Cycle computers 'could lead to underperformance'

New research warns against over-reliance on gadgets

New research suggests over-reliance on cycle computers while training could cause time trial riders to underperform on race day.

In a study led by Dr Dominic Micklewright of the University of Essex, psychologists tested whether cyclists’ perception of time, distance and exertion was influenced by their use of electronic gadgets.

Their findings were published today at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Sport & Exercise Psychology conference, in London.

The psychologists worked with a group of 29 serious amateur cyclists in South Africa and asked them to perform a series of 20km time trials under different conditions. 

The cyclists were divided into three sub-groups. A 'blind' group received no computer performance feedback, an 'accurate feedback' group received true statistics and a 'false feedback' group received speed and distance information that was five percent faster and further than their actual performance. 

During a later blind 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. Those who were conditioned using either accurate or false feedback tended to underestimate how far they had cycled.

Dr Micklewright said: “We have been very interested to see the results, which imply that over-reliance on cycle computers during training can impair cyclists’ natural judgments of distance. Potentially, this could cause cyclists to underperform 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, such as Lance Armstrong and Cadel Evans, might benefit from fine-tuning their own perceptions of distance by occasionally training without a cycle computer."

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