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

Cycling Plus - - FIRST RIDE -

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

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