I’m tracking my bicycle rides again, after a hiatus of a few years. When I got back into bicycling several years back, I was keen on tracking all my rides. I commuted, rode during my lunch break, and of course rode recreationally on evenings and weekends. I began using Strava; I was familiar with the name, and friends were using it. Just the app on a phone, nothing fancy. I could now quantify my riding, pretty cool. Then a funny thing happened, which I suspect is common. Quantifying turned to gamifying: I began racing myself. Each ride in to work (not so much the return) became a contest to see if I could best my previous times. And of course I didn’t ignore the leaderboard, and my relative position for that day. I recall feeling pride in having the second best time, among strangers, on a particular segment one morning. While competing with the top Strava riders in my area would have been a ludicrous idea, I found I did not like to be passed by riders in real life, while on the bike path. So I increased my pace to a level where I was passed with less frequency, and only by riders who looked like they meant business. Admittedly, that was weird. Most of the time, I’d be on a three or five speed Schwinn from the 1960s. Why would I feel fussed about being passed by a kitted out rider clipped in to a far more efficient machine? Because I was a self-conscious newbie, which I fully realized at the time. I wanted to prove otherwise by showing that I could hang regardless of what bike or outfit I was sporting. Curiously, road riding wasn’t even my style (albeit I was still in the process of figuring that out).
At this point I want to clearly state that I’m not competitive by nature. I never have been. I like to do well, but for me, competition has the tendency to drain the fun out of things. So this compulsion to better myself and best others, while not wrong, was uncharacteristic.
Sometime after, I read Grant Petersen’s Just Ride, Joe Biel’s How to Ride Slow, and heard firsthand the tale of an older gent’s last crash when he was my age at the time. This fellow decided it was time to slow down at that point. I questioned why I wanted to ride fast, and realized I had created this identity for myself as a bicyclist of a specific type, rather than just being a person who rides a bike. This stoked the flames of an irrational compulsion, the negative of which, in my case, outweighed the good. I don’t like to do anything compulsively. I lived the first half of my life that way, and it rarely served me. Upon learning I have OCD a few years back, and generally wanting to be in control, I now question my motivation for everything. Examining my riding, I quickly decided the competitive aspect made no sense, and found it easy to slow down. And along with that, the tracking stopped. I was now riding my bike to ride my bike. I never looked back.
This year, 2022, I felt a desire to participate in more group rides. The rides that interest me are mainly drop-free leisure rides with an anticipated pace of 12mph or less, and between 8 and 16 miles of distance. I don’t select them for that criteria, but for the groups I like to spend time with, that’s where they tend to fall. You’re probably thinking that sounds doable by most anyone who bikes regularly (I agree), but before attending any of these rides, I had to question if I could do it. I don’t even know what any speed feels like anymore. So I’d get on my bike, fire up a smart phone speedometer, and ride around the neighborhood to get a feel for that speed. It was still a guess, but it turns out that regularly riding a loaded cargo bike with a gross weight of 325+ pounds, even for short distances, has kept me in better riding shape than I thought. No ride was an issue, aside from one climb I bailed on (sadly just before the apex came into view), but I expected that hill to break me.
I now see a practical use for tracking rides in my present case. Also, I’ve found a reason to increase my ability as a rider. Not out of pride, but to attend more diverse rides with the local community of riders whom I’ve taken a liking to be with. One of these friends invited me to attend a 60 mile, mostly gravel ride along both sides of the CT river between Hartford and Middletown. That’s a significant jump in milage from any ride I’ve done at this stage of my life. And way back when I was riding that milage, I was in my early twenties, on paved roads, atop a race-level road bike. This would be completely uncharted territory for me. My longest gravel ride (which was fairly recent) was 12.5 miles at an average speed of 7.6mph. I know these facts because at least one person on the ride did track it, and I was able to look it up on RidewithGPS.com. Anyway, while helpful, this isn’t exactly useful, because I was on my fully loaded cargo bike (it was a cargo / family specific ride). But it’s better than nothing. I think it’s too soon for me to reach for the 60 mile Gravelish ride next month. But I’m feeling the itch to work up to it. Which means I’d do well to start tracking again.
Addenum: I did track two rides last year. I was on a challenge, Three Speed Adventure April. I needed to meet specific goals, and for the hill climb portion, tracking was the easiest way for me to know I’d succeeded.
Also, I’ve made mention of my relationship with bicycles and bicycling, but have never before told the whole story. Until now. I have an e-book presently available, and plan to have a print version later this year. The eBook is available free of charge until 9/5.2022. Interested? Check it out here:
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