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OPINION

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

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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.

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51 comments

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rogerbeardswort... | 1 year ago
1 like

Being more of a runner than cyclist, I find the emphasis on distance a bit surprising. The only reason for running a 50 or 60 mile week is so that you can do that 10k a bit faster. And when looking at rides on Strava I want to see pace and height gain to be impressed.

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Dnnnnnn | 2 years ago
6 likes

Those are a lot of words to express one's indifference.

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Awavey | 2 years ago
1 like

I thought it was only the turkey we re-warmed up and had repeats on the television at this time of year  3

my view hasnt altered on this in the past 11 months.

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Tom_77 | 2 years ago
3 likes

If targets and goals motivate you or enhance your enjoyment, then go for it. And if they don't, then don't.

My only real goal in recent years has been to do some exercise (cycling or running) at least 3 days per week. I mange that most weeks.

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Rendel Harris | 2 years ago
5 likes

Rather curmudgeonly! When I played cricket and rugby we would discuss our achievements and those of others in terms of runs or tries scored and wickets taken, golfers discuss each other's handicaps etc. Most keen cyclists don't actually race so distance and/or elevation gain is a good metric for measuring achievement and ability. It should always remain an interesting by-product of a love for riding rather than a target (I do know a couple of target-fixated people who will go out in atrocious conditions or when they're feeling bad because they're obsessed with hitting their quota) but with that caveat I can't see what's wrong with talking about it.

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TheBillder replied to Rendel Harris | 2 years ago
3 likes

The way it (might) work for me over the next few days is that I have 180 km still to do to hit my arbitrary annual target. This will push me to go out on rides that I will enjoy and benefit from, but actually getting out of a warmish house into the December weather is a bit of a challenge.

Having said that, the most important thing is to enjoy the ride - if I get too cold or sore or bored, I'll turn for home and I won't care if the target is missed.

Everyone has different motivators and one of the keys to life is to understand what they are.

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Secret_squirrel replied to TheBillder | 2 years ago
2 likes
TheBillder wrote:

Everyone has different motivators and one of the keys to life is to understand what they are.

Agreed with one tweak. You don't need to understand them, just respect them.

This was my first year of achieving 200km in a single ride. I didn't do it for bragging rights, I did it for me and the sense of achievement I get knowing I did it.  Ironically it's left some of my other cycling "scores" such as ftp well down on my peak - but that's ok, it's the journey that counts - not the destination.  Which I think is what Jo really meant.

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Ihatecheese | 2 years ago
3 likes

I remember thinking to post when this came out the year ago. But since we're rehashing on the front page!
Personal arbitrary goals are typically inconsequential to anyone else. it's good to recognise that before boring others sometimes. However it can help make the person attempting feel a sense of achievement!
Validation of achievement's can take so many forms be it personal or within a group These kind of metrics can help some people feel satisfied. So good luck to them!

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Ride On replied to Ihatecheese | 2 years ago
0 likes

I think strava is essentially built on the principle of sharing your achievements.

Speaking for myself the achievements of friends and colleagues encourage me to achieve more, whether that's faster, further more frequent etc.

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Gwb212 | 2 years ago
4 likes

This has the same sour grapes feeling as the "think how many calories your eating " thanksgiving message my miserable self obsessed boss gave one year at the holidays. Off base. A long way. 

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badbadleroybrown | 3 years ago
5 likes

This article is nothing but two pages of douchebag sookery...

Whatever metric makes you feel like you're progressing as a cyclist; minutes, miles, hours, meters, ftp, etc... track it and be proud of your progress. Don't less assholes like this author belittle your goals because their days of self improvement are far behind in the rear view mirror. Track it, achieve it, brag about it if you want to... and good on you for every achievement you accomplish.

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mdavidford replied to badbadleroybrown | 3 years ago
8 likes

Rather unnecessary. Are you really not capable of disagreeing with their opinion without immediately reaching for insults and abuse?

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ReadingTim replied to mdavidford | 3 years ago
3 likes

I didn't think badbadleroybrown was materially more insulting or abusive than the original author was about anyone who had a different opinion to his own - it was just expressed in a less subtle manner.   

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mdavidford replied to ReadingTim | 3 years ago
4 likes

We'll have to agree to disagree on that. I don't agree with the thrust of the article, and it does read a bit "I'm right and anyone who feels differently is wrong", but then it is an opinion piece. I certainly don't see anywhere where it's outright abusive to any individual, or even a specific group.

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iridebikessometimes | 3 years ago
6 likes

Jo, different strokes for different folks.  No one cares that your socks, cycling cap, and bar-tape are coordinated.  But if that is one of the things that you enjoy about cycling then go for it.  Some people are motivated by the number or miles, others by the experiences during the ride, some by scenery, etc.  I can appreciate the underlying message of your post, but you communicated it in a very judgmental way and you generalized the way in which the entire cycling world should enjoy cycling.  If it was for effect (and clicks) then mission accomplished.  Otherwise, leave the mile counters alone and tell us why YOU enjoy cycling.  Let's celebrate the diversity of our community instead of telling people how a cyclist is supposed to be.

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ktache replied to iridebikessometimes | 3 years ago
2 likes

But very few of us have our own signature bar tape...

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Echo | 3 years ago
3 likes

I was thinking what a fun sponge then remembered I have a picture of me in the same MTB race as this journo and in it he's wearing multi coloured leopard skin full length lycra tights.

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PRSboy | 3 years ago
6 likes

Actually, I think people do care, well maybe not care, but are certainly interested.  The first thing that people generally ask me when I pull up on my bike if we strike up a conversation is how far I've been.

Anything over 20 miles just confirms in their mind that cyclists are plainly as mad as they always suspected.

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Yorky-M | 3 years ago
3 likes

I do fine it amusing that plenty of the comments dont get the crux of the article.

"I read it but regardless....This is me impressing you with my bicycling amazballs rides. I shall now list them..."

 

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ReadingTim | 3 years ago
8 likes

"For fellow cyclists, it’s ... a handy passive-aggressive “I’m better than you” boast if you want."

Whereas this article is in no way a passive-aggressive “I’m better than you” boast either...

 

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I like bikes replied to ReadingTim | 2 years ago
0 likes

He comes across like this irl as well as in print, for what it's worth

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andystow | 3 years ago
7 likes

I do track my miles, and set myself a stretch but achievable goal of 5500 miles in 2020. I ended up being very close with just a few days to go, resulting in me riding 32 miles on December 30th, and 42 miles on the 31st, to meet it. Both days were well below freezing, with icy roads (I put the studded tyres on) and it was great! I was sore for days.

Without the goal, I'd just have been sitting home having beers and eating holiday candy. Which would also have been great, but not quite as good for me.

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JohnMcL7 | 3 years ago
2 likes

"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."

"To summarise: I don’t care about how far you’ve been, and I don't believe anyone does really"

I couldn't disagree with this article more and it seems to completely misunderstand why people do distance challenges as these two quotes are completely wrong for me and I'm sure many others.  I don't do distance challenges to impress anyone or to show off or anything like that and I don't care at all what people think of my distances.  I have many friends who are incredible cyclists who have always been able to do vastly longer cycles than me so there would be no point in trying to impress them with my efforts.

Some of my favourite rides have come from distance challenges because they force me to do something more than I normally do which is exactly why I do the challenges.  After medical problems in 2019 I lost all my fitness but was getting better towards the end of the year so decided I wanted to get a 100 miles done just before Christmas and had a fantastic ride in conditions I wouldn't normally have ridden in.  

Last year I wanted to complete a virutal LEJOG during lockdown to give me an incentive to get out cycling since I couldn't go with friends as normal, I had a lot of fun rides and in particular a night time ride round Loch Ness which again I'd never have done normally but was wanting to get my miles up and loved it.  Coming into winter I decided to go for an indoor trainer (smart rollers) which I'd always been against but was still missing group riding.  The rollers had a steep learning curve but I'd been getting on ok however the festive 500 made a huge difference, I'd kept to short intense sessions before as I found them uncomfortable but during the festive 500 I found I was balancing better and in turn was more relaxed and comfortable on them.  There's numerous nay sayers with negative comments about doing the challenge indoors but I really don't care, I did it for me and very glad I did.

