Viral Vélo: Social Psychology and Cycling

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.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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
chemistry classes.

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.

Photo by ShotPot on Pexels.com

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
present.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Sources:

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.

7 thoughts on “Viral Vélo: Social Psychology and Cycling

  1. I agree. Biking really became popular last 2020. I learned to bike that same year because I figured, why not? I always wanted to learn how to and fortunately, the quarantine gave me more spare time to do so.
    Also, it’s the author that taught me 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Biking has always been memorable to me. I got into a bike accident once 😅 endorphins to the highest level I guess? Kidding aside. I’m glad that the author has mentioned social inhibition. For some, in psychological sense, it’s gearing towards that eager urge of accomplishing something physical or that of the active side. But for some, cycling might be a way of healing or toning down something that has always been active. Unpaced cycling can sometimes create a calming experience wherein the cyclists won’t have to worry of his pace or how fast has he biked. But then that was my take. Despite the accident, I still bike 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a beautiful piece to relate biking to human social psychology! It makes sense why this pandemic, people have continued or tried biking — popularized by social media and restricted for physical gatherings that made humans think of ways to (re)connect with nature and with their fellow beings. Biking became a way to bridge that gap (although standard health protocols should always be observed).

    Pre-pandemic (2018-2019), I have been joining a cyclist group (Ecoteneo Knightriders) and as a beginner, having them gave me a sense of direction and belongingness whenever we go to the highways or places not familiar to me, assuring me that although I’m a beginner, I still can do it. True enough, I have loved and still love biking (thanks to the author and our cyclist team!)

    But pandemic came and I have no personal bike at home, I stayed inside our home for the rest of the year (2020). But in the last months of the year, I have seen a way to (re)connect with myself and nature, and that is through walking. I walked around 10-15kms around the roads of Indangan-Cabantian-Forestal Road-Malagamot-Panacan (vice-versa) all by myself every other Sunday. That allowed me to witness many bikers around these places and I am happy because biking became a trend now. It became a way for people to mobilize healthily and to make our roads for everybody (+ biking is eco-friendly!).

    The point here is that although the pandemic limited our social gatherings, humans as social beings, saw the opportunity to continue to reconnect with one another and nature through biking. It became a way to boost our physical health and mental health as well!

    Resonating with the author’s words “may you realize how much impact the bicycle has had and how it has always been a part of our field and calling,” I look forward to a #BetterNormal that there are bike lines everywhere in the city where the roads are shared, we move people (cycling, walking, jogging, etc) not just cars — for a healthy people and planet! 🤍

    Like

  4. Such a beautiful piece to relate biking to human social psychology! It makes sense why this pandemic, people have continued or tried biking — popularized by social media and restricted for physical gatherings that made humans think of ways to (re)connect with nature and with their fellow beings. Biking became a way to bridge that gap (although standard health protocols should always be observed).

    Pre-pandemic (2018-2019), I have been joining a cyclist group (Ecoteneo Knightriders) and as a beginner, having them gave me a sense of direction and belongingness whenever we go to the highways or places not familiar to me, assuring me that although I’m a beginner, I still can do it. True enough, I have loved and still love biking (thanks to the author and our cyclist team!)

    But pandemic came and I have no personal bike at home, I stayed inside our home for the rest of the year (2020). But in the last months of the year, I have seen a way to (re)connect with myself and nature, and that is through walking. I walked around 10-15kms around the roads of Indangan-Cabantian-Forestal Road-Malagamot-Panacan (vice-versa) all by myself every other Sunday. That allowed me to witness many bikers around these places and I am happy because biking became a trend now. It became a way for people to mobilize healthily and to make our roads for everybody (+ biking is eco-friendly!).

    The point here is that although the pandemic limited our social gatherings, humans as social beings, saw the opportunity to continue to reconnect with one another and nature through biking. It became a way to boost our physical health and mental health as well!

    Resonating with the author’s words “may you realize how much impact the bicycle has had and how it has always been a part of our field and calling,” I look forward to a #BetterNormal that there are bike lines everywhere in the city where the roads are shared, we move people (cycling, walking, jogging, etc) not just cars — for a healthy people and planet 🤍

    Like

  5. Such a beautiful piece to relate biking to human social psychology! It makes sense why this pandemic, people have continued or tried biking — popularized by social media and restricted for physical gatherings that made humans think of ways to (re)connect with nature and with their fellow beings. Biking became a way to bridge that gap (although standard health protocols should always be observed).

    Pre-pandemic (2018-2019), I have been joining a cyclist group (Ecoteneo Knightriders) and as a beginner, having them gave me a sense of direction and belongingness whenever we go to the highways or places not familiar to me, assuring me that although I’m a beginner, I still can do it. True enough, I have loved and still love biking (thanks to the author and our cyclist team!)

    But pandemic came and I have no personal bike at home, I stayed inside our home for the rest of the year (2020). But in the last months of the year, I have seen a way to (re)connect with myself and nature, and that is through walking. I walked around 10-15kms around the roads of Indangan-Cabantian-Forestal Road-Malagamot-Panacan (vice-versa) all by myself every other Sunday. That allowed me to witness many bikers around these places and I am happy because biking became a trend now. It became a way for people to mobilize healthily and to make our roads for everybody (+ biking is eco-friendly!).

    The point here is that although the pandemic limited our social gatherings, humans as social beings, saw the opportunity to continue to reconnect with one another and nature through biking. It became a way to boost our physical health and mental health as well!

    Resonating with the author’s words “may you realize how much impact the bicycle has had and how it has always been a part of our field and calling,” I look forward to a #BetterNormal that there are bike lies everywhere in the city where the roads are shared, we move people (cycling, walking, jogging, etc) not just cars — for a healthy people and planet 🤍

    Like

  6. I never thought of it this way. Thank you so much for educating me. This gives a whole new meaning to “you ride better when you’re not alone.”

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: