Advanced technology seems like it upends the sport of bicycling as it tips the performance advantage to the biggest spenders.
But once technology is proven—whether today’s lightweight frames or yesterday’s air-filled tires—it gains widespread adoption, drops in price, and re-levels the competitive field.
Given the pile-on reality of innovation—You get tubeless tires! And you get tubeless tires! And you get tubeless tires!—the folks at the Marginal Gains podcast focus on “opportunities for advancement and advantage at the edges or the margins of the technology.”
On recent shows they’ve discussed data-driven product testing, the most efficient chains, friction-reducing lubricants, improving aerodynamics on a limited budget, even how Six Sigma, a set of process improvement tools, slows new technology introductions as it improves product quality.
Interesting stuff if you find stuff like that interesting. Or maybe you think it’s a podcast aimed squarely at racers and tech weenies.
I usually learn something from every episode, even though the show’s competitive bent doesn’t have much in common with the way I ride, which is at a sedate pace* and, at least in the winter, mostly by myself. I’m a breakfast rider, not someone fascinated by the never-ending soap opera of The New and the Obsolete.
I’m interested in comfort and efficiency, not in winning the next imaginary northern Peoria county road race.
That said, a marginal gain is still a gain, an increase in efficiency that you can use any way you want, whether that’s riding faster using the same power or maintaining speed using less power.
Today I tapped into a marginal gain I believe has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with humanity.
It’s called Riding with Kenny. If you don’t know a Kenny, call it Riding with a Friend.
When I ride with Kenny, I pay little attention to GPS data. Instead, I listen and talk to him and he listens and talks to me.
And even though we aren’t pushing each other to go faster, at the end of the ride I notice my average speed has gone up a tick and I’ve climbed more than I would have guessed—without noticeable strain.
Where do these gains come from?
It isn’t prior training. My most consistent training is riding a mile a day for coffee. I didn’t plan ahead for how I’d approach certain parts of the course today. The course was determined on the fly. I didn’t do much to prepare. I don’t even remember checking my tire pressure. And during the ride I paid less attention to the data spooling off my Wahoo Roam and more to the redbuds, solar water heaters, and old barns we passed.
Maybe the gains are a fluke; speed will, after all, vary from ride to ride.
Or maybe, just maybe, they come from simply enjoying the ride, from upping the fun factor.
What do you think? Can people riding at a conversational pace realize a marginal gain simply by having a good time? Should we take fun more seriously?
I know. Let’s ask Kenny.
April 25. 30 miles.
*sedate pace = What Russ and Laura of The Path Less Pedaled call riding #partypace.