May 1, 2015 § 35 Comments
The verdict is in on power meters, Strava, and computerized ride data. They make you faster.
A professionally designed power-based training plan, scrupulously followed, and including adaptations for the times when you are sick, injured, or beset by the things otherwise known as life, will turn you into someone who turns the pedals faster.
What it will also do — and the verdict is in on this as well — is make you unhappier.
If you are a professional, that is a meaningless consequence. Your sponsors don’t give you money to ensure your happiness, they do it to ensure your success, which theoretically leads to better sales. But what about YOU?
I have three case studies, not including my own, that I’ve followed over the last six years. Here they are. Judge for yourself.
Case Study #1: The happy racer
This guy got into cycling from marathoning and “high risk” action sports. When he came onto the scene he fit the profile we’ve all seen, zooming from freddie to feared hammer in a single season. We’ll call him Tom. Tom rode his bicycle with abandon and zest, and saw nothing wrong with Mile 1 breakaways on the Saturday Donut Ride, breakaways that sometimes succeeded but that always inflicted carnage on those left behind, not to mention those who foolishly tried to follow his wheel.
He rode instinctively, and though his instincts were often wrong, occasionally they were right and they put him on the podium. More importantly, the act of riding was an act of irrepressible joy. Win or lose he embodied the same pleasure that you can find in any little kid zooming full speed down the local hill. Not that little kids are allowed to do that anymore, of course.
As part of his “progression,” Tom’s engineering mind made technology-based training a natural area of investigation. He “computered up,” and over a few seasons mastered the fundamentals of power-based training. His natural ability, an already sharpened knife, became a razor. His grasp of training and innate desire to share made him a lightning rod for new riders in his club, with whom he gladly shared training information, workout plans, and swapped training data.
After about three years, Tom no longer took risks on group rides by attacking early. He became calculating and efficient. If the pace exceeded his training targets, he sat up. If it wasn’t hard enough, he went off and did something by himself. Tom became a slave to his data. It made him faster, but it also turned the freedom of cycling into the prison of golf, where you are constantly reminded that there are absolute numbers beyond which you can never progress. Tom’s beauty, which had always been the bright light in his eyes, had dimmed.
Enslaved to the numbers, when Tom had a really bad year with some significant medical problems that ruined his carefully regulated train-by-the-numbers approach, instead of digging into the mental bucket, bucking up and rallying, he began doing something he’d never done before: throwing in the towel, DNF-ing, quitting. The thing that had always sustained him, his mental attitude and his enjoyment of the sport, had been replaced with numbers and data that had no real strength to carry him through the rough spots other than their unflinching message of inadequacy and defeat. The last time we rode together he was still struggling.
Case Study #2: Escape from New York
I’ll call this guy Snake Pliskin. He was whatever type is more aggro than Type A … Type A positive? He also came from a running background and migrated to cycling when his knees gave out. Mentally tough and physically gifted, for Snake the act of riding a bike was the act of riding away from the stresses of work.
Snake had a grind-em-up attitude to riding. He didn’t race but he approached every ride as a competition. And though he was often put to the sword on long climbs, when placed in his element of flat or undulating road, preferably with a stiff crosswind, he could put paid to all but the very best of the best. Snake finished his rides spent and satisfied, regardless of whether he was the last man standing. The act of full commitment and giving it his all recharged him for the real battles that remained to be fought in his workaday world.
For him, cycling was the beautiful escape.
Somewhere along the way he became a complete Strava addict. Multiple devices to record rides, pages and pages of KOM’s, and a ferocious response on the bike to those who took his trophies. Yet the more he buried himself in the world of Strava, the more he opened himself up to attack, as countless riders took shots — many of which were successful — at his virtual winnings. This of course drove him to ride more, ride harder, create more segments, and further extend his pages of KOM’s.
Along the way cycling mutated from a refuge into a prison. With everything measured and quantified, with every foot of roadway a possible place to take a KOM or lose one, he spiraled from the incredible pressures of his job to the equally crushing pressures of riding his bicycle.
