Early this morning, Mr. Italo sent an email to me and Mr. Dario in New York about an article on the BBC News web site, titled “It’s not about the bike”. The gist of the article is that people who spend large amounts of money on expensive lightweight bikes are misguided fools and status seekers…a heavy, inexpensive bike is just as good as an uber bike.

This article struck me as a primordial example of how people present only limited information in order to convince others of the veracity of their “truth”. And it’s especially pernicious when it’s couched as “research”. Adding insult to injury, the research author, Dr. Jeremy Groves, used HIMSELF as the ONLY test subject!!!! Totally non-blinded research with an n=1 and this piece of drivel got published in the British Medical Journal????

Here’s my response to Mr. Italo:

“I’m so glad you brought up this article. It is a stunningly excellent example of how incomplete information, convincingly presented under the guise of “research”, can be used to misguide “le grand publique” who has little expertise in any given field (Steve’s Third Axiom).

Now imagine I wrote a piece of research that was titled, “It’s not about the camera”. The gist of my research would be that while misguided fanatics spend tons of money on expensive camera equipment (such as the Leica), in fact, I was able to consistently produce nice pictures using a very inexpensive point-and-shoot.

Someone without any photography background would naturally assume that all these “fanatics” were just stupid loons, Hell-bent on showing how much money they have; the expensive camera being nothing more than a status symbol.

As a veteran photographer, you might even agree in principle with the basic premise that ultimately it’s not about the equipment, but about the “eye” and skill of the photographer. BUT, you would, I’m sure, also express the caveat that different types of equipment serve different purposes, and while the skill of the photographer is paramount, the equipment does help to bring that skill and vision to reality under various conditions. For example, one could use a Leica M for sports photography, but it would dramatically narrow the field of opportunity because of its lack of telephoto capabilities, autofocus, and a rapid motor-drive.

Similarly, a heavy studio camera would be at a disadvantage for street work.

But you only know these things because you are an experienced photographer and enthusiast. You have taken the time to acquire a deep expertise from both reading, discussion, courses, and above all, field experience. The more you know, the less vulnerable you are to Steve’s Third Axiom.

Now back to bicycles.

When I ride my heavy, plush Electra Amsterdam on my usual flat route along the Lakeshore (for between 30-60 minutes), I have noticed that it’s only seconds slower than both my street-tire equipped mountain bike and even my very lightweight Leo road bike. Yet, it is twice to three times the weight of these bikes respectively, and about a third of the acquisition cost. Conclusion: A heavy commuter bike is as good as an expensive mountain or road bike. Right? Bullshit!

The only thing we have demonstrated is under THOSE SPECIFIC CONDITIONS of flat, well-paved surface, and a short riding time, there is little performance difference between the bikes……and only FOR ME, not for anyone else.

Put each of those bikes on a hilly terrain though, and the mountain bike will blow the other two right out of the water. Take all three bikes out on a 3-hour road trip and the lightweight road bike will leave the others in the dust after the first hour due to fatigue from pushing the extra weight. Put all three bikes on a heavily potholed road, and only one will come home..most likely the mountain bike with its heavily built-up rims. And so on and so forth. “Form follows function” as the saying goes. That’s why most serious riders have several bikes, each for different applications (and photographers have several cameras and lenses).

Speaking of weight and bikes, it’s essential to remember that there are two kinds of weight: Static weight and reciprocating weight. Static weight is the full weight of the bike at rest. Reciprocating weight is the weight of the components that rotate, i.e. Wheels, crank, and pedals. If you weigh 280 lbs and think paying an extra $2K for a light-framed road bike that will knock off two pounds from the frame will make a difference, you are sadly deluded. Much cheaper to just lose the two pounds (static weight). But paying for low reciprocating weight has a major payoff because that’s the weight you are constantly PUSHING in order to get it to turn. Think of clothing: Take a pound off your coat and it has little effect. Take a pound off your shoes and it has a big effect on how tired you’ll get. That’s because you’re constantly moving your feet.

All this to say that everybody has an axe to grind in their pursuit of fame and will promote their point-of-view to naïve others in a way that limits their access to all the facts. That’s why, “You can’t protect yourself part-time….”

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