As cyclists, it can be difficult to resist the urge to upgrade. It’s especially hard right now, when so many tremendously exciting products are being announced. If you’re like me, you can’t visit a cycling-related website without learning about a new product you simply need to own right now. Just a few such products are:
Electronic Dura Ace
Finally! I don’t know anybody who rides Dura Ace and hasn’t been saying for years now, “You know what would make this group even better? Finite battery life!” Of course, while we can all benefit from electronic shifting systems, nobody will benefit more than triathletes. Not because the remote switches will allow them to shift without compromising their aero positions, but simply because they will now be able to shift, thanks to the “TT/Tri” version of the group. The complexities of a 10-speed drivetrain have long baffled most triathletes, who are unable to grasp concepts such as front derailleur trim and avoiding the large/large combination, and who consequently squander any aero benefits their behind-the-saddle water bottle holders may confer upon them by riding in gear combos that create more friction than a naked thigh on a metal playground slide. Riding behind a triathlete is like getting stuck behind a pepper mill—if that pepper mill were wearing short-shorts and kept trying to run into things. I’m assuming the tri-specific version of electronic Dura Ace will address the poor shifting habits of the triathlete by verbally scolding the user in a voice similar to that of KITT from “Knight Rider.”
Mountain bike tubeless tire systems have long traded convenience and easy tire changes for the ability to run extremely low pressures without risking pinch flats. Fortunately, the introduction of the road tubeless system brings all of this inconvenience to the tarmac, where the need to run extremely low pressures is virtually nonexistent. Frankly, I’m not sure the world of road riding is ready for tubeless. Not because road riders can’t appreciate the benefits, but because a disturbing number of them have not yet mastered the clincher tire. The sight of a $4,000 carbon fiber bike turned upside-down in the shoulder of the road as three or four people in various national champion jerseys attempt to repair a flat without removing the wheel from the frame is all too common these days, and adding an incredibly tight tire bead and some sealant to the equation does not seem like a good idea. The people who buy tubeless road systems will not be able to operate them anyway, so if they want to run lower pressures they might as well just use tubular tires. They can repair them in exactly the same way—by grappling vainly with them before pulling their Blackberrys from their CSC jerseys and calling for their wives to come pick them up.
Carbon Mountain Bike Wheels
Fortunately, when it comes to road and mountain technology, the exchange is not one-sided, and they’re swapping spit evenly when it comes to wheels. The roadies may have taken the tubeless road tire, but they’ve given the mountain bikers the carbon fiber rim. For too long, mountain bikers have had to do without the same level of wheel gimmickry road riders enjoy, due to the fact that things like rugged terrain and disc brakes call for more and evenly-placed spokes. But thanks to those same disc brakes mountain bikers can now enjoy the lighter weight of carbon rims, thus allowing them to take the weight savings and apply it to their already considerable midsections.
But what if you’re looking to increase your bicycle’s performance, yet you can’t afford these exciting upgrades? Well, don’t worry. As it turns out, these products won’t actually improve your performance—instead, they’ll compromise it.
As any good bike racer knows, rationalization is a key element to the sport. You don’t lose a race because it was too hard. You lose because it was too easy, and those damn wheelsuckers kept the group together, thus preventing a breakaway from forming—a breakaway which you would of course have gotten into, and from which you would have subsequently ridden away, thus winning the race solo while proudly displaying the logo of your sponsor’s urology practice. Furthermore, your placing in a race does not tell the entire story. Let’s say you placed 43rd in a race, but you finished with the same time as the winner. And let’s say the winner only works part-time, trains all week long, never drinks, and hasn’t known the sensual touch of another since—well, since visiting his sponsor’s urology practice. Meanwhile, you work full-time, never train, drink often, and had to pry yourself from the sensual touch of another in order to get out of bed and go to the race this morning. Sure, the “winner” crossed the line first, but you finished in the same time, and you didn’t give up anything in order to do it. Aren’t you the real winner here?
Similarly, the less you paid for your equipment, the more your placing is worth. If you cross the line on a $1,000 bike at the same time as a rider on a $6,000 bike, you essentially won, because you spent 5,000 fewer dollars in order to do it. Sure, $5,000 may buy you a fraction of a second here or there in the form of aerodynamics or lighter weight, but saving $5,000 is worth infinitely more in terms of bragging rights. And changing your perception of victory is way cheaper than changing your equipment.
No group has tapped into this wisdom more successfully than singlespeed mountain bikers. The singlespeed mountain biker revels in the fact that he’s accomplished the same thing as the geared rider, and he lives for that moment when someone is impressed by his ability to keep up while using a derailleur-less drivetrain. Of course, the truth is that on a lot of terrain a singlespeed mountain bike isn’t much of a handicap. In fact, often it’s an advantage. When confronted with a steep grade on a singlespeed mountain bike, you either have to stomp up it really fast, or you have to run it. Meanwhile, the geared rider will downshift eternally until he’s spinning a tiny gear so violently he simply falls over. It’s kind of like clothing. It might seem like you’re at a disadvantage if you’ve only got one pair of pants, but the fact is when it’s time to leave the house you just throw on your pants and leave. On the other hand, if you’ve got too many pants, you’ll need time to decide which ones to wear, then you’ll need to find a matching shirt, then you realize the shirt that goes with those pants is dirty, and you don't have any clean pants to match the clean shirt, and before you know it you’re 40 minutes late. Still, the singlespeed is perceived as a handicap, thus allowing the singlespeed mountain biker to stay up late doing bong hits, show up at the race the following morning, finish 15 minutes down on the guy riding the geared full-suspension bike who’s trained really hard, and still look like the toughest guy out there. (A notion that’s only reinforced after the race when he pulls on his one and only pair of grease-stained pants.)
So go ahead, upgrade if you must. But just remember: when you upgrade, anything that’s not a win is a loss. And when you downgrade, even a loss is a win.