Most of us probably ride with some cycle computer of sorts. But it could be holding back, according to a recent study by the British Psychological Society.
Dr Dominic Micklewright of the University of Essex recently published his findings of new research into whether cyclists’ perception of time, distance and exertion levels could be influenced by cycle computers.
Working with a group of 29 serious amateur cyclists in South Africa (which seems a long way to go, we'd have thought that Essex could muster 29 serious amateur cyclists), the psychologists tested them over a series of 20km time trials under different conditions, with the riders split into three groups. One group received no feedback, one group received true speed and distance feedback, and the final group received speed and distance information that was 5% faster and further than their actual performance.
During a later "blind" (no computers) 20km time trial, cyclists from all of the groups were asked to rate their level of exertion at the moments when they believed they had cycled 4, 8, 12 and 16km. The cyclists who were conditioned without feedback had the most accurate perceptions of how far they had travelled. In contrast, the cyclists who were conditioned using either accurate or false feedback tended to underestimate how far they had cycled.
“We have been very interested to see the results which imply that over reliance on cycle computers during training can impair cyclists’ natural judgements of distance," says Dr Micklewright. “Potentially, this could cause cyclists to under-perform during a time trial because, even when using a cycle computer, their impaired ability to perceive distance might lead them to adopt an unnecessarily conservative pacing strategy.
“Of course, the cycle computer is an essential tool for the time trial cyclist but the information they provide will only be advantageous if it has a meaningful context. Perhaps even some of the great cyclists might benefit from fine-tuning their own perceptions of distance by occasionally training without a cycle computer".
So there you go. Knowing how fast you're going makes you slower, and ignorance really is bliss...