How Psychology Impacts Wheel Selection In Cycling

Here’s a scenario: You are getting ready for a race and decide to buy race wheels. You check out wheels and see that FLO’s fastest wheel set up is the front FLO 77 AS and the FLO DISC. You want the fastest wheels so you buy them.

Now, it’s race day and you’re beginning the bike portion of the race. You start in the TT position because this is the fastest. However, you instantly notice the cross winds on the course and you feel your front wheel move more than you expected. It scares you and your mind starts to thinking, “I am going to go down,” “How am I going to do this for a whole race?,” “If I come out of the TT bars I’ll be slower and won’t hit my PR.” Now you have a decision to make. Come out of the bars or stay in the bars, risking your safety?

If you come out of the bars you will lose significant time. Your body is the largest drag component on the bike so staying aero is crucially important. If you stay in the bars you raise your heart rate due to the fear of handling the bike and your performance suffers. Regardless of your choice, you’re in a constant mental loop worrying about your choice and wishing you were in a different situation. 

The Mental Game

This scenario taps into why wheel selection is not just about what is on paper or what others are doing, it also has to do with the mental or behavioral characteristics of an athlete. 

We’ve all experienced some form of anxiety whether it be life or race related. It can be mental or physical or both and sometimes one leads to the other. Symptoms such as increased heart rate, stomach aches, increase cortisol level, etc can be present while experiencing anxiety. There is an optimal level of “getting pumped up” that can lead to better performance but often times the anxiety passes optimal arousal and the performance level decreases. Studies show that increased anxiety negatively affects performance and that anxiety also has an effect on the heart rate variability of an athlete. Therefore, anything you can do to lower your symptoms can lead to an improvement in performance.

So, how does this relate to race wheels?

Wheels should not be a stressor for you. Whether that be day to day but especially on race day. The misconception is that the fastest wheels are the best wheels, but as noted earlier your body is the largest form of drag and choosing the right wheels allows you to stay in the aero position. While the FLO 77 AS is faster on paper, when compared to a FLO 64 AS, it accounts for about 10 seconds over an Ironman. If you come out of the bars or spike your heart rate due to anxiety those 10 seconds quickly turn into minutes. 

This doesn’t mean that the “fastest” wheels aren’t for you. Many people ride the FLO 77 AS and love them (side note: the shallower and wider profile compared to the FLO 90 allows for better handling anyway) This means that it’s an individual choice and we want you to take into consideration what you’re most comfortable with- which wheel set are you best able to handle no matter the conditions and will allow your mind to rest?  10 seconds vs minutes is a big difference. 

Final Thoughts

By far, the number one question that comes through our “Contact us” page is, “which wheels should I choose?” Most people automatically want the “fastest” wheels- that would be a front FLO 77 AS and a FLO DISC in the rear. However, more often than not, I will pick up the phone to have a conversation. Why? I need to understand you, the athlete, better. 

I’ll ask questions about you race discipline, race course, size, experience, etc. But then we get into comfort and confidence. 

I want you to have full confidence in your wheels so it’s one less stress so you can get that PR and possible a spot on the podium!