By Martin Sigrist
Everyone at some time or other taken on a “project” of some sort. A project can be of epic proportions, such as putting a man on the moon, or far more mundane but equally important to those concerned such as organizing a family event like a wedding.
Managing a project is a balancing act, delivering the desired outcome with limited resources the most important of which are usually time and money.
Cyclists whose goals are linked to performance are, necessarily though perhaps unknowingly, project managers. The performance goal is the outcome, say a target time or position in an event. For most time will be one constraint and for most so too will money.
An understandable reaction to this situation is to prioritize spending on equipment, the logic being that a new bike or bit of kit will be “better” and therefore be an easy gain, perhaps making up for not being able to spend as many hours training as would be ideal. The marketing departments of bike and equipment manufacturers, naturally, do all they can to promote this idea.
My experience is that this though is a false economy. I think there is a clear set of priorities that apply to those wishing to be the best that they can be:
- Bike fit
- Event essentials (anything that is an absolute necessity, such as means to ensure you can carry enough food/drink, or mitigate a high risk factor e.g. tubeless tires if you are unsupported).
- Power meter
- Cycling coach
- Additional professional specialist advice (e.g. sports psychology, strength coach, nutrition)
- (Smart trainer – depending on circumstances)
- Bike or other go faster equipment.
I’d even go so far as to say that often there is no need in most cases to spend anything at all on the last item. The only two exceptions would be:
- As a result of the bike fit, e.g. change of stem, saddle or, in extreme cases, bike frame
- Your only bikes are totally unsuited to the event you are targeting (e..g. you only own a mountain bike or your performance goal is a TT and you do not have a TT bike or TT wheels)
Following this prioritization is, in my experience, the best way to deliver a successful “performance project”, avoid wasting time and save money. I can say this with some confidence/regret as the brutal and expensive reality for me is that the bike I bought back in 2006 is only, at the most, a couple of minutes slower over a gran fondo compared to my latest hugely more costly “superbike” and would actually be quicker if I just learned to descend properly.
The fundamental reason for this is that 90 plus percent of what is essential to hitting a target is the rider. The three most important factors to success in cycling are:
- Power (or power/weight for some events)
- Mental attitude
- Aerodynamics (for some events more than others)
The first two of these are entirely all about the rider, the last one is still 80 percent about the rider.
Quite apart from the immediate money saving benefit related to an imminent performance goal of following this suggestion there are others, just as important:
- A bike fit, power meter, coach and other specialist advice are long term investments that will be continue to be valuable and pay back not just today but for the rest of your life. On the other hand “quick wins” from buying the latest go faster item will soon be superseded by even “better” quick wins to tempt you.
- You will spend money more wisely as the knowledge gained will allow you to make informed buying decisions based on what works for you rather than what works on a model in a wind tunnel or a world tour pro with a full support team.
- The knowledge gained as a result will make every hour spent riding a bike more productive and more valuable. This is a huge benefit to all those needing to balance the desire to train hard with the demands of real life.
The same may apply to a smart trainer. I say “may” because it depends on the types of events you intend to ride, where you live and how you feel about indoor training. If your rides include long hard intervals at close to threshold (say TT or gran fondo), you live an area with no mountains and/or it is impossible to ride at some times of the year and you have the space/inclination to set up a decent indoor training setup then I’d advise getting one. There are a wide variety of training apps available now and each of them will most likely make you a better rider. On the other hand if you are a sprinter, can ride all year round and enjoy it then it may not be for you.
In closing, another way to look at this topic is to take another example of a project, building a house. The parable of the wise and foolish builders applies to project management. Firm foundations are an essential first step to success.
For performance cycling these foundations can be put in place by getting a bike fit, buying a power meter, engaging the services of a coach or others with relevant specialist advice and, perhaps, having an indoor training set up. All this will cost money, but in both the short and long term will end up saving far more compared to spending on “better” kit and also help ensure that the most precious resource of all — your time — is spent wisely too.
If your goals for cycling are performance related, then buying and learning to use a power meter is the best value for money investment you can make.
It’s a proven way to make you both fitter and faster. That is why, without exception, the world’s best cyclists and cycling teams use them.
While seemingly expensive, if used wisely it can also save you money. This is because 90 plus percent what makes you faster is you. There is no point spending money on expensive pieces of kit which claim to make you quicker until you have realized a substantial amount of your innate potential — and a power meter is the best way to do that. Also, these days the most costly items are those that claim to reduce your aerodynamic drag, and using a power meter is the most reliable way to discover if they actually work for you in the real world rather than a dummy in a wind tunnel.
A power meter can also make use of an even more precious resource than money – time. If you only have a few hours a week to spare for training, then a power meter can make every minute count.
The cost of just one important race or ride can easily exceed the purchase price of a power meter, taking into account all the related expenses, not even considering the hours spent training hard. So buying a power meter can help ensure you get maximum return for your all this investment, allowing you to prepare thoroughly for and put yourself in the best possible position to give it your best.
And a power meter can make riding more fun. I am a firm believer in “power PBs.” These mean that anytime, anywhere if you feel good (or even if not) you can go all out and set a new season or lifetime personal best. There is no need to check Strava. A power PB is far more meaningful than a Strava PB, because it proves your training is working. If it is, then setting new bests for Strava segments will also come.
Now among the world’s fittest sexagenarians Martin Sigrist started riding on doctor’s orders in 2005 and had to push his bike up his first hill. Next year he soloed the Tour de France. He has since experienced every form of road cycling from criterium to ultra endurance. His ongoing mission is to use the latest in science and technology to fight a, so far successful, battle against Father Time.