cycling kit

Cycling kit, snake oil and pseudo-science

I’m not a big fan of pretend science. I particularly don’t like it when it’s being used to try and part us from our money. 

I’m thinking about shampoo adverts where the celebrity with the impossibly-shiny-and-in-no-way-digitally-enhanced-hair looks knowingly at the camera, and says (with a comic raise of the eyebrow) ‘now, here’s the science part’. 

Do the marketing men think this is proof that the ‘brand’ has a sense of humour? I don’t suppose it matters; what matters is shifting units. 

To me it says, ‘you know it’s coming, and you know these pictures of ‘molecules’ are nonsense, and the fancy made-up words are a load of old cobblers, but let’s all just go through with this merry dance without thinking too hard shall we? That’ll be £4.99 please.’

In old western movies they used to be called snake oil salesman; dubious characters who roll into town pedalling the latest beauty product or cure-all tonic, on the basis of a sprinkling of pseudo-science and tall-tales of miracle results. Nowadays these characters have better marketing budgets and any number of beautiful people willing to accept hard cash to tell you how great the product is.

Snake Oil (Photo:
Snake Oil


So, what has all this got to do with cycling, I hear you ask?

Well, I came across this product review for a short sleeve base layer recently: 

So it is (apparently) no ordinary baselayer; it’s a ‘ceramic base layer’. I don’t profess to be any kind of expert in cutting edge clothing technology, but already this is ringing alarm bells for me. 

Ceramic?! It sounds suspiciously like an attempt to relieve me of my hard earned cash on the basis of some fairly unlikely sounding ‘science’.

So, here’s the science bit…

The theory here is that ceramic particles within the garment give off, and I quote,  ‘far infrared light rays…those ones from the sun that make you feel warm which have been proven to offer therapeutic benefits as your body absorbs them’.

So, essentially, we’re talking about a clothing garment which claims to make marginal but non-specific improvements to sporting performance? Admittedly I haven’t done any further research into this piece of kit, or exactly what these ‘therapeutic benefits’ might be, but…well…does anyone else get the feeling that someone here is trying to sell us snake oil?

I’m using this ‘ceramic base layer’ as an example; there are far worse offenders who, in the name of science, are trying to sell us much more expensive cycling related kit on the strength of far flimsier evidence – this is just the latest one to catch my eye.

When it comes to making marginal improvements there are lots of things I could try before I go anywhere near my wallet; I could refuse cake more often, I could make more of an effort to get an early night, I could, to be honest, just try a little bit harder. 

Remember, if the sales pitch around some new product makes claims that sound a bit odd, vague or non-committal, or uses science-y words that sound made-up, the chances are it is no more going to make you power up a Belgian hillside like Philippe Gilbert, than give you hair as soft and silky as Jennifer Aniston.

Sometimes it’s best to keep your money in your wallet…because you’re worth it.








7 comments on “Cycling kit, snake oil and pseudo-science

  1. biking2work

    Hear hear! However I am looking forward to Joe Hart saving squillions of goals including penalties in Brazil next month all because he will be dandruff free (apparently).


    • The correlation between anti-dandruff shampoo and razor sharp reflexes is as yet unproven, but Brazil might be the chance to carry out some rigorous research 😉


  2. Agree completely.

    I purchased the maillot jaune last year at the Tour de France, believing it would make me ride faster because it was…yellow…didn’t do a damn thing for me! Sure the hype was from myself, but hey you never know. Could happen.


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