Sometimes Studies are Bulls#%t

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A couple studies I’ve seen the last couple months are completely out of whack with what reality is that it makes me wonder why the guys spent the money to start with if they were going to screw up the study so badly.

First the study on EPO that said that it didn’t work any better than a placebo.  I can’t comment on how the jacked up their results, but it is obviously  flawed.  Maybe they don’t understand the relationship of red blood cells, oxygen and performance?

Then today I saw a study about positioning on a bicycle.  They used Computation Fluid Dynamics to compare 4 different positions we normally ride.   They said that the normal time trial position is the quickest, followed by descending on you saddle, which is 1% slower, then “the Sagan” top tube position, followed by normal riding position.

I wrote a post about how I hated the position.  Then I realized I needed to try the position.  It isn’t a safe position, I’ll give you that.   I did quite a bit of personal testing, after watching Peter Sagan, lots in Colorado.  And when out on the road, “my testing” shows that it is way, way faster.  Going down Rabbit Ears pass, which descends into Steamboat Springs, I tucked seated, then rode back up and did the same descent tucked on my toptube.  The toptube speed was 5 mph faster, at 55 mph, which is a 10% faster speed.

The tucking is harder on your body, it isn’t a restful position, but it is way faster.  The only thing that these two studies have is that both had dutch guys doing them.  The EPO study was from Holland and the positioning study was Holland and Belgian guys.

I think maybe the EPO study should have used better riders in more controlled surroundings, not riding up a climb in France.  And then the descending study should have taken their Fluid Dynamics study and take it outside and do some real life descending.

Let me tell you, Chris Froome isn’t going to be descending like Peter Sagan if it is slower.  He obviously did it a ton of training before he won a stage on a descent.

Anyway, it goes to show you that you shouldn’t believe everything you read.  I don’t believe some of the stuff here and I’m the one writing it.

I don't think the positioning study used this one.

I don’t think the positioning study used this one.

Chris Froome makes it look less safe than it is. He is way too forward, too much weight on his front wheel.

Chris Froome makes it look less safe than it is. He is way too forward, too much weight on his front wheel.

Peter Sagan this position, in my mind, and he stays further back normally.

Peter Sagan  started this position, in my mind, and he stays further back normally.

Tucker has a ton of positions of his own.

Tucker has a ton of positions of his own.





31 thoughts on “Sometimes Studies are Bulls#%t

  1. Boobies!

    I just don’t want to see all the local Fred wannabee’s doing the Sagan position…

  2. Noel

    You should read a book called “Proofiness”. It basically tells you how to look at research and statistics and how claims are made with weak or outright “bad” stats.

  3. James

    I achieve my highest speeds sitting bolt upright in the front seat of my car and my bike securely fastened to my roof-rack…I don’t even have my front wheel on

  4. Trevor

    I think the study shows that it is easy to get the Sagan position wrong, and if you do that, it can be slower. If you look at the profiles between the model they used and images of Froome or Sagan, you see that the riders have their heads much lower than in the CFD model. In the model, there is a huge pocket of dead air due to this. At least that is what I see.

  5. Jeff N

    Being a seasoned road racer you should be able to look back and remember that tour riders have been using that position in descents long before Sagan was picking poop out of his diapers.
    As far as EPO goes…. isn’t it used to improve recovery after ones performance giving the cyclist a clear advantage over the other riders in lengthy stage races?

  6. Ryan Miller

    One thing that is not taken into account is the Sagan position lowers the center of gravity so you would better stability in sweeping curves on a decent. Besides this it is complete garbage that a normal upright position would be faster than a tucked position with less frontal area. Was the epo study done by Dr. Ferrari, maybe he is modifying his statement that epo is no more harmful than orange juice to include it has no more performance benefit than orange juice.

  7. Bryan Barber

    As a proud “local Fred wannabe” I say “suck it!”
    25yrs ago all the pretentious uptight roadies would tell me that a real bike racer wouldn’t do it that way.

  8. chris

    Sagan technique looks safer than that pantani ass-behind-saddle thing from a few years back. Less chance of sanding one’s balls off on the back tire.

  9. Christian Davenport

    Does anyone remember a guy named Olin Bakke? He was a Cat 1 from Cali who was a big player in NRC races in the late 90’s. He was descending in the top tube tuck/Sagan position way back then. There was a photo of him in Velonews in that exact position. Wouldn’t you know it, shortly after that issue was hit the shelves, many were trying to descend in that position at all levels of the sport, both in competition and group rides.

    I have to wonder…..considering the fragile nature of modern carbon frames, is this position such a good idea? I would imagine most manufacturers did not account for the point load condition of a cyclist sitting on the top tube. Carbon splinters in your crotch don’t sound fun.

  10. Alex Chilton

    The real positioning problem that is destroying the race is the new ‘tiny frame, slam the stem, 2 feet of seat tube, lock the elbows, watch the front wheel side-out’ in simple corners. Ask Alberto if the new wind tunnel set-up was worth it, ask the Sky boys who crashed on the decent how the set-up works on descents and the numerous others that crash or fly over the bars unnecessarily. It’s not like the world forgot how to handle a bike!

