THE SPIN SET ME FREE
Trevor Ward reckons our audit culture is holding us back on the road. Let’s set things straight in 2017
It’s that time of year when many of us review our annual mileage or set targets for the next 12 months. And that’s sometimes the problem with cycling – the numbers can get in the way of the riding.
Over in the US in September, Amanda Coker smashed Britain’s Billie Fleming’s annual mileage record for women of 29,603 miles, despite only starting in May. A commendable feat of endurance, sure, but riding laps of a park (Flatwoods, Florida) for double century after double century is hardly one for the purists.
Last year, Kurt Searvogel, broke the men’s record, achieving a total of 76,229 miles. He was derided by some for occasionally riding a recumbent and following favourable weather. Coker must have liked what she saw, because she used the same park as Searvogel and is on course to break his record.
On this side of the Atlantic, Steve Abraham also gave it a shot. “I’ve fallen asleep and out of the saddle while climbing up a hill,” he told me during one of the 30-minute periods at the end of each day when he would eat several jacket potatoes, stick his kit in the washing machine and charge up his several Garmins and phones.
While I have admiration for the endurance capacities of these riders, I’m not impressed by a mindset that makes them want to ride up and down the same roads day after day just to tick off the miles. That’s not what the essence of cycling should be about.
The problem is that we live in an age where every aspect of our lives has to be quantified, whether it’s the number of ‘Friends’ we have on Facebook or the number of miles we upload to Strava. It’s what social scientists have termed the “audit culture”, where we validate our existence in quantity, not quality. Ironically, that’s not what the creators of Strava – which is often blamed for this obsession among bike riders – had in mind when they set up the online app. Co-founder Mark Gainey explains: “It’s less about the gross numbers and more about, ‘Are our athletes active today, are they enjoying themselves, are they motivated and are they sharing it with their friends?’” That’s why Strava introduced a feature allowing users to upload photos from their rides.
“We want people to realise that not every ride is supposed to be a chase for a KOM or PB, and that, in fact, occasionally stopping and enjoying that sunset or that great view is frankly as important,” says Gainey.
My own mileage tally for last year won’t be troubling any records, but that tells only half the story. Quality may be more subjective than quantity, but I rate all the challenging climbs, great companionship, stunning scenery and welcome cafe stops I’ve enjoyed as more important than miles accumulated. My target for 2017? More of the same, please.
Occasionally stopping and enjoying that sunset or that great view is frankly as important