Dr Jeremy Groves, an anaesthetist in Chesterfield, has published his one-man study in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal. This is the light-hearted edition of the BMJ and, while the papers published in this edition are scientifically sound, the subject matter tends to be less-than-serious.
Dr Groves cycles to work and owns two bikes: a lightweight £1000+ carbon machine and an older, heavier steel bike which cost him just £50. Over six months - and by flipping a coin to see which bike to take that day - Dr Groves plotted the times he took to ride to and from work. Cover your eyes if you sell expensive lightweight kit but Dr Groves found that the 30 percent lighter carbon bike was not a huge amount quicker than the steel bike.
He found the difference in average journey time between the two bikes was just 30 seconds.
"The purchase of the carbon bike made me feel good, and even though the ride is 'harsher', I still commute on it, especially in good weather.
"Which do I enjoy riding most? Well, after the trial I have to go for the steel bike. I get there as quickly, and it is more comfortable, better value, and has more 'character.'
"If the carbon bike were stolen would I replace it? I’d have to say no. I’d spend the money on high visibility low drag clothing and better lights."
"A new lightweight bicycle may have many attractions, but if the bicycle is used to commute, a reduction in the weight of the cyclist rather than that of the bicycle may deliver greater benefit and at reduced cost."
Dr Groves feels "evidence based cycling is not high on the bicycle salesman’s agenda."
'Evidence based medicine' is big in the medical world.
The BMJ piece is not a rigorous scientific study (previous Christmas BMJs have measured the speed of Santa's sleigh). To be truly scientific the trial would need to be conducted by a number of cyclists and on a variety of disguised machines.
"I toyed with the idea of blinding it but, in the interest of self preservation and other road users, decided against it," wrote Dr Groves.
He asked: "Given [my] findings, why then do so many of us buy 'performance' bicycles?"
He answered his own question: "Marketing must shoulder some of the responsibility. Many of us respond to 'new' pharmaceuticals in a similar way to how cyclists respond to 'new' bicycles. The industry invests significantly in marketing products of marginal benefit and we, as medical consumers, frequently buy into the panacea rather than objectively considering the evidence."
But it's Christmas, so Dr Groves is charitible: "We must excuse consumerism, particularly at this time of year, because without it our capitalist society would collapse."
A number of online newspapers have now carried stories about Dr Groves' study.
Dr Groves told BikeBiz:
"I should emphasise, and this has been lost in some of the reporting by the larger news organisations, the study relates to my commuting journey and to generalise this to all trips (especially competitive cycling) on light weight bicycles is taking the study a bit far!
"I do think the point holds though, when commuting there are other influences (particularly the weather, road conditions and fitness of the rider etc) that will have a far greater impact on journey time that the weight or specification of the bicycle."