As with Tom, Snake’s numbers told him that however good he was, on some segment, on some day, someone else was better. The awfulness was reflected in the fact that not only had Snake’s escape become a wearying burden, but it was now on full public display. Unlike the real world, where your buddy kicks your ass, rubs your nose in it, and you remind him of the drubbing you gave him the week before, Snake was locked in Strava kudo hell, where anonymous people with strange nicknames have the same right to comment as your closest buddies who suffered stroke for stroke all the way up the climb, and where the interaction is a binary “kudos” or an “uh-oh.”
The humanity of friends trading jokes and trading pulls, laughing at the funny shit that happens on a ride, commiserating about life, sharing triumphs, and making fun of each other’s foibles had been reduced to a fake interface of 0’s and 1’s artfully designed to imitate real people, real relationships, real lives. The escape was now the cage and it wasn’t even gilded.
The last time I rode with Snake he crushed everyone, grimly.
Case Study #3: The old school
I will call her Harriet. She had been around forever and was still dominating the local women’s race scene into her late 40’s, outsmarting and intimidating women half her age. She eschewed data and Strava and wattage-based training plans. Harriet’s MO was simple: ride and train with the fast men. She couldn’t beat them, but she could hang on and it made her strong enough to beat her peers, even when they were young enough to be her daughters.
She paid no attention to technology and refused to join Strava. She’d ridden as a pro and knew three things: how to train, how to win, and how to have fun.
And in her own way, her pleasure in riding a bicycle remained as vibrant and undiminished as it ever was. The last time I rode with her she gapped me out, shouted at me for running a red light, and dusted me in the sprint. Then she pedaled gaily off to work, ready to start the day.
This great empty is hardly confined to cycling. It repeats itself in myriad ways for modern Americans whether they ride bikes or not. When people think about the rise of the machines they imagine cyborgs and androids and sci-fi creations, but those aren’t the machines that rule us. The machines are pieces of software that are piped to us by phones, Garmins, desktops, and laptops, they are algorithms that have reduced the complexity of life and human interaction into 0’s and 1’s.
And they dominate us because at its most basic form, life is that simple. But who wants that level of simplicity? Isn’t life better with messiness, with the nonlinear slop and jostle of emotions and feelings and real human contact?
Of course it is, and that’s the big lie that the great empty has to spend billions to paper over. When your emotions are tugged by the 0’s and 1’s that show the precious pug or the newborn of your best friend or the KOM on that 200-yard bike path segment (tailwind, natch), something deep inside is left empty and unfulfilled, the zipless fuck of the digital age. How do I know? Because after the little jolt you have to hit refresh or like or kudo or scroll eternally and in desperation down the feed.
Answers I don’t have, but this I know — when you ride a bicycle untethered to 0’s and 1’s, you may not become any faster. But you will, over time, become happier and more at peace with the ragged, raging, sloppy and jostling world that, despite the best PR efforts of Facebag, Google, SRM, and Strava, hasn’t yet learned that reality is denser and more complex than two simple numbers.
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January 14, 2015 § 20 Comments
Two weeks after revealing the new Empty Cups and Trinkets program for 2015, Strava proudly announced the first major lawsuit of 2015. Puddsy McPutz, age 75, collapsed atop Mt. Landfill, a local KOM in eastern Kentucky situated between the Flemingsburg Meat Packers and the Fleming County Cemetery.
According to the Fleming County Coroner and Horse Veterinarian, Bubba Workman, “Puddsy’s ticker done popped. Which is a durn shame.” The massive myocardial infarction occurred at exactly 12:01 AM, January 1, 2015, according to Mr. McPutz’s Strava data, a few seconds after he took the 2015 KOM for Mt. Landfill. EMS attempts to revive Mr. McPutz with paddles and a few swallows of moonshine were ineffectual, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to Mr. McPutz’s widow, Elvira McPutz (nee Heffalump), “Puddsy found out that Strava was resetting all the KOM’s for 2015, so he left the house at 11:50 PM on New Year’s Eve, we live just up the street from the landfill, you know, and he finally felt like he had a shot at getting that KOM because we usually get a good southerly wind after sundown which you can tell because that skunky smell from the landfill fills up the house. He wanted to be the first bicycle rider up Mt. Landfill in 2015, that was his goal, to get one of those empty cups he had been telling us about over dinner, we were having his favorite meal, creamed corn with tuna casserole. And it killed him deader than when Reverend Smoots got struck by lightning at the water treatment facility that time he was giving a holy Baptist massage to Mrs. Hutchins while her husband was on a fishing trip.”
