Why comfort on the bike could be the real key to speed

Forget aerodynamics for a moment, we talk to the 'professor of pain' at Kent University about how comfort on the bike can lead to enhanced performance

Clock21:00, Friday 1st December 2023

As riders, most of us are looking to improve our abilities on the bike. For many that has led to the common trend of getting into a more aggressive, aerodynamic body position, while most cyclists are also familiar with the benefits of upgrading to lightweight or more aero components. However, none of these make as much difference as comfort, something that is often overlooked.

When GCN’s Ollie Bridgewood took part in the Tour des Stations Ultimate, he quickly found out that comfort is crucial to performance. The brutal 1000-kilometre event features more than 26,000 metres of climbing, taking in the most iconic climbs Switzerland has to offer.

As you might expect in an event of this magnitude, the biggest factor in completing it is the ability to consistently produce power to keep you moving forward. It’s all about fighting the fatigue and pain. Both of these factors have the potential to affect performance far more than aero-optimised components.

During Ollie’s attempt at the event, he suffered neck and hand pain as a result of the fixed riding position he was in. After hour upon hour of riding his body started to fatigue in areas that typically wouldn’t experience high levels of stress. In Ollie’s own words, these pains negatively affected the end result.

The question is, when does comfort trump all other factors and become the largest obstacle to speed? For an hour-long crit, adopting an aggressively low aerodynamic riding position is not going to affect your performance. It may be uncomfortable for a short period of time, but it will be manageable. As the duration extends, the position you ride in and how comfortable the bike is starts to matter both from a biomechanical and psychological standpoint.

To find out more about the science of pain and performance, Ollie sat down with Lex Mauger, a professor of applied physiology at the University of Kent. Mauger's main area of research is in the role of exercise-induced pain in fatigue and looks at how much discomfort can affect athletic performance, considering both mental and physical factors.

If you want to find out how increasing your comfort on the bike could be a big performance enhancer, check out the full interview in the video at the top of this page and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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