Two ways of thinking

There are two ways of thinking. One is the scientific method of testing everything, the other is called willful ignorance. There’s no grey area between those two.

People like having knowledge, they trust what they know and see no reason to question it. That is called willful ignorance, it is the most common type of thinking. Think about something you know or do with confidence – where did this knowledge come from? If it was told to you, who told the person who told you? Somewhere along the line, almost all of the information floating around was made up by someone.

In bike fitting there is a lot of willful ignorance, people are confident in what they know, no matter how unfounded or ridiculous it is. Take for example the classic “knee over pedal spindle” method of setting saddle fore/aft position. It is by far the most common method used, but there is no science behind it. People who use it don’t understand it, don’t know how to test if it works, they simply use it because that’s what they were told – perhaps we should call that oblivious ignorance instead…

Willful ignorance implies they have made the decision to not test what they know, but rather to blindly trust what they know. This is very common. My least favorite form of willful ignorance is the one that is easily tested. In bike fitting the best example I can think of is lowering the handlebars to reduce weight on the hands. During the fitting the person being fit is very aware of their position which they try to hold (I’ll discuss this later – motor learning is a complex topic), so lowering the bars does feel like it takes the weight off the hands. The test is very simple – ride with the person you fit and see what really happens (yes, it’s rocket science, brain surgery and sarcasm all rolled into one). On the road there is this thing called gravity. Instead of taking the weight off the bars the rider settles their weight on the bar as they had done with the bars higher, but now you have a greater angle at the hip and a more aggressive position which is probably outside their range of motion…

Testing what you think you know isn’t that hard, but it could lead to finding out that what you think you know is wrong. There are countless examples of this, let me give you an example from my work day at the bike shop. A customer asked a staff member about winter clothing. The assumption is that people who work in bike shops know about things like winter clothing. The other assumption is that winter clothing is easy, any novice can get it right. The testing is simple – go try it. It’s not that simple, there are time and temperature parameters that change the different layers, and each person is different. Given a winter of riding, most people can figure out how to tune their clothing so they are comfortable on any ride they decide to take. That never happens by accident…