According to papers filed in the Fleming County Courthouse, McPutz’s widow has named Strava as the sole defendant in a wrongful death action, accusing the virtual bike racing company of “encouraging, aiding, abetting, and downright acting like sonsofbitches” with regard to McPutz’s death.
Attorney Seffy Tootincamp, local Flemingsburg attorney and noted notary public who filed the lawsuit, said that “Ol’ Puddsy ain’t never hurt a flea. Them folks at Stravver done made him ride up Mt. Landfill and get hisself killed. And that ain’t the half of it. Elvira’s sister Hortense Heffalump had been bicycle riding with Puddsy for the last few years, you’d see her straddled all over that bicycle seat spread out like a warm breakfast, ‘course it made people talk, what with Hortense havin’ split up with Farmer Dinkins back in ’69, but Puddsy done said there warn’t nothin’ to it they was just exercising together even though the way Hortense had all her groceries on display with that skintight bicycling outfit, you know ever’ time she threw a leg over that bicycle you was durn near ready call in for a cleanup on Aisle 9, but anyway Hortense said that Puddsy had given up on Stravver several years ago ’cause couldn’t nobody get the trophy-dealie for the landfill climb anymore not ever since Hoss Sagbottom had quit lawnmower racin’ and got into bicycle Stravver racing, can you believe Hoss rode his bicycle up that dang hill in five minutes flat? It’s darn near long as a football field and steep as a wheelchair ramp.”
According to attorney Tootincamp, “Them Stravver fellers is gonna have to fork over some real dollars for takin’ Puddsy’s life like that. He was a good ol’ boy, had the best durn still in Flemingsburg, and that’s sayin’ somethin’.”
Fleming County Judge Jimmy Foxworthy was less sanguine about the prospects of the litigation. “I can sort of see where Elvira is coming from, we all liked Puddsy, and his Christmastime Fire on the Mountain Mason Jar Special would grow hair on a carburetor, but from my way of thinking, you tell a jury of your peers in these parts that an old boy died riding a bicycle in his underwear at midnight out by the landfill because of the Internet, and you blame it on anything except the fact that he was a few burritos shy of a full fiesta, well, your average Fleming County jury is probably going to think that Mr. McPutz needed killing. But that’s just my opinion.”
Attorney Alistair Bilkington, of the Palo Alto high-tech defense firm Hoity, Toity & Preen, was dismissive of the suit. “What we have here is a lack of personal responsibility. Our 21-page, 2-point-type EULA and Waiver and Unqualified Admission of Guilt, which every Strava user must sign, specifically says that ‘Everything is my 100% my fault.’ It’s the most comprehensive waiver in the business. We are confident that the good citizens of Fleming County will wholly reject the baseless claims of the McPutz estate.”
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January 12, 2015 § 52 Comments
I have a really bad imagination, which is why I ride my bike all the time. There’s no better way to limn crazy than by delving into the real world. And few parts of reality are as dark, bizarre, and hysterically weird than Strava.
Here’s the big blog release for 2015, wherein Strava announces a whole new way to earn valuable cups, crowns, and medals. It’s surely not by chance that, unlike the old nonexistent virtual trophy cups, the new ones are empty.
Fortunately I was able to get hold of Annie Vranizan, Strava’s Advocacy and Communications Manager, who explained the whole empty cup concept to me in plain English.
CitSB: So now Straddicts can get a whole new set of crowns, cups, and medals?
AV: Yep. It’s gonna be awesome!
CitSB: What was wrong with the old ones?
AV: Absolutely nothing. And they’ll still be there for you to pore over at 3:00 AM with your favorite box of tissues.
CitSB: So why the new system?
AV: We’ve heard from many Strava athletes that it’s not easy to top a PR set in peak fitness, during a race, or when they were younger. So we’ve heard that concern and given them something new to strive for. “Strava” means “hopeless” in Finnish, after all. These new empty cups are our way of saying, “You’re not getting older. You’re as strong as you always were. You’re never going to die.”
CitSB: Wow. That seems, you know, patently false.
