I recently read the book Thinking: Fast and Slow and it had some pretty fascinating insights into how we think and process information. While there was a lot of info covered for me the biggest revelation came from how the book explained our two systems for thinking, which it called System 1 and System 2, and the tendency for us to fall for faulty logic.

Knowing that humans tend to be lazy thinkers should get you into the habit of routinely questioning a lot of stuff that makes sense on the surface

System 1 is our unconscious thoughts, the stuff that goes on below the surface that we don’t really know is even happening. It is quick and often right and is sometimes thought of as our instincts. It is the first filter that info passes through and it is responsible for a lot of the faulty logic that we fall victim to.

System 2 is our conscious thoughts and requires us to slow down and think about the info we have been presented with. Since it is slower and requires more energy than System 1 to use it only comes online if we consciously engage it or if something about System 1’s conclusion regarding new information throws up a red flag, alerting us to a potential mistake that we need to investigate further.

Problems arise, though, because System 1 is fooled more easily than we like to admit. For example, try this simple problem:

If a bat and a ball cost $1.10 together and the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

The answer is not 10 cents, although that is probably what popped into your head and you are still trying to figure out why it is wrong. 10 cents makes sense (no pun intended) on the surface and when that happens we are loathe to bring System 2 online to check our logic. Just to clear it up, the ball costs 5 cents – the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball so if the ball costs 5 cents then the bat costs $1.05. If you went with 10 cents then the bat would cost $1.10, making the total $1.20.

Some very smart people at the best colleges in the country fell for that false logic so this problem is apparent in all of us, although some people tend to be much more “lazy” thinkers than others and just accept whatever System 1 throws out there. So, what on earth does this have to do with strength training for mountain biking?

For starters it explains some of the faulty logic I see riders falling for everyday…

– If I am exhausted after a trail ride then I must exhaust myself in training or I am not improving my endurance for trail riding. This faulty logic is one of the main reasons that things like Crossfit and other bootcamp type programs are so popular with well meaning mountain bikers since the intensity of the workouts leaves you feeling tired, much like a hard ride. However, the truth is that you need to address things in training that you need on the trail but don’t use enough on the trail to significantly improve.

Strength, power and mobility should be the priority and everything should not be turned into a cardio effort. We get plenty of cardio and endurance training when we ride, we don’t need to focus on it in the gym. You also need to leave some energy for your rides and if you are constantly draining your tank in training you won’t have the fuel for actually getting out on the trail. Sometimes the best thing to do in training is the opposite of what you do in your sport.

– Clipless pedals are “faster” so that makes them “better”. This one needs to be an article in itself but the mistaking of “faster” with “better” is the number one reason that riders fall for the faulty logic of using clipless pedals as soon as they start riding and using them all the time for every ride. At the highest levels of competition clipless pedals can be slightly “faster”, but when you step back and look at the big picture you see that flat pedals have a very important place in a rider’s development and in the prevention of long term overuse injuries, meaning that they can be seen as “better” under a lot of circumstances. However, the faulty logic of “faster = better”, which is reinforced by the advertising hype behind them, creates a picture in most rider’s minds that even if they are not at the highest levels of competition they must use clipless pedals or suffer being a mediocre rider.

– Anything that makes riding “easier” is “better”. While clipless pedals fall into this faulty logic category (it is much easier for a new rider to attach their feet to the pedals than it is to figure out how to smooth out their pedal stroke and maneuver their bike without them), lighter weight bikes, bigger wheels, sitting down all the time to pedal and full suspension bikes are also part of it as well. In my humble opinion every rider should start out on a 30+ pound hardtail with flats, 26 inch wheels and standing up to pedal on all hard efforts – that combination certainly isn’t “easy” but it will force you to be a very smooth, efficient and powerful rider. Challenging yourself and forcing yourself to overcome those challenges will make you a better rider in the long run and if all you seek is “easy” then don’t be surprised when your riding doesn’t improve much year to year.

There are other things I could point out but I hope you get my point – sometimes we need to step back and engage System 2 instead of listening to the first thing System 1 tells us. I am certainly not saying that intense cardio workouts, clipless pedals and things that make riding easier should be avoided – everything I listed above has a valuable place in a rider’s development but only if it is used at the right time for the right reasons.

So yes, Crossfit, Clipless Pedals and 29ers can be valuable (well, maybe not Crossfit) but just make sure that you check your logic when using them and don’t just fall for what makes sense on the surface.Knowing that humans tend to be lazy thinkers should get you into the habit of routinely questioning a lot of stuff that makes sense on the surface and when you do that you start to see that a lot of what we took for granted is, in fact, faulty logic biting us in the butt.

-James Wilson-


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