by Scott Martin
Years ago when I worked for a cycling magazine, my editor assigned me a story about bananas (which inexplicably did not win a Pulitzer for Best Article on Tropical Fruit).
What I remember about this unmemorable story was that it contained one of my favorite quotes. Speaking of the banana’s many benefits, a nutritionist told me, “There is no magic bullet, but if there were, it would be curved and yellow.”
Leaving aside questions about the efficacy of bent, mushy ammunition, this quote hints at what all cyclists secretly believe: there is a magic bullet that can make us great riders overnight.
It might be nutrition. (Yams! Gluten-free bread!) Or equipment. (Carbon cranks! Sew-up rims!) Or supplements. (Bee pollen! Amino acids!) Or training methods. (Big-gear repeats! High-cadence intervals!)
Whatever it is, it’s out there if we only look hard enough. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate – that the only way to legally improve is to train stupidly hard, for years. Even then, you won’t get much better unless you’re in the tiny minority that’s genetically blessed. And just when you start seeing results, your aging body begins crumbling.
By then, you realize there really is no magic bullet. You’ll have to settle for what my bike club’s coach calls “gradual accumulation of marginal gains,” which is as exciting as it sounds.
When a study suggests that adding a pinch of baking soda to energy drink might improve performance by 0.1%, you do it even though baking soda makes you burp a colicky baby. Another study says heat acclimation may increase functional threshold power by half a watt, so you switch off the fan and ride your trainer in what quickly becomes Spare Bedroom Swamp.
Just shoot me now. With a magic bullet.
Scott Martin has been writing about cycling for more than 15 years. He worked as an editor for Bicycling magazine for 10 of them and wrote the “Scott’s Spin” column for RBR from which this is republished. He has also covered cycling for several national magazines.