AV: Oh, it is. But these are Straddicts. Their paid memberships depend on keeping the fantasy alive. And we had other problems.
CitSB: Such as?
AV: After several years and thousands of efforts, the KOM’s on most segments have become unsurmountable, even for the fellows with $20k rigs, four-man TT teams, and onboard Doppler radar to perfectly time the wind. Even by only showing up to work occasionally, abandoning all pretense of family time, slimming down to 1%, hiring the super-extra-pro-level of online coaching, putting a physician on retainer to manage the EPO-induced blood clumping during sleep, our premium members were realizing that at the end of the day they simply weren’t going to snatch back a KOM set by some 22-year-old kid.
AV: Well, that’s a problem. Most of our premium addicts have got to get one KOM per month, minimum, or they let their subscription lapse. We even toyed with a moped-assist category, but a customer survey nixed that idea.
CitSB: Straddicts refuse to cheat, huh?
AV: Oh, not at all. But it’s too complicated to cloak an engine’s output so that it mimics the irregularity human-generated wattage.
CitSB: I wasn’t aware that it was all about the virtual trinkets. I mean, you can’t even hang them on the wall. I thought people really valued Strava for tracking routes and logging mileage.
AV: Well, our unpaid users may. But with regard to logging mileage, Scott Dickson, the first American winner of Paris-Brest-Paris, cracked that problem long ago using a type of technology that frankly stands up pretty well even today.
CitSB: What is that?
AV: I think they call it a “pencil and notepad.” I’ve seen it at the Technology Museum here in Silicon Valley, but don’t know of anyone who can actually program it. The other problem is that our premium members can’t do what they’ve always done to earn more virtual trinkets.
CitSB: What’s that?
AV: Create new segments. We ran a GPS analysis of North America and found that, in North County San Diego for example, every roadway, driveway, dirt trail, and parking lot has been broken down into 1-meter Strava segments. There are over 12 billion segments there. And every segment has a leaderboard thousands of riders deep.
CitSB: Surely there are some uncreated segments from, say, the front door of the apartment on the 25th Floor to the breaker box on the 12th?
AV: Possibly. But our analytics show that premium members prize competition with other riders. There will always be a place on Strava for secret segments that only you can ride, but most addicts want the thrill of combat. It’s all about sending and receiving “the letter,” you know?
CitSB: So why don’t they just race? CBR has a great crit coming this Sunday. I think for $35 bucks you can actually race your bike against real people. And it’s cheaper than Strava. And the trinkets are mostly edible.
AV: Racing is too dangerous for Straddicts, and often times a premium member who is really good at his age-weight-gender category on Strava turns out to be a lummoxing sack of shit in a real bike race. And it hurts their feelings when they get dropped.
CitSB: I see. So why don’t they train harder and race more so they don’t get dropped?
AV: Let me give you an example.
AV: Let’s say you could choose between getting your face punched so hard that it rams your front teeth so far up into the gums that they punctured the lower part of your skull and lodge into your brain. Or, you could go a Thai massage and have someone cover your body in oil, rub you down for a few bucks in all the right places, and tell you you look like a movie star. Which would you choose?
CitSB: Well, that’s easy, because I’m a bike racer.
AV: Right? But our premium members aren’t. That’s why they like Strava. As long as they get a virtual empty trinket they’ll keep paying the monthly fee because there’s always a happy ending.
CitSB: Just like the Thai massage?
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January 7, 2015 § 58 Comments
Okay, now that you’ve ditched all those un-fun resolutions that you were never going to do anyway, we can focus on making 2015 the best year ever for your profamateur cycling career. There is at least one thing on this list you can do, guaranteed.
- Remember & do. Think back about what it was that got you into cycling. Remember that awesome thing you experienced, whatever it was? Go out and do a ride like that.
- Put a name to that face. You know that wanker/wankette who you see on lots of the group rides but whose name you don’t know? Guess what — a person’s name is the most important and beautiful word in the world to her. Learn it. Say it. Remember it. Chances are that she will say your favorite word in the world back to you.
