Support road.cc

Like this site? Help us to make it better.

OPINION

No one cares how far you rode your bike: "Keep your distance"

Avatar
Planning lots of New Year’s revolutions? Make them less about mileage, and more about the experience you're having on two wheels...

For those at the back who might not have heard the first time, I'll say it again...

No one cares how far you rode your bike.

Let’s just get that straight out there in the open.

Distance is the simplest metric with which to measure your cycling ability. It’s a basic and effortless means with which to impress the layman with their “That’s a long ways” as anything beyond riding to the shops is an impossible length for the person in the street to imagine on a bicycle. For fellow cyclists, it’s a straightforward shorthand method of letting someone know where you lie on the riding league table, and a handy passive-aggressive “I’m better than you” boast if you want.

> Going the distance — learn how to build up to an epic ride

It’s easy to obsess about miles ridden per ride/week/month/year and confuse distance cycled with prowess, experience, training, aptitude, divinity and kudos; and I’ve been around long enough to witness plenty of people do at least one of these at some time, myself included when I thought piling on the miles meant something (by the way, I’m going to be using miles for the rest of the article; but any fool knows that if you want to make your ride quantity seem more impressive you’ll prefer kilometres as your measure of distance. It instantly makes you about one-and-half-times better). 

100 miles - via flickr cretive commons
Congratulations, sort of

The cycling world is full of mileage challenges. Those led by marketing campaigns, charity-based goals, well-intentioned motivational incentives, and those entirely arbitrary figures that individuals like to conjure up as annual distance goals. The latter are usually nice round numbers, as no one seems to want to finish on a odd figure which is weird as it would make just as much sense. But, I digress. When it’s not distance it’s frequency, every day for a month, or a significantly large ride a month for the year... the list of 'mileage bait' is endless. The proliferation of social media has exploded the culture of racking up the miles, compared to when you might just scribble the total in a little book for your own amusement and comparison. Press send on any distance-related post (include altitude gain if you want to increase the wow factor) and smugly watch the likes and comments and status massaging and dopamine accumulate. It makes it all worthwhile, and it’s great for the fragile self-worth.

I’m no stranger to putting the miles in (quite a lot of them sometimes if it matters) but I know the difference between wanting to do something and having to do something. I’ve experienced the latter enough to decidedly favour the former whenever possible. Committing to any distance-related challenge or goal will at some point hammer your bike riding awkwardly, and into the drudgery camp of having to go out when you might not necessarily have much desire to. I’ve done this enough myself and trudged through enough misery in the name of completion, and witnessed too many others reluctantly shuffle onto a saddle to finish some mile-related chore to think of this as an undeniable truth.

While the motivational aspect of all of these is often cheerfully waved about as a positive, nothing sucks the enjoyment out of an activity like making it compulsory, or submitting it to a deadline. Cycling becomes the homework you’ve left to the last minute on a Sunday night. Proponents of such things will point to the incentive and 'we’re in this together' group encouragement that the cycling community can offer, and the camaraderie of a virtual peloton; ignoring the fact that they’re sat in front of the fire just waiting for the schadenfreude to unroll.

We’ve just witnessed another edition of a certain festive cycling distance challenge, that on the face of it is not an entirely impossible task; but when you have to squeeze it around the social and family commitments that crowd that time of year it gets harder. If you live in the northern hemisphere, the lack of daylight hours, the not inconsiderable and predictably harsh realities of winter weather and debatable road conditions conspire to make the competition a proper mournful ordeal. While the motivational reasons behind it are a laudable way to get people out the door while they might otherwise be festering on the sofa, the downsides can more than cancel all of this out. I’ve watched enough cycling friends put themselves through this challenge over its history, and they’ve all hated it at some point. The combination of wind, weather and having to ride when they ordinarily wouldn’t makes them complete the trial with a bitter and bile-ridden dislike of their bike that takes a while to get over... at least until the next dry, sunny day with double-digit temperatures.

It's also now become a bit of a Christmas tradition, and this year was no exception, that someone within my extended riding family breaks a bone falling on ice while partaking in this jolly festive challenge, so that’s fun. Ask yourself if you’re getting paid to do this. Is there the chance of a worthwhile prize? What have you proved? Do you care? Does anyone really care? If the answer to any of these is 'no', then you’re allowed to stay at home in the warm.

