in my real-world of cycling, life is too short to ride mickey-mouse equipment.
With the cold winter greyness upon us, pondering the sensations of good legs propelling a lightweight carbon bicycle on a sunny Spring day is a welcome thought indeed. It’s just not the same day-dream on a clanky old clunker.
Disclosure: I receive no financial support from Cannondale although they did give me a free t-shirt once.