- Ride a bike with your S/O. Notice I said “ride a bike,” not “go cycling.” This means several things: No lycra. No bike that you can resell on Craigslist for more than $75. Sneakers or flip-flops. Max speed 11 mph. The ride must also have a point that has nothing to do with riding, i.e. coffee, ice cream, or your favorite S&M clothing shop.
- Pet a baby seal. Remember how you used to show up at your first group rides? Palms sweating. Chamois already anointed with a stray pellet of poop. No sleep the night before. Everyone looked like a top profamateur. Everyone knew everyone … except you. Next time you’re at a ride, find the baby seal and give it a pet. It will love you forever and may even follow you home.
- Share a secret tip. Oh, come on. You’ve got a bunch of them. So what if they don’t really work? Better yet, so what if they do? Pull aside your favorite wanker on the next ride and share the secret tip. One time Douggie even told me his secret chain-cleaning trick. I caught hell for putting it in the dishwasher, but it sure came out clean.
- Wave or say “hi.” On one of your 359 rides in 2015, pretend that one of them isn’t the most important training ride you’ve ever done, upon which your entire profamateur + Strava legacy will depend. Then, on that one ride, wave at someone. It can be anyone. Another rider, a pedestrian, a jogger, a cager, or one of the guys doing yardwork in PV. Yeah, they will smile and wave back because — newsflash! — they’re people, too! Then you can go back to your crucial training.
- Pick and give. Select five cycling items you haven’t used since ’79 (but not that wool jersey with the moth holes the size of Dallas and the green mold on the armpits). Put it on Craigslist or eBay for one cent. Someone will not only want it, they will actually use it. Done.
- Ride and de-load. Take a fantastic ride and refuse to upload it to Strava. Better yet, do the whole ride without a Garmin or iPhone ride app. I know that’s asking a lot …
- Learn your history. Buy a book about cycling and read it, preferably something that includes the words “Merckx” and “Roubaix.”
- Eat a cheeseburger. See? I told you there was one resolution on this list you could keep.
There you have it — a slew of wholesome cycling activities plus a cheeseburger. It’s gonna be a great year.
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September 28, 2014 § 22 Comments
It had been an epic, bitter, full-gas NPR replete with unhappy blabberwankers, squealing baby seals looking for their freshly stripped pelts, fraudsters who cut the course and flipped it before the turnaround in order to catch the break, and the usual collection of complainers and whiners who missed the split, blaming their weakness on the “stoplight breakaway” and the usual complaint of non-racers who object to September beatdowns — “It’s the OFF SEASON!”
We swirled up to the Center of the Known Universe. Most ordered coffee. I leaned against the plate glass seated on the bricks, waiting for the throbbing in my legs to subside. Within minutes people were seated alongside with their phones out.
There wasn’t much conversation at first because everyone had to check email, then look at missed calls and figure out which excuse to use when they finally phoned in around ten. “I was in a meeting.” “There wasn’t any cell coverage.” “I was on the phone with a client.”
And of course Facebag had to be checked, texts had to be sent, and Strava had to be carefully reviewed. Some people kept their phones on their lap the entire time we congregated. One or two put them away. Almost everyone sporadically checked, interrupting conversations to gaze down at kudos and incoming dickpics.
Not me. I didn’t have my phone. It was sitting on the chest of drawers next to my bed. That’s where it stays nowadays when I ride.
I remember back when there were no cell phones. After a ride, or during a break, the Violet Crown guys would talk. Or smoke a big, fat joint. Usually both. Whatever the protocol, it always involved lots of gab. Sitting down after a ride meant rehashing the ride, inventing new rumors, or talking shit about a good friend who happened to be absent.
Compared to those conversations, the ones nowadays aren’t as much fun, and I think it’s because the flow of talk gets constantly broken up by constant cell phone monitoring. The fact is that no one has anything important to do on a cell phone in the morning. If they did, they wouldn’t be on a bike. And there’s something about conversation that, like a bike ride, requires a certain amount of warm-up. Then, once you’re warmed up, you sort of get going. It doesn’t work very well — like riding — when every few seconds or minutes the other person is checking his screen.
“But what do you do when you can’t get in touch with someone who you’re trying to meet for a ride?” is a common question. Back in the day we all knew where to meet, and if someone didn’t show up, you didn’t ride with him that day. It was pretty simple.