If you do have to ride insane distances, Be More Bill

Hitting an arbitrary annual mileage target is a popular pastime, if you’re the kind of person that likes to imagine a random figure large enough to impress your friends. Every person that manages to hit their made-up goal is equalled by at least one other that doesn’t reach their total, and is little disappointed in themselves. Luckily it’s easy enough to rectify any shortfall by simply ignoring that random figure, or just retrospectively making up a new annual mileage goal to fit, as it’s unlikely anyone has paid any attention to what distance you said you were going to do at the start of the year anyway. Simply make up a new one that’s lower than your final annual mileage so you can say you beat it by a significant amount, and everyone will be pleased for you for a heartbeat... hey presto!

> What can we learn from ultra-distance cyclists?

To summarise: I don’t care about how far you’ve been, and I don't believe anyone does really. It's the most simplistic and tedious way to measure your cycling, especially if you use it as a stick with which to prove your worth over other riders. The only thing that it really genuinely proves is that you have more spare time. If you can only value yourself by how far you’ve been, then you need to stop more often and see where you are, and we need to talk about junk miles. Ride your bike as much as you like, as far as you like, but don’t judge yourself or your riding success by volume of miles. Measure all of this by what happened along the way, the stories you can tell, the places you visited, the views you paused in front of, and the people and characters you met.

Any and all of the reasons above are far more interesting (if only to listen to) and far more important than how far you rode, or how you managed to complete a tick list or fill a spreadsheet; all of which I think are so far down the bottom of reasons to ride a bike, they’re even on the same page. Don’t make your New Year’s resolution about how far you’re going this year... make it about how and where you’re going to ride.

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

Add new comment

51 comments

Avatar
Awavey | 3 years ago
4 likes

personally I dont see anything wrong with setting mileage goals or targets to achieve over any period of time in cycling, I dont do it to compare against others, or brag about it with them, its my goal, my target and only for my own satisfaction of personal achievement if I reach it.

its as much to show me, that its always possible to achieve things you didnt think you were physically capable of doing, if you focus on them and try to improve & push yourself out of your comfort zone occasionally, and Id far rather learn from failing to hit those targets, than having never tried.

yes theres the risk that you obsess about mileage, rides become a means to an end and forced, which are never enjoyable, Ive been in that position, but Im also of the view, and is something you hear cyclists say alot there maybe many times Ive not wanted to ride a bike on a particular day, but its exceedingly rare that I ever finish a ride regretting having gone out, whether it became cold, wet or windy along the way, and I do get to experience all the same emotions and joy, wonder of the natural world around us and stories to tell.

but Id never insist to anyone thats how you should ride your bike, your bike is for you to make your own adventures on ultimately, how you approach doing that is your choice

 

Avatar
TheBillder replied to Awavey | 3 years ago
2 likes

Exactly this. I've often pushed myself out on a ride and never regretted it, even when I've crashed. But sadly more often I've slobbed out in an armchair and regretted that.

If it helps you, set a target. If not, don't.

Avatar
msackman | 3 years ago
3 likes

> Ride your bike as much as you like, as far as you like, but don’t judge yourself or your riding success by volume of miles. Measure all of this by what happened along the way, the stories you can tell, the places you visited, the views you paused in front of, and the people and characters you met.

I think this applies to more than just cycling. Don't define your worth by how many hours you put in at work, etc etc

Avatar
Joe Totale | 3 years ago
8 likes

The old man in charge of Audax UK will be furiously writing a response once he's finished riding a 800km DIY on his steel bike and sewn another badge onto his Carradice bag.

Avatar
JoanneH | 3 years ago
1 like

I spent Christmas self-isolating after working abroad and it was good to have a challenge to get me on my turbo every day - otherwise I suspect I'd have done a few short rides and maybe a couple of YouTube circuit sessions and told myself it didn't matter because it was Christmas. I included a couple of virtually hilly Zwift routes (even though my trainer doesn't do resistance adjustment, they just take longer) and I did feel like I'd accomplished something by the end of the 500km. And it just ate up the time indoors. So while I do think quality should be prioritised over quantity, sometimes a distance goal can be a good thing.

Avatar
Philltrz | 3 years ago
1 like

I'll make an exception for the festive period based cycling challenge this year; with absolutely nothing to do in the world over Christmas it got me outside and stopped me from spiralling into being drunk or hungover for a week straight. Yes it's utterly arbitrary and I could have gone outside without it, but realistically I wouldn't have. Having said that, I'll almost certainly never do it again and I agree with your general sentiment entirely.

Avatar
Miller replied to Philltrz | 3 years ago
2 likes

Same for me. I've ignored the F500 in previous years but this time with nothing open and no visits to family possible I was like, what the hell, let's give it a go. It forced a bit of routine for me, kept weight gain at bay, made me feel a touch pro, even. So, box ticked. All outside btw, not virtual. Probably won't do it next time though.

