Six years ago the iPhone emerged onstage with the late Steve Jobs, a totem for those who believe in the transformational power of personal technology. It was a turning point that opened people up to giving technology a truly intimate role in their lives.
New pitfalls appeared on the path to enlightenment. There are many who spend more time staring into the glass screen of an iPhone than into the eyes of their children. Among cyclists, a sweatier narcissism can be found in the longing gaze at a Strava segment on a tiny screen.
Fortunately, cycling already had its iPhone moment. It was more than a century ago with the adoption of the “safety bicycle” as the high-wheel design phased out. With that perspective, we need not worry about being left behind technologically even if it feels like the sport’s essence is slipping from our hands.
The rider’s role remains essential, whether dashing in the dark to the store for a pint of half-and-half or carrying a sponsors millions on their shoulders at more than 50 kilometers an hour across the Arenberg’s cobbles. While driverless cars offer a rolling sanctuary for those burdened with an excruciating commute, a bike that steered and propelled itself risks being an abomination. If anything, driverless cars may make bikes the most exciting vehicles on the road.
The best wheelsets are lighter and more aerodynamic than ever. They are unmistakable for what they are, no matter the price tag, no matter the spoke count or the braking-surface material.
As for the rest of the machine, some perspective is in order. There are wonderful technological changes taking place in but whether they are revolutionary is an individual opinion. Much of it is about measurement, such as GPS bike computers replacing the Avocet two-button devices that are the equivalent of the cellular brick-phone.
For sure there are energetic debates over whether disc brakes have a place on road bikes, or even what size rotors are best. Electronic shifting sees cyclists choose sides quicker than Yankees and Mets fans. These back-and-forth are often so heartfelt because they are, in fact, fights over very small stakes. They also take place mostly online. Once on the road, it matters so much less if your rear cassette has 9, 10 or 11 cogs. Or if a servo changed gears for you or a disc rotor slowed your carving descent.
None of this enhances the feel the wind on your cheek. Or richens the laughter of a good friend. Or deepens the fatigue and gratitude of a hard ride.
We can mount more and more electronics on our bikes but cycling’s spirit is rooted in its analog years. Steel’s resurgence as a frame material is testament to this. It is a wonderfully defiant response to disposability and impermanence – twin curses of our age. These hand built frames are surely lighter and more refined than those ridden a century ago but their lineage is unmistakable. Like the hum of a ferrous railroad track ahead of a speeding train’s arrival, a similar energy is found in the muscular flex of a bottom bracket or the delightful ping of a stone ricocheting off a downtube. The Tour de France’s centennial this summer is a beautiful reminder of the sport’s continuity that is inherent in every steel bike even if the current generation of cycling icons may never have ridden the material.
The most memorable bikes are often our first. They were ridden with abandon before we learned to bind ourselves in straps to monitor our hearts and regard small screens with devotion instead of the horizon before us. These bikes were heavy, flexy and often cheap. Batteries had no role in our joy. In their imperfection was their attraction. Feeling, not knowledge, defined our riding.
Our current bikes are the product of rational and informed choices, even if they cost more than half a year’s rent or a first car. The latest are stirring designs made from a supply of quality carbon fiber that Cold War fighter engineers would have sold their children for. They are adorned with wireless sensors and GPS navigation that the bicycle-making Wright Brothers would have put to good use — just not on the ground.
The best innovators like Steve Jobs understand innovation is less about technology than it is about discovering new ways to enhance a shared human experience.
Cyclists have known that all along.
Data-less riding is in vogue these days. Rolling around with no computer and only the feedback of lactic acid to tell you how hard (or not) you’re going has a minimalist appeal. Think of it as the fixie romance for those with legs too big to fit in skinny jeans. (Dude, come on, even Robin Zander wasn’t that skinny!)
Where was I? Oh yeah, sans details. I do get the appeal. I was once in a Specialized Concept Store and discussing the merits of a wattage device with a prospective customer. What I said wasn’t helpful to the sale: “If your hardest training is on group rides, wattage doesn’t matter. When the move comes, either you’re there or you’re not.”
So it goes with riding hard. Either it was hard enough, or it wasn’t. And if it wasn’t, it’s likely all you did is delay your next opportunity to train hard enough. For those of you struggling to get more than a few hours of riding per week, this perspective might be less helpful than gasoline to a firefighter. Apologies and all that; there’s a wheel review coming shortly.
I have tended to find computers and heart rate monitors most useful as a governor to my efforts. It’s easier to go too hard on a recovery ride than it is to gridlock Congress. I remain a big believer in using data to keep from overtaining and in these parts you can group ride yourself into overtaining in less than half a lunar cycle. The Easy-Bake Oven isn’t that easy.
Even for those who don’t want data overload on their rides, riding five or six days per week deserves to be tracked for the sake of planning recovery rides and rest weeks. Of late, I’ve suffered from two broken GPS units and have thus used my iPhone and the Map My Ride iPhone app to keep track of my riding while alleviating me of the self-doubt that plagues me every time I look down at those little numbers. Oh, the questions!
How much longer can I maintain this pace? Is the pace high enough? Why isn’t the pace higher? Should I be hurting this much? Is my form declining?
In a bookcase I have notebook after notebook of old training data. Most of those accumulated miles are unremarkable, but there were rides among them over roads and routes that I no longer recall. To have a full range of digital data on all those rides is something that I … well, I wouldn’t kill for it, but I might squash a bug or two.
When Map My Ride hit the Interwebs a few years back I was stunned to see someone finally offering what MotionBased had promised circa 2004. As a registered map nut (I get lost in maps the way some cooks get lost in the kitchen) I get an unnatural entertainment from looking at my route on a map. I love playing back in my head the climbs, turns and descents.
As I mentioned both my primary and back up GPS units threw a rod and, as a result, I’ve been using my iPhone to track my rides. It’s a nearly ideal solution for me. I’ve been relieved of knowing exactly how fast I’m going, which is bad news more often than good, and I still finish the ride with a file detailing my ride. Better still is the fact that I don’t have to download it to the site as the iPhone app does that for me within seconds of climbing off the bike. I bought an external battery to extend the life of my iPhone so I can ride for more than three hours, to boot.
I’ve looked at each of the services that allow a cyclist to download training data. For strictly training purposes, Training Peaks kills Map My Ride, but because I’m not trying to race anymore, and few people I know are training as seriously as is necessary to really utilize the full suite of features of Training Peaks, Map My Ride strikes me as a better overall package for most riders. I completely geek out on the mapping and elevation profile features. The social media aspect of Map My Ride makes it a powerful way to connect with friends as well, whether you’re just posting your rides to Facebook or connecting with other riders who seem to be on your riding wavelength.
When I contacted them to get a few images, they asked me to mention that they’ve got a couple of deals going for the Holidays. I dig this site. I dig their CEO (he’s a halogen bulb even in a room full of high-wattage incandescents) and I dig that they’ve been willing to take feedback from me on features they should add.
The first is:
Buy any new Premium membership and receive a FREE invisible Bracelet membership for one year!
Invisible Bracelet is a competitor to Road ID, but with an important twist. IB is creating a database of users so that emergency service providers have a complete set of contacts for you and your loved ones. Whether it’s a standard everyone adopts remains to be seen; regardless, it seems a powerful way to reach out to families in the event of an emergency. Learn more here.
The second is:
Gift your loved ones a Premium membership for a special discount price of only $19.99!
MMR is offering their bronze membership benefits as a “special holiday deal” for only $19.99 (regularly $29.99, and said to be a value of more than $71.00 given the monthly access price is $5.99). Learn more here.
My point: Killer Christmas Gift.