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“What do you have against triathletes, Wanky?”
Seth Davidson/Yuzuru Sunada
Nothing. Some of the people who I might otherwise consider friends are triathletes. But the bottom line is that when you’re looking for bike racing advice, triathletes are complete, hopeless, and utter morons. The only thing worse is seeking bike racing advice from a blog on the Internet. Nonetheless, what triathletes do has nothing in common with bike racing. They get on a bicycle and pedal it hard. Hardest pedaler gets there first. Brain not required.
So when I saw that Jim Gourley is “demystifying the science of triathlon” I kept on going. First, last time I checked, there is no section in Science for “Triathlonology.” Nor I have ever heard of a “triathlonologist.” What I have seen, and seen plenty of, are tri-dorks.
Unfortunately, someone brought this corpse of an article back from the dead and posted it on Facebag, where a handful of actual cyclists noted their approval. Oh, brother.
To sum it up, Gourley wants you to believe that bike weight doesn’t really matter. He proves this by taking out his calculator and plugging in some numbers, assuming identical rider weight and an identical steady grade. Air resistance, we’re told, isn’t factored in. That’s so we can have a model that is as far from reality as those triathlon outfits are from attractive.
What he “discovers” in his windless lab where everyone rides along at the same power output is that a one-pound weight advantage only gives you a 2.5 second advantage in his fantasy lab setting. And who doesn’t race in a laboratory?
Unfortunately, if you read this correctly, you need to go screaming out to your nearest bike shop and get the lightest bike you can find. Why? Because 2.5 seconds in a hilly road race — or any bike race — is a crushing, dominating victory. Unlike triathlon, where 2.5 seconds on the bike is easily wiped out in the run, if you put 2.5 seconds on someone at the end of a bike race you have made them your bitch and they will have to spend the whole fucking morning on Monday looking at stupid pictures of you with your arms raised on Facebag.
But there’s more. Gourley the Triathlonologist says that a 3-lb. difference will give you a 7.5-second advantage when racing in his laboratory. This is not just a beatdown, it’s being skinned alive. And here’s the good part: For about a thousand bucks you can shave 1.5 pounds off your bike with a light pair of full carbon tubulars that are full carbon and made out of carbon.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “The last time I was in a lab someone bent me over and put on a latex glove.”
Exactly. The only people who race in labs are, apparently, triathlonologists as they’re working on the latest research project that will hopefully get them a Nobel Prize in Triathlonology.
The rest of us contend in road races that are on roads with actual wind, and we compete against people who don’t weigh exactly what we do in events that don’t require a steady power output. This means several things:
The weight advantage of a light bike is increased when you’re racing someone who is in the wind while you’re sheltered. The guy pounding it on the front of the climb, even if he isn’t saddled with a heavier bike (which he often is), is taking the brunt of the wind. When you’re sucking wheel three bikes back riding a rig that’s 3-pounds lighter than his, Gourley’s “7.5 second advantage,” or rather the savings in watts, becomes even more significant.
The weight advantage of a light bike is increased when you’re racing uphill against someone who’s fatter than you are. On the flip side, if you’re the porker, a lighter bike diminishes your chub disadvantage to the tweezly twig-men who are driving the pace, especially if you’re combining a light bike with massive wheelsuckery.
Different riders have different power profiles. Tri-dorks tend to dominate in the “Duhhhhh” power band, which requires mindless mashing at a steady state. Hilly road races, however, are surge-fests. Intense 2-3 minute bursts on the climb shake out the wankers. The leaders take a rest and the pace drops dramatically. Then they kick it again. These continual surges thin the herd and put a premium on your ability to go fast on a climb, slow down, then go fast again. In this context, bike weight in general and wheel weight in particular is huge when you’re on a hard climb because you have to get the damned thing up to speed over and over and over, unlike the tri-dork who wraps it up to 27 mph and holds it there until his teeth rot out. In other words, every last gram matters when it comes to acceleration.
The other problem with extrapolations from the science of triathlon to the witch craftery of bike racing is that disparities caused by weight don’t make themselves felt in a linear fashion throughout the race such that, at the end, the lighter wanker is 2.5 seconds ahead.
What actually happens in a hilly bike race is that the 10 or 15-watt differential enjoyed by the guy on the carbon bike made of full carbon makes itself felt early on, and it results in you getting your ass shellacked on the climb. Once unhitched, you spiral off the back and are left to battle with the wind — no shelter from the peloton — by yourself. The “2.5 second” differential turns into minutes by the end of the race, with you dejectedly struggling through the finish zone and embarrassed onlookers try to make you feel good by ignoring you or saying “Good job,” in mousy, quiet voices.
How many times have you been in a race where the difference between hanging on and getting kicked out the back has been a mere one or two pedal strokes? Suddenly those “7.5” seconds look like what they are: A huge differential that can decide the entire race. And of course when you’ve got great form, are already tiny, are riding smart, and have the lightest rig, you’re truly stacking the deck.
Weight matters when the road tilts up. Every single gram. And if you’re listening to a triathlonologist for bike racing advice, well, you deserve what you get.