Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Danger of Cool Things and bike gear

Still a very busy time for me, so I am literally hitting "Publish" about 20" after running a proof read from my final keystrokes. Thanks for bearing with me, I've got a backlog of half finished posts that I just can't seem to get done right now! Hopefully a slightly slower couple of weeks is in my future soon!

In the late 90's and early 2000's I was big into a card game, Magic: The Gathering. Like any internet era competitive scene, there was (and still is) endless discussions, articles, blogs and reports about tournaments. It's a game not so unlike chess and many of the other "higher intelligence" games in existence, where deep discussion about theory can be endlessly contemplated. An article that is one of the all time greats to this day written by Chad Ellis was called "The Danger of Cool Things." (link to that original article)

Without going too deep into a very, very complex game, the gist is that we (humans) are often tempted to pick a "cool" solution over an efficient one. So... what does an article written 15+ years ago have to do with anything this blog is about? Maybe a lot.

I'm most certainly someone who is most at risk for this phenomenon... I always have been. I like a little panache with everything I do. Sometimes, that is perfectly acceptable, but sometimes it can be a problem.

The most common time this comes up for triathletes and cyclists is regards to equipment, specifically on the bike. (That's not to say there isn't plenty of "stuff" that qualifies for running and swimming, just that in general cycling is much more gear focused.)

Of my years on the various forums this phenomenon manifests itself most commonly when it comes to buying wheels. Since the surge of cheaper (Chinarello... if I can use such a dated term) deep carbon wheels entering the market, many are wooed over by the promise of pro level equipment at entry level pricing. The problem comes in regards to whether or not you are actually getting high level equipment. (This isn't bashing cheap China frames/gear btw, just an example) There are a few ways this can go

1.) The molds used for these wheels is truly the same as wheels with proven testing / data. This is sort of the "magic Christmas land" scenario, where you are just buying a highly researched / developed wheel for a fraction of the cost.

2.) The mold "looks" aerodynamic / fast, and by happenstance (that is, not by development / testing, but just by coincidence as much as anything) it turns out to be a pretty fast wheel. This is again thinking a pretty best case scenario.

3.) The mold "looks" aerodynamic / fast, but in reality isn't much (if any) of a benefit over something like a cheap Velocity Deep V wheel. This is what I would guess is the most likely scenario on the whole.

Unfortunately, the danger of cool things plays a big role in whether or not you care that a Velocity Deep V / whatever cheap wheelset is faster than the bling no-name carbon wheels. Those carbon wheels look faster damnit! And looking pro is almost as important as being pro! So you get a deep discount versus a pair of HED / Zipp / Enve wheels (or a bit of discount vs. Flo's) with your carbon wheels, but in reality you could have spent a fraction of that amount still and ended up with a faster set of "non-flashy" wheels.

Helmets are another item that often claims victims in this way. There have been a large number of very smart guys that have a ton of time in the wind tunnel / velodrome testing helmets, and almost unanimously they all report that the Kask Bambino is rarely one of the faster helmets... yet Bambino's are very popular options. (Full Disclosure, I have a Bambino...with a chrome visor, no it's not the fastest helmet I tested... I'm a hypocrite I know) A big part of the reason... it looked dang cool (in the world of cycling I guess) to see Wiggo Punch the sky with that big chrome visor reflecting the roadways in London.  Then there are helmets like the Giro Advantage A2 (which I often recommend) which almost unanimously tests "good to very good" on a wide variety of people, selling for under a hundred dollars online and still not often praised and often "upgraded" from.

Frames, clothes, chainrings, aero derailleurs with giant jockey wheels, saddles with shark fins... There are tons of items out there for you to spend your money on. Some of them have real benefits driven by data. Some of them just have empty words and witty marketing, or a very tempting price.
I don't have all the answers as to what is optimal for you, or what is nothing more than a cash grab. However, for the most part, the internet is an excellent resource to research the item you are interested in for yourself. We are in an excellent time right now, where enough people have access to testing methods that companies have a very tough time just sending out unproven equipment with bold claims and expecting the majority to just accept it. White papers and other aero data are becoming a necessity for big bike manufacturers to release with their new projects... and even then it is often (rightly) scrutinized to the point of almost fervor.  So I suggest using that to your advantage... do some research on what you are buying, don't fall victim to the cool things when you can have the efficient things.

Thanks so much for checking in! I really appreciate it.

-Christopher Morelock

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