Thursday, June 7, 2012

Velonews Commenters

Jesus, where to start? Well, since it's such fertile ground for comment, let's start with Leonard Zinn and his reports on the rolling resistance of fat(er) tires. For the record, I think the following things:

1. Zinn is right
2. Zinn is also a little crazy
3. Zinn is not as scientific as he thinks he is
4. Zinn often draws very un-scientific conclusions veiled in Bad Science

Point 1.  I'm not an engineer, but I do have a background in science, and I do understand the scientific method.  The tests done to measure rolling resistance are sound, and the conclusions valid.  There is zero doubt in my mind that a 25c tire rolls with less resistance than a 23c tire, but here's the catch.  I believe this is true only if the conditions are exactly as they appear in the test.  This is an important distinction, because true life conditions will never, ever match those of the test.  There are too many variables totally beyond the control of the rider to ever realize the performance benefits of fatter tires, unless you are at the pinnacle of the sport and are literally pushing your equipment to the edge of its performance envelope.  Now, all those of you out there doing that, raise your hands.  I thought so.  Just get out there and ride your fucking bike.  So why do the rest of us schlubs care?

Because we're Mericans and want to believe we can buy speed.  It is so, so much easier to lay out the 180 bucks for a pair of 25c GP4000s and slap them on our ride than it is to put in the hours in the saddle that will actually make a difference over the course of a race.

You really think a 25c is going to allow you to upgrade to Cat 3 sooner?  Go ride your fucking bike.

Point 2.  Zinn really is a little crazy, but it's mostly in a lovable way.  For instance, when readers were writing in asking about storing bikes for the winter and he recommended spraying the whole bike down with 303 Protectant?  Brilliant!  I rushed out and bought a case!  Really Leonard?

Points 3 and 4.  There are numerous instances in which Zinn cites Good Science and then goes on to augment or refute those findings with his personal anecdotal evidence.  I don't have a problem with that, as long as the author is forthright about the nature of anecdotal evidence.  Anecdotal evidence is interesting.  It is compelling.  It begs good questions.  But you can't draw conclusions from it.  Too often I find Zinn drawing conclusions from anecdotal evidence that are presented as being equal to conclusions drawn from sound testing and large sets of data.  The plural of anecdote is not data.

This is my dream: I want a testing lab.  I want to spend my days devising tests to determine how much of the marketing is just hype, and how much is worth listening to.  I want to set up mock drivetrains hooked to electric motors so I can run chains for hours on end to see which lubes really work best (of course, given certain environmental factors).  I know what you're saying - "but what you want to do is what you just slammed Zinn for."  Maybe.  I think the difference is in the reporting.  I want to accumulate and present data.

Or maybe I'm still a naive schmuck, and there is no reality.  Perception is reality.  Testing shows that tied and soldered spokes are no stiffer than not, yet people will still swear til the day they die they are.  In light of that, does the testing then matter?  Can you perform double blind experiments that involve riding bikes?  I don't know, but I'd like to find out.

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