One of the best parts of my (great) job is talking to smart people. The men and women who seek a deeper understanding of a bicycle thorough science and testing. I seek these people out when I have questions about what I (think) I’m feeling when I ride or a new trend in the industry. “Am I actually feeling this?” “Is there any science to back up technology X?”
Josh Poertner is one of those smart people. One of the smartest, in my opinion. He’s one of those guys I’ve turned to over the years to help me understand not just the bicycle, but how I interact with it. Thankfully, he’s very willing to share his knowledge. This little bit on Slowtwitch, extracted from one of his forum posts (on Slowtwitch) is a small look into his big beautiful brain.
After you read it, you’ll probably be left feeling a little wobbly as the underpinnings of your knowledge of the bicycle get ripped from underneath you. Conversations with Josh were one of the motivations behind this post. The “truth” is a buzzkill. But that’s OK. In fact it’s great, because it allows us to cast aside any worry about how stiff a bike is or how complaint it is and just embrace the passion and emotion that draws us towards a bike. Exception: aerodynamics - that shit super matters if you want to go faster.
We ran blind wheel tests a couple of times a year at Zipp to benchmark competitive wheels and our own prototypes, and we also found that blinded riders were generally unable to tell the difference between stiffness and inertia, had no reliable feedback on weight, lateral stiffness, or comfort in general, and in the end were generally only able to pick out the aero wheels because they were riding laps around a closed park environment using power, so the more observant ones would notice speed differences. In the end, we sort of determined that when riders didn’t know what they ‘should’ feel, they really struggled to find differences in stiffness, compliance and weight between frames or wheels.