“But what do you do if you have an accident or your bike breaks or you have an emergency?” Back in the day we generally waited until someone called an ambulance, or we bled out, or we flagged down another rider for a tool or a tube. That was pretty simple, too.
“But what do you do if something happens at work or your wife needs you?” Back in the day we ignored that shit when we rode. It was one of the main reasons we cycled.
Since shedding my power meter, my Garmin, and now my iPhone, my riding is a lot more peaceful. More importantly, I’m about half a pound lighter on the bike. Now that matters.
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August 15, 2014 § 35 Comments
Word on the street is that USA Cycling has become very concerned about the precipitous drop-off in the number of idiots who participate in masters racing, and they are going to convene some kind of meeting to identify the problems and propose solutions.
That’s too bad. They should have just called me. But since they didn’t, I’ve written this very helpful little post to guide them on their way.
First, let’s understand the landscape of masters racing: It is dead and, like T-rex, is never coming back. Rather, it is laying in a big heap and decomposing while those who can stand the stench still saddle up and pedal around the rotting corpse.
What killed masters racing?
- De-innovation. The only difference between bike racing today and bike racing in 1984 is … nothing. Imagine a business model that is the same today, with the identical approach to the customer, service, product, and cost, as it was in 1984. There’s a way to spell the name of companies like that: “b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t.”
- Taxation. While the promoters’ and riders’ costs rose, USA Cycling continued to take larger and larger pieces of the pie. That USA Cycling officials are paid even a penny is a sorry joke. They should volunteer and do it for the love of the sport or get the hell out. Oh, wait a minute … what love of the sport? Many of them don’t even ride.
- Cost. In 1984 you could race the best equipment for the equivalent of about $4,000 in 2014 dollars — including kit, shoes, spare wheels, and a bike that was essentially unbreakable, with wheels that were likewise difficult to damage. A top race bike now retails for about $9k. Kit and shoes another $1k. Oh, and it’s all disposable and very easily broken. Dog forbid you crash, because those Zipp 808’s retail for about $3k. And let’s not forget tires, which can cost more than new tires for a car and last for a fraction of the time. What business model triples the cost and actually lowers the value to the consumer?
- Poverty. In 1984, a solid middle class income was $27,393. In 2014 dollars, that’s $63,019. Today’s middle class income in that same bracket? $64,582. Yep. In thirty years the biggest consumer for bike racing has seen his income go up less than $1,500, while the cost of bike crap has gone up (conservatively) $6,000. Let’s see. Should I pay for food, rent, healthcare, education, or … bike racing? Tough decision for a few. But only a few.
- Buzzkill. The professionalization of masters racing has made it very serious. Serious people like to yell and shout and create heaps of drama at races. Not-so-serious people, which is pretty much everyone else, don’t really like spending their weekend getting yelled at or abused. So they stay home while a few self-important pricks strut around as if what they did in a Sunday crit really mattered.
- Hopelessness. In the 1/2/3/4/5 categories, there’s always a shuffle. Someone younger is always coming up through the ranks and knocking off the older riders. It’s the cycle of life. But not in masters racing. Once you race an age category, the same people who win will always be the same people who win — from age 35 to age 75 — so you have forty years of getting beaten by the same people over and over and over and over again. Good times!
- Time. We have less of it, bike racing requires more. Why do we have less time? Because of poverty. We’re working more to pay for essentials, and masters bike racing isn’t an essential.
- Rewards. What are they, again? There’s no money. There are no trophies. No one gets a juice box. It’s just the “fun” of competition. Well, that works for two kinds of people: the perennial winners who like staving everyone else’s head in, and the perennial losers who don’t mind losing. That’s a customer base of about 12 people, by the way.
- Cheating. Masters racers cheat, and promoters, who are taxed to the teeth by USA Cycling, and struggling under huge operating costs, can’t afford drug testing. So the cheaters get away with it, and the non-cheaters blame everyone who wins on “doping.”
- Safety. USA Cycling races are horribly dangerous compared to other leisure activities available to elderly men with leaky prostates. USA Cycling encourages risky behavior when its PAID officials fail to aggressively enforce rules against chopping, dive-bombing, elbow throwing, bar banging, post-race face-punching, etc.
