This morning I was reading the book Anti-Fragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which is by far the best book I’ve read in a long time. I think that everyone should check it out as it does a great job of dispelling a lot of myths about our modern lives and our overreliance on linear (straight line) models to drive our decisions and our blindness to the real effects of randomness on our lives.

The real take home message here is that the ultimate power lies in you, not some piece of bike technology being sold as what “everyone” needs.

One of the things I read this morning was about the history of medicine and how modern doctors are often blind to the non-linearity of their interventions like drugs and surgery. For example, if your blood pressure readings are marginally higher than normal then there is only a 5.6 percent chance of you benefitting from a certain blood pressure drug. However, if you are in the “high” to “severe” range the chances of benefitting go up to 26-72%.

However, both people are exposed to the same risk of side effects. This is a non-linear response, meaning that the benefits derived aren’t the same for everyone taking it but the risks remain the same.

But if this isn’t explained to the patient – and doctors – then there is a knee jerk reaction to prescribe blood pressure drugs for anyone who is hypertensive. The data usually shows an “average” result of the drug but, as you can see, that number paints a very incomplete picture.

Nassim suggests, and I would agree, that the best approach is to know those benefit-risk ratios and make decisions based on them, not just the “data”. This would prevent a lot of people from being exposed to the side effects of taking drugs or having surgeries that realistically have a very low chance of benefitting them.

Behind this mindset are several factors, including interventionism (the desire to intervene in some way instead of letting nature take its course), neomania (the love of things new and modern because they are “better”) and the misrepresentation of data to drive sales by those who could profit from the widespread use of drugs and surgeries.

Now, what does this have to do with mountain biking? As I was reading this I realized that this is the exact same thing happening in the mountain bike industry to sell every rider on the “benefits” of technology like clipless pedals, bike fits and bigger wheels.

We’re often quoted numbers like “an average increase in power of X”, “decreased rolling resistance of Y” and told that the pros use these technologies without being given any perspective on the situation. The truth is that the benefits from those technologies isn’t linear and they all have some potential negative side effects that do tend to remain constant.

It is this lack of perspective that has led to the over-prescription of bike technologies to riders who don’t really benefit from them as much as they are led to believe.  The story we often hear in the bike shops and at the trail head is that since the top people use a certain technology then we need to use it ASAP as well.

But the truth is that a beginning rider (someone with less than 2 years of experience) isn’t going to benefit the same as someone who has several years of hard core riding experience and is looking for ways to get an edge while trying to continue their improvements.

Without recognizing that intervening to soon in an attempt to make things “easier” or “more efficient” has different risk-benefit ratios for everyone you can forget that sometimes nature simply needs to take its course. Your body will often figure things out if you give it enough time and the best thing you can really do is make sure you have the strength and mobility to move well so you don’t miss out on some key things in your development as a rider.

The real take home message here is that the ultimate power lies in you, not some piece of bike technology being sold as what “everyone” needs.  By understanding that the benefits of bike technology are not linear we can make smarter decisions about what is really the best option for us.

So what do you think? Have you fallen victim to this linear mindset and been sold on technologies before you were ready for them? Or am I way off point here and everyone can benefit equally from bike technologies? I’d love to hear you thoughts, be sure to post a comment below if you have something you’d like to share.

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Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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