Why you don’t need the best Cycling equipment

Well readers, time to make a confession. When it comes to equipment I am something of a magpie, regularly to be found browsing cycling retail websites and admiring shiny pieces of kit on sale. In many of my Racing Advice posts I have stated that equipment is of little importance compared to the rider – inspite of this I never fail to be captivated by the latest must – have. Be it ceramic jockey wheels, aero bottle cages, carbon handlebars or just about anything else that promises to save three watts at speeds I reach about once per season.

One consolation I do have is that it runs in the family. My father is possessed of the same tendencies when it comes to bike parts, I won’t embarrass him by telling you the number of cycling jerseys that take up most of his wardrobe space. On occasion, we have had to rein each other in so as to avoid buying unnecessary and expensive items – of course, failing that – a quick glance at a bank statement or the possibility of incurring the wrath of my mother does the job very nicely. A few months back I heard tell of one rider who upon purchasing a new frame, kept it hidden in the garage for six months for fear his wife might notice.

Taking up Triathlon has not improved things – in fact, if anything it has only served to exacerbate the problem. All of a sudden there is a whole new list of ‘essentials’ that I’ll need in order to complete an event; Running shoes, Tri-suit, Wetsuit, Transition bag, Goggles and a GPS watch just to name a few. Suffice to say reaching race weight may turn out to be easier than originally thought oweing to a necessity to reduce my food bill.

Cycling technology is in the midst of a golden era, barely a week goes by without the release of some very expensive product that is guaranteed to knock another few seconds off your TT time or give you the edge in a sprint to the line. The Scientist within me is fascinated by it all, the science of Cycling performance was what sparked my interest and lead me to apply to my current degree. I don’t believe that technology is killing Cycling – surely continually pushing the boundaries of what can be done on a bike is one way to grow the sport.

However – I am of the opinion that a degree of common sense is required. An $4,000 pair of wheels will make the difference if you are a professional who genuinely can’t improve via training. For amateurs it is often a different matter –  most of us would see greater gains from avoiding that humongous slice of cake at the cafe stop on a Sunday. As an example in point, on one particular local climb – a maximum effort on my race bike gave a time around 30 seconds faster than what I could manage on my winter one. Three years ago, my season PB on said winter bike was around two and a half minutes slower than what I managed recently. The difference being that I was about 15kg heavier. Look for the big gains before considering the marginal variety.

Talk to a non-cyclist and they will (quite understandably) often be shocked if the topic of equipment cost happens to come up. I’d go as far as to say that if I was thinking of entering the sport now, I would be hesitant oweing to the perceived financial implications. I know that Cycling is not an elitist sport (aside from a few individuals who give the wrong impression), but to an outsider it may appear to be so and I consider this to be a great shame.

For anyone who is looking to get into racing – never, ever be intimidated by riders with very expensive looking bikes. I have seen a fair few of them get dropped in the first half of 4th Cat closed circuit races, beaten by those riding very mediocre looking alloy frames. Of course it can be the other way round but my point is that racing performance really isn’t determined by how much spare cash you have lying around. Best way to improve climbing (for most of us)? Lose some weight. Want better aerodynamics? Work on your flexibility so as to be-able to ride on the drops for longer.

This article should be all the proof you need – showing that even at a high level you can go a very long way without bankrupting yourself. I know of someone who managed to ride a ten mile TT in 19:19 – on a ten year old frame with none of the fancy features you often see on bikes designed to go against the clock. I myself have been put to shame many times by someone riding what is, on paper, an inferior bike. It really is the engine that counts.

From now on, I’m going to make a conscious effort not to blame poor performances on equipment. No – my wheels are not the lightest in the world and my race bike is not made out of the highest grade of carbon fibre. In the grand scheme of things however, others have succeded with far less and as such I have no right to moan.

Happy riding.

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