However much all of these factors have brought low the mighty dinosaur, none has inflicted the mortal wound. The true killer not just of masters racing, but of bike racing in general, is Strava. And folks, Strava is here to stay.
Strava offers everything to the competitive cyclist except reality. It is free. It rewards you. It lets you set up special courses and categories that YOU can win, or at least get “on the leader board.” It is safe. Unlike USA Cycling, whose officials in SoCal don’t do squat for race safety, Strava bans segments that are reported as dangerous.
Plus, with Strava you don’t have to travel, and every day is a bike race. Strava lets you brag to your friends, compete with little “I stole your KOM” tits-for-tats, and doesn’t require any bike handling skills. On Strava, everybody’s a Cat 1.
The only downside to Strava, of course, is that it’s completely fake and that it eliminates the one thing that makes a bike race a true competition: Everyone has to race at the same day on the same course at the same time. But it’s the virtual, inauthentic nature of Strava that real bike racing can’t compete with.
And the icing on the cake? When’s the last time your wife ever complained about you going out to take someone’s KOM?
RIP, masters racing. It was sort of nice known’ ya.
Additional participants in the mercy killing:
11. Cost Plus. In addition to the cost of a road bike, you now also need a time trial bike if you’re going to do 3-day races with a TT. Add $10k. Also, you will need a power meter ($1k – $4k), a computer ($500), and a set of race wheels to go with your training wheels ($2k). And a coach, because you can’t beat guys who train 30 hours a week just by riding hard. Trust me on that last one.
12. “The Competition.” In addition to Strava, whose value proposition overwhelms yours, in the last 30 years there has been an incredible proliferation of fun, challenging, “non-race” rides that are effectively unsanctioned races. In LA alone you can do the NPR on Tuesday morning (always race pace), the Major Motion ride on Tuesday evening (always race pace), the Amalfi Ride on Thursday morning (race pace, but with stops), the Rose Bowl Ride (pure race), the M500 (pure race), the Donut Ride (race), the Montrose Ride (race with stoplights) … and that doesn’t even count the Grand Fondos, century rides, and countless other road rides where you can mix it up without paying a fortune, driving across the country, and paying a fortune. Did I mention paying a fortune?
13. “The Competition” v. 2. Other types of racing have increased in popularity and they compete with USAC road events. That’s cyclocross and mountain bike racing. They have a better vibe. More interesting venues. More spectators. Better officiating. Safe courses. They’re cheaper and closer to home and at least for ‘cross the equipment is a lot cheaper and there’s less of it.
14. Pain. Road racing is too hard. People on training rides cut the ride, do a “B” ride, refuse to do new challenging additions. Why? Because they are weak and lazy and entitled and they don’t want to get their nuts pounded off with the handle of a chisel. The San Marcos crit (35 starters in the 35+, 19 finishers), was so miserably awful that I contemplated quitting every lap. And I was in the 45+. Road racing is worse and harder. It’s grueling and it goes on for hours. People don’t want that anymore. They want something that hurts a little bit, but not too much — certainly they don’t want to submit to 30-degree sleet at Devil’s Punchbowl for 2.5 hours, with 6k of elevation per lap, riding alone. The most important thing is that they look good, don’t wind up in the ICU or a wheelchair, and that for dog’s sake they don’t break their equipment. Because unlike brains and body parts, an expensive bike nowadays can’t be replaced.
May 24, 2014 § 69 Comments
I’ll be the first to admit that the patient was never particularly robust, but in 2014 there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of racers who line up on the weekend. At one of the best and toughest road races all year, Vlees Huis in Bakersfield, there was an incredibly tiny lineup despite this being one of the best organized, safest, and most challenging races on the calendar.
Plus they fuggin’ had beer. Now, when bike racers won’t show up to a bike race where it’s hotter than Beyonce doing the nasty with Heidi Klum and you get to slake your post-race heat prostration with cold, locally brewed beer, the Dogs have gone crazy.
We will leave aside for a moment the obvious: if Fields had ever heard you weren’t going to race your bike because it was “too hot” or “too cold” or “too rainy” or “too dangerous,” he would have kicked you off the team, repo’d your kit, and made you give back all the beer you had drunk. We will also leave aside for a moment that the “weather” in SoCal is the most wussified, gentle, bike-friendly weather in the continental United States.