Avatar
PRSboy | 3 years ago
2 likes

The increased use of <insert your favourite virtual cycling app here> has made distance goal achievements a bit of a con anyway.  Aside from the philosophical discussion as to whether distance ridden and climbed virtually actually counts, the variability between platforms and 'real life' makes it less meaningful.

Avatar
mdavidford | 3 years ago
3 likes
Quote:

any fool knows that if you want to make your ride quantity seem more impressive you’ll prefer kilometres as your measure of distance. It makes you instantly about one and half times better.

One and a half times as good. Only half a time better. 

I quite enjoyed doing the 500 for the first time this year, but I was doing it for my own amusement, not as some public performance. Plus it provided a good excuse for disappearing off for a couple of long days to myself - "Well I have to - I've got this challenge to complete..."

Avatar
Sriracha replied to mdavidford | 3 years ago
2 likes

The other half always prefers the continental leg of our European migrations, because "kilometers go by so much quicker than miles"  1

Avatar
Dingaling replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago
2 likes

Spot on with that one. My wife is just the same. So much nicer knowing that the 100 on the road sign will only take an hour instead of a hour and half. Daft really.

Avatar
kil0ran | 3 years ago
11 likes

I've missed my annual distance goal for the first time in years, despite riding more than ever in lockdown #1

Why? 

Because since July I've swapped to MTB riding, where distance simply isn't a reliable or indeed useful measure of "performance". It's noticeable that around here MTB riders also seem far less focused on Strava, recording every ride, and so on. I've got the "Local Legend" badge on quite a few trails near me which has to be down to not many MTB riders using Strava, rather than any particular achievement on my part.

For the time-poor MTB riding means that you simply won't cover as many miles as if you were road cycling, because average speeds are slower. Measuring vertical ascent doesn't really apply either because there aren't the long easy drags you get with road riding in the UK. My regular MTB trail has plenty of elevation changes - in fact there's almost no flat to speak of - but my climbing stats are lower.

I guess if I was using a HR monitor or power meter that would be a reliable stat for off-road riding but none of these things capture the real benefits - being away from people, in nature, with the only safety worries being squirrels and my own limited bike handling skills.

Avatar
Liam Cahill replied to kil0ran | 3 years ago
4 likes

You need one of those Garmins that measures your skid marks. That's what all MTB'ers are doing.

Avatar
Joe Totale replied to kil0ran | 3 years ago
2 likes

Agreed, off road riding reminds me of why I got into cycling in the first place, because it's fun! Not because of how far/fast I can go.

Avatar
bobrayner replied to kil0ran | 3 years ago
2 likes

kil0ran is wise. Off-road riding doesn't score well on the kind of metrics that are currently popular among road-riders - fewer km, fewer km/h, power meters are rare, and it's not very Strava - but it's a lot of fun, there's more scenery than tarmac, and it can be really high-quality training.

"Gravel" and "CX" bikes are gateway drugs. I started out as a road rider but have found myself shifting offroad, and now I'm training more and getting fitter because I enjoy it more. Of course I refuse to wear a Camelbak or baggy shorts - you've got to have some standards.

During the plague, getting away from roads / towns / people has other advantages, too.

Avatar
hawkinspeter | 3 years ago
7 likes

Excellent piece!

The thing with modern cycling (or at least for me) is that we've got loads of different metrics we can obsess over and they're all useful in different ways, but it's so easy to let performance anxiety to get in the way of just getting on your bike and enjoying a simple ride.

Avatar
Sriracha replied to hawkinspeter | 3 years ago
5 likes

The solution for me is to take the coastal route. Then the distance is whatever I choose it to be.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastline_paradox

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago
1 like
Sriracha wrote:

The solution for me is to take the coastal route. Then the distance is whatever I choose it to be. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastline_paradox

Do you need to swap to really small wheels to get the really long distances?

Avatar
AllegedlyAnthony replied to Sriracha | 3 years ago
2 likes

Oh! Thank you. I hadn't met this one before. It's beautiful!

Avatar
EddyBerckx | 3 years ago
7 likes

Yes! I agree with all of this! 
 

Another great blog, keep 'em coming

Avatar
dassie | 3 years ago
6 likes

If people want to set distance/frequency targets, and then let others know how they did - it really doesn't bother me at all.  Each to their own, sometimes it can inspire others to ride more - wherever they choose. Similarly, I acknowledge most cyclists I see out on the roads, but don't expect any reciprocation.  Just do what you've gotta do, be considerate, and ride.  HNY.

Pages

Latest Comments