The 70s seemed to be a time of peace, love, wool shorts, and the no-matter-what 42-52 chainrings. It’s also when I was born. In the 80s I fell irreparably in love with cycling, when wool was no longer cool, giving room to non-cooling lycra. Crappy lycra, shorts with suspenders, leather helmets. Seems like eons ago, and if the hazy memory serves me well, we raced around cranky dinosaurs and hissy Sleestaks. Stiff steel (SP tubing anyone?) and/or noodly aluminum bicycles were the norm, carbon fiber was yet to be popular, and we always celebrated with giggly excitement when something new came along. Like indexed shifting and clipless pedals, for instance. Training consisted of riding, just riding, LSD for the off-season, making sure to never hit the big ring till one accrued a few thousand kilometers. The rides were fun, cajoling was mandatory, my riding buddies all had silly nicknames (most of which bestowed by me) and we never seemed to run out of topics to discuss. Motorpacing and fixed gear riding were encouraged, but we lived in a cycling-convenient area with lots of riding options, so we never really paid attention to that. We just rode, rode, and rode. When racing season started, we had a plethora of events to choose from, and could easily keep busy for months at a time. So one basically just rode along, fitness came whenever, and racing took care of itself.
Then, something happened. Riders started becoming smart with training. I remember Francesco Moser preparing for his (successful) hour record attempt; he was using one of those tricky widgets called a “heart rate monitor”. Uhhh…, such cool technology. Then Lemond decided that heart monitors were not as precise and implemented power training. “See, you don’t know when you’re getting sick with a heart rate monitor, but watts will tell you when things are faltering,” he said. This was almost 20 years ago, by the way. Then the Internet, carbon soled shoes, and multiple gears arrived, some American dude won about 15 Tours de France, and everybody rides bikes now. And companies have integrated most everything on bicycles: seat mast, carbon forks, power meters on pedals, skinsuits that look like bibs and jersey glued together, disc brakes on road bikes, folks experimenting with changing gears with the power of thought (those are called Jedi riders), and so forth. All good, pretty, shiny and welcome developments.
Not quite. Though I love the gaudiness of some of the 80s and 90s kits, I’m not necessarily a Luddite – but I do keep a minimalist approach. I don’t put much faith in LSD, and firmly believe that every ride should have some sort of friskiness. Workouts have a purpose, especially when one rides indoors, which, for those who live around here, can be the norm during the winter. So what happens when I do get to ride outside? Well, if the leash goes far I enjoy a good elbow-rubbing with my buddies. The group consists of current and former racers, the majority in the latter category. The boys are still fit, family life notwithstanding, and we welcome a hurty challenge. But as of late my crew was infected with the bug of Strava.
And what is that, you wonder?
For those who have been living under a rock, it’s a smart phone software that tracks your rides by means of GPS. It can be quite useful if you’re “that guy” who never rides with people (sometimes I’m that guy). It’s beautiful in the sense that you can learn new routes, track your development, virtually race against someone else, or race against a fitter version of yourself, compare notes, etc. Nifty, right? Well, some friendless engineer, probably a triathlete, came up with this thing called “Strava segment”. I can imagine him at home, posters of Dave Scott on the wall, an Ironman-logo tattoo on his calf, rubbing his hands, plotting against roadies:
“Their group ridesss are so much fun, my preciousss, but they never let me join them. They mussst hate my preciousss Quintana Roo! If I have my way I’ll put and end to all group rides forevah!”
So he came up with a mighty astute way to do just that. This has to be the most annoying piece of, well, “development” that has come around recently. It beats the old Shimano Biopace rings, for that matter. It does nothing for the cause of cycling, except for succeeding at disrupting group rides. Yes, the hurty and the rubbing are welcome. We attack and counter at will, we know when the nasty stretches are coming, generally punching short hills, rolling parts of a road or the ubiquitous town lines that are rife around here. But no. Now we’re left with “Strava segments,” which is basically a random stretch of pavement that has to be done at time trial speed. Then you get home, ignore your wife and kids, log in and compare notes with folks you have never heard of or seen before. “Look, JoeTri_2000 did Oak Hill at 34km/h. Man, he must be a stud!”
I have another idea: How about getting a license and actually racing? Or joining a club/team and going on group rides with thick-legged dudes? Because after those “segments”, the riders are so spent that the next few kilometers are at recovery speed. Thanks a lot, Strava segment.
But it’s ok. We welcome the developments, as annoying as they are. Little secret: I’m learning all the segments in the area. So next time I’m out on a group ride, I’ll attack before those stretches and fumble the process.
Strava segment, be warned: you have made a powerful nemesis.