  11. barb

    I’m glad I took statistics in college. It made me realize how any one person or “study” can grossly skew results simply by not taking all variables into account. This is why I rarely buy into claims of “this study indicates this (or that)” because to really accept it as fact, one would need to read the entire study and review what was included and what was not. It’s not a matter of just testing a few test subjects and recording results. Need to look at the backgrounds of who is doing any given study…are they statisticians, or are they just guys who maybe ride bikes and do bike fitting?

  12. conrad

    Jeff N: exactly. The Aero tuck is not a new thing. Maybe pedaling in it is. It works!

  13. jpete

    I dunno, that whole day seemed rigged to me. He attacks over the top of a hill he knows clearly, pedaling efficiently in a “new” position, everyone sits up and watches him ride away, no one really chases, his bike has a special extended fork rake (for stability in this practiced move?). Really just feels like this fake to me, designed to make everyone like Froome because he is attacking more. I think it is to try to silence the critics who suspect something is up when, as Lemond notes, there was not a significant heart rate spike with his high-cadence attacks. Then he attacks the next day and sprints with Sagan. Really all feels like a scripted show to me. Maybe I just don’t believe in miracles anymore. Sad, really.

  14. Alistair

    The Sagan technique was definitely around in the late ’90s, but it was much more difficult to execute (and less beneficial) back when most racers’ top tubes were much higher in relation to saddle height than they are today. Nowadays we are all running long seatposts, often on sloping top tubes, which means there’s a lot of room to get much lower by squeezing under the nose of the saddle.

    By the way, the influential late-90s VeloNews photo that introduced many people to the “Sagan” technique was, I am pretty sure, of Trent Klasna, c. 1999.

  15. mike crum

    re the photo of fromme…. maybe if he did crash in that position he get banged up and scared up, which isn’t as bad on his system as its gonna be in 25 years from all the drugs he’s been taking… i’ll take a fall over major organ damage later on in life anytime.. as far as the few comments saying cat 4’s shouldn’t be doing this????? wtf.. how are racers , citizens cat 5-4-3-2 gonna ever learn and graduate to a cat 1 unless they practice? .practice the tuck now and by the time u are a cat 1-2 you will be safe.. they always say cyclists get in the tuck like the skiers to go fast, so does that mean young skiers shuldnt get in this position? dumb comment.. if you forgot, the cat 1 use to be a 2-3-4-5 citizen…

  16. KrakatoaEastofJava

    I learned the Aero tuck 32 years ago by watching Steve Bauer doing it (coasting). I’ve long been astonished at how few people used it. You can go WAY faster than people who are either coasting (or pedaling “balls out”) in a seated position. I think people are afraid to leave the stability of their seat.

    Not caring if people made gay jokes about me, I always anchored myself up against the tip of the seat (yes, with my ass). I’ve used this position to get me un-dropped, or bridging up to breaks LOTS of times. It works!

  17. KrakatoaEastofJava

    Watch the last half-hour of the 84 Olympic men’s road race. Bauer used it to help bridge-up to Grewal. He bombed it down the downhill and got right up to him in almost no time at all.

  18. KrakatoaEastofJava

    It’s used for training “recovery only” when you can expect race day testing. If not, it’s absolutely a race-day enhancer. Guys were on it all the time til 2000 (or so).

  19. Paul Boudreaux

    Doesn’t seem like there are many recreational road races going on anymore, let alone ones with descents long enough where it would be worth an amateur risking their ass in that position. The wife and kids probably don’t give a shit whether Dad got 1st or 50th in his bike race that burned up half the weekend. Leave the 10K bike and the “fuck it and tuck it” position to the dudes that are getting paid to ride it/do it.

  20. Jpete

    If everyone starts doing it and the crashes pile up, rules will change, it will be gone the way of the Spinaci bar.

  21. Fausto

    I remember Pantani doing it but his typical descent style was way off the back of the saddle ab on the seat, arms stretched out.

  22. Wildcat

    I hear that mike. This is ‘merica and I’m like Rick James – I will put my feet on our couch because I do what I want!

  23. A Scientist

    A few comments on your interpretation of the EPO article. First, Science is one of the premier research journals in the world and they do not publish anything that’s not thoroughly vetted so I highly doubt that they “jacked up their results” or “don’t understand the relationship of red blood cells, oxygen, and performance”. Second, the link you posted only gives access to the summary of the article, so unless you paid the $30 to access the full text, you haven’t read anything about what they actually did or found so it is unfair to declare that they have “screwed up the study so badly”.

    Your insights into racing, riding, etc. continually prove to be insightful and interesting but please be cautious about slamming scientists who have spent their lives studying these things, especially without reading the actual science.

  24. Mills

    Noel- The crux of your argument is that you actually read the paper. In this case, the paper is not available unless you pay for it. I’m assuming that hasn’t happened in this instance.

  25. Jason

    First off, I am a scientist with access to the articles and the Science article was simply commentary about the reports of preliminary results on a study that has yet to be published. The research has IN NO WAY passed the scrutiny of other scientists that is required to be published in Science. Science publishes a bunch of commentary articles about science related material in popular culture in addition to peer-reviewed studies. Second, the aerodynamic article is also NOT a peer-reviewed article. It is also just preliminary data and posted on a LinkedIn forum. I see nothing wrong with Steve’s skepticism until these studies pass the full rigor or peer-review in well-respected journals. They are asking for it if they are going to publicize their results before publishing those results.


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