People who don’t ride but know that I do sometimes ask me these questions: “How far do you ride?” and “How fast do you go?”. Simple enough right? I could give the raw data from Saturday’s ride as the answers: 57 miles and 16 miles per hour. Or Sunday’s tandem ‘recovery’ ride numbers: 41 miles and 14.8 mph. But those answers tell only a small part of the story, and even the questions are the wrong ones.
If you want to properly describe a ride, you need to know how long it was in time and how hard it was in effort. Distance and speed alone don’t tell you much about that. I once did a ride in Italy that was only 15 miles long, and averaged 5.5 mph. But I wasn’t coasting along through flat villages; I was climbing the Stelvio Pass. The last 10 miles average 8.5% and it took me 2 hours and 43 minutes to reach the summit, elevation 9,200 feet.
It isn’t just climbing that can make a ride difficult. Irish Hill Road outside of Ione is about 5 miles of nearly traffic free tarmac. Our club rides are not races, but that does not mean that they are not occasionally competitive, and Irish Hill is one place where someone usually tries to get to the end first, and others try to make sure he or she doesn’t. On Saturday I rode this stretch of road very hard, which is probably not the smartest way to do the first few miles of a 57 mile ride. The distance was only five miles, but it was harder than the other 52 miles combined.
And then there is the wind. Stoker and I did 10 miles of gently rolling road in Canada that normally would take around 40 minutes even riding easily. Unfortunately the 40+ mph headwind made the ride far from normal. The wind was so strong we had to use the lowest gears on flat ground, and a couple of other riders were actually blown off of the pavement. The wind added a miserable hour to our 75 mile ride.
Hills, wind, intensity: cycling is much more complicated than how far you ride or how fast you go.