Thursday, July 14, 2011

Competition and Cooperation

Would the world really be better if the lion laid down with the sheep? Only if the sheep was a decoy to distract the antelope.

You only need to participate in one group ride to understand how much easier it is to ride behind someone than out front. You save ~30% of your energy by staying on the wheel in front of you.

On a hard ride it's one of the scariest and most exciting things about cycling. Trying to stay a foot or less behind the rider in front of you while you're trying not to get dropped and controlling the bike at 30 mph. It's a little insane - but you put everything into it for as long as you can - because you know that once you get dropped it's a long-slow ride by yourself back to the finish.

You also soon understand that everybody has to do some work at the front. There are no free rides - unless you want to be "that guy".

I watch more stage race cycling right now than probably any other sport - mostly I think because this interplay between competition and cooperation is so interesting in cycling. Every day there is a break away - that group of usually 5-9 riders must cooperate in order for one of them to win. But only one of them can win - so there is always that moment when one of the riders decides they need to attack the others in order to have a better chance of winning. Sometimes this happens too soon - maybe multiple attacks happen - which tire the riders out and slow down their average speed and they get caught by the larger pelaton.

Cycling is all about those moments when riders make split second decisions of whether they are going to cooperate or not. When one rider flicks his wrist to motion the other guy to come to the front and the other guy shakes his head no or a rider drops back to help a fallen teammate make it back into the pelaton. It's endlessly intriguing. And these cyclists have a long memory - you might be better off not cooperating to win the stage today - but know that you're less likely to get help the next time you need it. Sometimes it's a battle of morals as much as it is a battle of athletic ability.

Competition and cooperation are two very strong forces in this world. We need them both to survive. In fact those two urges along with the intellect to use them and a healthy body to carry them out might be the only things we need in this world to survive. Now that I think of it - cycling might be a great example of how morality is an organic phenomenon. Cyclists want nothing more than to win - but to win they have to play nice.


RM said...

Good post!

During my own group ride last night, and as of late, I've also developed some different/more thoughts on the concept.

We came up with a new word for not doing work on a ride: "auditing" the ride.

But, the most important rule to remember is: don't f*** the rotation. Haha.

alyssa said...

"cycling might be a great example of how morality is an organic phenomenon"....what?


Definitely a good post. I prefer to put it in the words of miley cyrus though. Cycling is, "pretty cool."

///MM said...

Woah there Ben... you're treading dangerously close the realm of game theory.

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