Many factors may be at play besides the general cowardice, tenderness, and babyfication of modern SoCal bike racers, but there are only so many absentees you can blame on an angry spouse, the cost of entry fees, the fear of quadriplegia, and the general wussdom of all the riders who said they couldn’t do Vlees Huis because it was “too far to drive.” [Check the mileage sometime when you live in Houston and have signed up for the Fort Davis Stage Race for a bit of perspective on “too far to drive.”]
Flapping of the gums
The other day I got into an argument about whether some guy was the best climber in the South Bay. Back in the day this would have been a relatively easy argument to resolve. The guy who had won more hilly road races, or the guy who was always at the front on the long climbs would be crowned the champ, even more beer would be drunk, and we’d find something else to argue about.
But this time my adversary pulled out a shocking counter-argument: his Strava KOM’s. A guy who’s done a handful of hilly road races and has consistently gotten shelled on the tough climbs — or who hasn’t even showed up — maintained that his sexy Strava performance on segments as short as 200 meters meant that he was somehow a really good climber.
What the hell is going on here?
It used to be that the best riders were the ones who won bike races. Rahsaan Bahati, I thought, was the best bike racer around because he’s won the most races. Charon Smith, Phil Tinstman, Thurlow Rogers, Mark Noble, and guys like them, I thought, were the best old guy bike racers around because they’ve won the most races.
It would never have occurred to me that a person might consider himself excellent in some aspect or other of competitive cycling based on his Strava KOM’s.
But you know what? Lots of riders do.
They choose three or four carefully selected races each year, they do a weekly group ride, and they do the vast bulk of their “head-to-head” competition on Strava. Will someone please tell them that if it’s on Strava and you’re by yourself, it’s not head-to-head? No matter how many times you self-dial, you’re still just doing yourself.
The race of truth
Every bike race is a race of truth because the fastest rider always wins. For many, that’s a downer because there’s only one winner. You can’t go home and tell yourself that you’re at the top of the leader board of 50+ troglodytes with a BMI of 200. Worse, when you lose a bike race you don’t get any trophies or crowns on your iPhone.
Strava perfectly satisfies the urge to achieve what I call DIP — distinction, improvement, praise — it’s an urge that resides in all of us, particularly, it seems, those of us who cycle. Bike races don’t provide much DIP for most participants, even with the dozens of age/gender categories per event. Instead, they provide proof of what we all instinctively know about ourselves but wish wasn’t true: MOP — mediocre, overweight, pudknocker.
In any contest between DIP and MOP, DIP will always win out. Ride your bike and get a trinket every time beats ride your bike and get your spirit shattered every time, especially when the shattering may also include collarbones and carbon fiber.
Don’t be a DIP-shit
This Monday Chris Lotts will put on his Memorial Day Crit in Dominguez Hills. The Barry Wolfe Grand Prix, Death Valley Stage Race, and State ITT Championships will also happen this weekend.
If you’re in SoCal, I hope you’ll make an effort to attend at least one of these races. If you’re in L.A., I really hope you’ll at least make it to the Memorial Day Crit. If you can spare 50 minutes to analyze all your weekly rides on WKO and Strava, you can lug your ass out for a one-hour race at Dominguez.
Guys like Chris promote races year in and year out. It’s a gratifying job for them in that they play an integral role in the sport that they love, and it’s a blast getting to deal with overfull port-a-potties at the end of the day. But it’s a huge amount of work and expense, and when “racers” who live in the area choose to spend their time on Strava digitally satisfying themselves rather than competing in organized events, it eventually kills off the event. The margin on bike races is tiny, to put it mildly.
Maybe as a Stravasturbator you think that’s fine, and I suppose if your idea of being an accomplished racer is 0’s and 1’s endlessly strung together to make an image on a computer that makes you look tougher than Eddy Merckx, that’s okay. I suppose if it’s more fun to wear $500 worth of kit riding $7000 worth of bike to compete against your “friends” on Strava than it is to ride against your mortal enemies in a real bike race, hey, to each his own.
But let’s not confuse sitting at your stupid computer and clicking “kudo” with racing your fuggin’ bike.