2020 is undoubtedly the year of the bike. Bike sales are at an unprecedented high with some shops selling hundreds of units only within a few days. This popularity can further be seen in the lines present outside formerly desolate bike shop floors. The same is evident in the amount of YouTube and social media bike related content and posts – whatever the discipline. This viral interest and renewed love for bikes can be
attributed to many factors but mainly boils down to the pandemic. For most, it provides an alternative and more viable means of transport or a golden ticket to go outside and circumvent quarantine and lockdown regulations. After all, non-contact sports and varied forms of exercise are recommended by most medical professionals and government regulatory agencies.
Cycling is a tremendously psychological sport. Anyone who has ridden a bike, or at least attempted to push their pedals as hard as they can, in an attempt to go as fast as they can, could attest that it requires massive amounts of physical and mental energy. This is especially true when you have been distracted by the scenery and realized that you have had too much to roam. For most, pushing your mind and body to the limit is the only way home.
Plenty can be said about the workings of man and bike. For one, you can look at it from a pure psychophysiological or biochemical perspective. How the different molecules and chemicals function in the body or how neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins perform their magic in the brain. But that can be true for most sports. Majority of which we also already understand from our physiology and
Aside from the abovementioned, it then begs the question of how bikes have anything to do with psychology. To the uninitiated in sports cycling and social psychology, the bike has been instrumental in the oldest considered social psychology experiment. Norman Triplett (1861-1931) conducted his experiment on cyclists of his day. He was an avid “wheelman” himself and got interested in how the presence of other cyclists affected individual behaviours and performance. Being the curious cat cyclist, he devised an experiment.
From his 1898 paper, The Dynamogenic Factors in Pacemaking and Competition, he conducted them in three setups. His first involved an unpaced race by an individual against the clock. That served as his control. The second setup then required the rider to ride as fast as he can unpaced then followed by an effort which was paced by a faster vehicle. The final setup he considered as the real race was where multiple cyclists raced against each other. This was still paced in order to prevent the contestants from simply hanging back. Long story short, riders from the paced competition performed 26.4% and 3.5% faster than the unpaced and paced efforts, respectively. Simply put, his experiment concluded that rider performance was worst when alone and unpaced; better when alone but paced; and best with competition
As per causes, he listed a variety of possible explanations. One of which involved Suction theory where the rider behind is simply sucked in the vacuum created by the rider in front. Another is the Shelter Theory which nowadays we may refer to as drafting and is the driving principle behind team time trial formations, pace line rotations, and grand tour pelotons. Some are not so convincing such as the Hypnotic Theory which claimed a form of hypnotism from the revolution of the wheel of the leading rider elicited greater muscular performance. Some he contributed to his concept of Dynamogenic Factors where competitive instincts were aroused by the presence of other riders. This instinctive stimulus being a form of ‘nervous energy’. To which energies of these sorts are not normally released unless the individual was in the presence of others.
As crude as it may seem, Triplett has laid the foundations for inquiries concerning Social Psychology and the phenomenon of Social Facilitation. Although not part of his experiment, he also briefly mentioned the possibility of an opposite effect. This we now know as Social Inhibition. More than a century’s worth of literature and findings have been added to supplement and expand his initial findings. His work has also
permeated and found applications in multiple other fields.
For those who have recently found their love for the bike, may it turn into something more than just a means of going places or a mere pastime during the restrictions set against the pandemic. But for the budding cyclelogists of today, may you realize how much impact the bicycle has had and how it has always been a part of our field and calling.
Borbon, C. (2020, May 26). Bicycle sales skyrocket as Philippines eases COVID-19 restrictions. Gulf News. Retrieved January 10, 2020, from: https://gulfnews.com/photos/news/bicycle-sales-skyrocket-as-philippines-eases-covid-19-restrictions-1.1590482057735?slide=1
Triplett, N. (1898, July). The Dynamogenic Factors in Pacemaking and Competition. American Journal of Psychology, 9(4), 507-533. University of Illinois Press.