I am not a bicycle racer. There several reasons for this. I’m afraid of crashing or causing someone else to crash. I don’t think I’m strong enough to compete even in the lowest categories of races. Perhaps I’m not aggressive enough or determined enough.
But even though I don’t race, that does not mean that I never compete on my bike. I time myself on climbs and compare my efforts to my previous marks. I try to beat some of my cycling friends up climbs or to mythical sprint lines (I always lose those; I’m a poor sprinter). I even compete with myself by measuring how many watts I average on a climb and comparing that to my best efforts on my personal power curve. For the record, my best 20-minute power test is 289 watts, which isn’t great but isn’t terrible either.
My new Garmin computer and a membership on the Strava website have added a whole new dimension to my cycling. Strava users create ‘segments’, which are specific stretches of road used for competing. Some are short (the Wallace Sprint is 0.1 mile) and some are long (the Comanche Loop is 31 miles). Many involve climbs or flat, time-trialing terrain. The Strava App on a phone or a Garmin-type device records the rider’s time on a segment.
My Garmin Edge lets me put the GPS coordinates of my favorite segments on my device. As I ride along the Edge warns me when a segment is coming up, then beeps ‘GO!’ when the segment starts. The display tells me how far I have to go and how much time I am ahead (or behind) my personal record (‘PR’). When I finish the segment the Garmin beeps, and records my time, and when I get home I upload the data to Strava, which updates the segment’s leader board. The leader board is a list of the best times of every rider who has crossed the segment (whether they are riding hard or not).
It is very motivating to try to set a PR and move up the leader board. I am in the top ten of several segments, with my best being 2nd out of 77 on the very short Olive Orchard Road climb. The segments are like interval training but a lot more fun. I admit I get a kick out of seeing a new PR pop up at the end of the segment. I got 3 of those yesterday!
Success on a Strava segment can be deceiving. There is a segment near my house on Alpine Road, heading north. It starts at Eight Mile Road and ends 1.5 miles later at Live Oak Road. My best time is 3:49 which is 7th out of 229 riders. I averaged 290 watts. The wind was from the south, so I enjoyed a tailwind of at least 10 mph. My previous time on the same segment was 4:05, but I averaged 305 watts, so I actually rode stronger on that ride. But on that day the wind was blowing from the northwest, a cross headwind, so my segment was slower. So some of these best times should probably have an asterisk next to them. Were you drafting a stronger rider, or with a group sharing the pulls in front? Strava doesn’t know.
If you are on a ride with me, and I suddenly take off as if I’m being chased by a bill collector, don’t worry. I’m probably just chasing a Strava segment PR, and I’ll be out of gas and riding slow when my Garmin beeps and I cross the mythical finish line. Competing without racing!