As a cyclist, it should come as no surprise that I follow professional cycling pretty closely, and have done for some time. As an economist, it’s a rich laboratory for seeing all kinds of different economic concepts and principles play out.
Today I found a good one in an interview with Dave Zabriskie of Team Garmin-Slipstream, who is currently the U.S. time trial champion and recently won the week-long Tour of Missouri stage race. One of the aspects of being a cyclist is being mechanical — some cyclists are all about knowing the ins and outs of taking their bikes apart and putting them back together, while others are just as happy to take it to the shop and let a professional mechanic handle it. Most of us are somewhere in between, but leaning more toward letting the mechanics handle most of the bike work. The pro cyclists are not that different, as these comments from DZ illustrate:
schmalz Now are you the type of racer who doesn’t do any mechanical stuff; you don’t feel comfortable with that?
DZ [A hint of hesitation] I can do some of it.
schmalz What’s the toughest thing you can do? Can you do a bottom bracket?
DZ What’s there to do there?
schmalz Can you put one in, attach it to the cranks, and have it work?
DZ It’s got to sides to it. Well, the new ones are pretty easy. Yeah, I think I can do that.
schmalz I can’t do anything that goes through the frame. I don’t do headsets and bottom bracket stuff but I can do everything else. I can adjust cables, derailleurs.
DZ I’m at the point now where I just give it to them. I’m pretty close with some mechanics so I just hand it off to them and they dial it in real quick.
schmalz And you hve guys where you live and on the road you have team mechanics?
schmalz So you’re not especially mechanical?
DZ Well, I keep it clean, lubed up. Air in the tires. I went through a stage where I tried to get into that stuff. I overhauled a headset and did some things but it’s just a lot easier and a more efficient use of my time to let someone else take care of it. [emphasis added]
Note how well he expresses the concept of comparative advantage — more efficient use of his time to train and ride his bike and rest than to work on his bike. It’s a really good illustration of comparative advantage. [As an aside, for teaching purposes: if the mechanic is a better mechanic and DZ is a better rider, then it’s a situation of absolute advantage as well as comparative advantage, but suppose DZ is both a better rider and mechanic … then it’s a pure comparative advantage play. Good example for classroom discussion.]