Robot’s Useless Reviews – Gains

Gains! Who doesn’t want ’em? No one. That’s who. No one doesn’t want to gain something. On the bike, that might mean endurance or power or skills or I don’t know what else. Honestly, I’m not that focused on gains. I’m more keenly interested in limiting my losses, but that’s a topic for another day.

There is a sort of rhetorical device in the use of the word ‘gains,’ that implies a priori value, and I object to that. It’s the sort of scam a good copywriter pulls on you, using a word with absolute value in a world that is persistently relative.

The gains people talk about (see above) are what I’d term gross gains. For example, if an “expert” says you can make significant power gains in just six weeks, they are only representing the gross gain of power. More watts!! In reality, the cosmic accountant is going to charge you some serious quantity of time and suffering in exchange for those gains, and so what is the net? That’s the real question.

Maybe you’d be faster (and better looking) in a pair of these Shimano S-Phyre baddies. They’re on sale.

OK, you’re faster now, but your family has begun to forget what you look like, and you have to spend time, each day, in an ice bath, compression suit, or under the expensive hands of a massage therapist. You’re a project just to be around, but at least you won last Saturday’s town line sprint.

Another fundamental problem with chasing gains is that is fails to respect the perfect specimen you already are. Again, the a priori implication is that you are not good enough as you are. You need to make some gains to be worthy of the acceptance of others, or even of the self-love each of us needs to go forward and face our uncertain futures. That’s not very nice.

[Linguistic deconstructions aside, I want you to know that I love and accept you as you are.]

It was Dave Brailsford who came up with the term ‘marginal gains.’ The basic idea there is that, if you improve all the aspects of your cycling by even a small amount, taken together, the gain will be significant. It’s a phrase that launched a million amateur cyclists on the path of better nutrition, better recovery, better mechanics, better everything, but also, and above all else, a better bike. “I’m not very fast,” they might have said, “but on my new aero road bike, I’m 1% faster.” And $5k poorer.

It’s not that it’s wrong or that these are bad things to pursue, it’s that, as I said before, the whole project more or less ignores the debit side of the ledger. The other issue is that many of the gains related to cycling are not intrinsically good, but rather only contribute to some other theoretical good, i.e., enjoying yourself on a bicycle.

What’s good about riding bikes is both simple and also ineffable. It’s obvious, but chimeric. We can fool ourselves into thinking we’d be having more fun if we were just going a little faster, or by extension if we finished third instead of fifth in a race. We can convince ourselves that being able to ride a 300km brevet will satisfy whatever yearning we have in our hearts to be really, truly good at something.

And maybe it’s true. But I doubt it.

All that glitters isn’t gains. Sometimes it’s pyrite, fool’s gold. And the promises thereof are intended to make us feel less than, or to separate us from our money, or to drag us along, cult-like, in the pursuit of a thing we’ll all forget about eventually, because it was never really that important to begin with. I’d be lying if I told you I knew how to make your bike riding more fun. Does it even need to be more fun? It’s already pretty fun. Don’t be greedy.

Leave A Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More