If someone believes setting mileage challenges is all about showing off and beating other people then I think that says more about their own negative attitudes.

 

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brooksby replied to JohnMcL7 | 3 years ago
3 likes
JohnMcL7 wrote:

If someone believes setting mileage challenges is all about showing off and beating other people then I think that says more about their own negative attitudes.

Fair enough.  Do you not post your times/distances on any sort of social media, then (Strava)?

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mdavidford replied to brooksby | 3 years ago
6 likes

Why does posting to Strava have to equal 'showing off and beating other people'?

I have my rides on Strava, but I don't imagine anyone's particularly impressed by them. If other people are interested, that's up to them, but that's not the purpose of having them there. It

  • allows me to go back and remind myself about rides I did and when
  • gives me a way (through the heatmap) to find roads I've not ridden, so that I can explore them on future rides
  • conveniently tots up what I've done (including how I'm doing in any challenges I've chosen to take on) - for my benefit; not for anyone else's
  • allows my other half to check out which places I've visited, and where we might be able to do future rides to together
  • occasionally, gives me a handy way to share pictures of something interesting I found on a route

I've only once used it specifically to show other people how much I'd done, and that was when doing a virtual RideLondon-based charity challenge in August, when that was rather the point of the whole exercise.

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EddyBerckx replied to JohnMcL7 | 3 years ago
1 like

The overall impression I got was more about doing distance challenges and so on for the right reasons, not don't do them at all. 

So yeah, there are some needy people in my club who love to use their strava titles to boast about their exploits...and some who just get on with it without making a fuss. The second type get more kudos  3

 

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Daveyraveygravey | 3 years ago
4 likes

I've always set distance and climbing targets since I joined Strava 7 years ago. I hit 5000+ miles a year until 2018 when I had a bad crash in the summer and broke my scapula; the mileage tailed off dramatically that year. The following year took me until the summer to get back to my normal weekly riding, so was comparable to the year of the crash.

So last year I wanted to push myself and set the target of 10k km, or 6200 miles which was always going to be a stretch and over a thousand km more than I had ever ridden. I like the way Strava breaks your annual target down to a weekly number, I know from years gone by the first and last 2 months I would be behind the curve but as spring comes on I start to get nearer if not catch up.
I gave up in August, April til then had been good, regularly hitting 200k a week or slightly over...but I was still over a thousand behind the target. I was lucky to get away to Italy for a fortnight's holiday, but no riding sadly. Plus I realised that the challenge was making me do strange things; every ride I would try and grab a few km here or there, I was getting up silly early to do a double commute to work. I was also not riding the same, the intensity dropped so I could ride again the next day, or I was doing less mtb because sub 15 kmh doesn't stack up to nearer 28-30 kmh when on the road bike.
One good thing though, I found some new mtb routes, partly because I had more time for some rides so if I got lost or went wrong I had the chance to get back on track.

I've still set distance and climbing goals, but not so much of a stretch. I'd like to ride further than I ever have, but it won't be the main goal.

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mike the bike | 3 years ago
5 likes

I see where you're coming from but, and it's a big but, I reserve the right to judge the young men who would father my daughter's children by the distance they can ride.  It's basic and it's crude but I'm a man who makes quick decisions and I need a simple measure.

In the case of a chap with balance difficulties, and let's be honest, most of my daughter's admirers are somewhat unsteady, I fall back on the Proclaimers Principle and disqualify anyone who can't walk 500 miles.  

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Philh68 replied to mike the bike | 3 years ago
5 likes

500 miles? Surely you expect them to walk 500 more 😉

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Jetmans Dad | 3 years ago
4 likes

Depends what you use it for ... I set myself monthly and annual mileage targets, not to boast (usually only my wife has any idea what they are) but because I hate not hitting them and it encourages me to get on the bike when I might have otherwise chosen not to, which is a good thing. 

This year, that will be allied with other, more meaningful/fun targets, such as completing specific fitness goals, and committing to more regular racing on Zwift. 

That said ... I get a kick out of increasing my overall mileage year on year (5000 in 2020 for the first time) so, for me, that in itself is fun. 

Each to their own. 

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