Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Instagram Gratification: Cycling in the Social Media Age

Last Saturday I went on my longest training ride of the year, 132 miles solo, about 1/3 of it on dirt roads. Since I've been training for the Dirty Kanza the past few years this sort of ride is familiar. I knew the effort I had put in, it was a good day on the bike.


Yet when I plugged in my Garmin to the computer the device would not read. I tried my son's Chrome Book, no connection from there either. I went from satisfied with my ride to frustrated & dejected in minutes. It was as if my success had been wiped away, I needed social media validation for my ride to be meaningful.

Garmin Envy (get it)
And that is just poor. As I complained on Twitter about my inability to analyze my day's training, my friend Matt Kraus admonished me that I had still done the ride with or without internet feedback. That should be accomplishment enough. I am old enough to remember a time when it was. Before the internet & social media the only people who knew how far or hard your training rides went were the others on the ride. Often that was only you. Even that was sometimes an estimate since until recently bike computers could only save a small amount of data.

the sad truth for some cyclists
But we live in a Brave New World now. Strava has changed the face of competitive cycling. Some folks take achieving KOM's as (or more) seriously than entering actual races. And woe be to the serious cyclist who fails to record a significant ride on Strava so that appropriate Kudo's can be conferred.
But not only on Strava, we cyclists seek affirmation through all sorts of social media: Face Book, blog posts, user groups, Instagram, Ride with GPS, Garmin Connect, & Twitter to name a few. I joke with my wife that 90% of my Twitter activity is bike chat, but the percentage is probably not far off.

That is not all bad. Cycling can be a very lonely business, especially in America where bike racing is & has always been a niche sport. Most of us cyclists spend hours upon hours alone, or with very few others, achieving accomplishments seen by no one else. The recognition by our tribe on line gives a welcome ego boost. I can now quantify & analyze my training in ways unimaginable when I was new to the sport. In this connected age it is much easier than in the past to find information on routes, weather, races, parts, & all the minutia that is "important" to cycling. My life as a cyclist is better for Sheldon Brown's on-line encyclopedia of bike technology alone. (may he rest in peace)
Sheldon Brown, cyclist extraordinaire
But documenting one's life as a cyclist on the internet can become obsessive too. The data is useful, but the data is not the ride. Still, some cyclists have become so fixated on the feedback of their power meter that they watch their computer more than the road ahead. Let's just say that Chris Froome is not the only cyclist who regularly stares at his stem. When I am more concerned with uploading a ride than recovering from a hard training ride, I know we have a problem. Roadies are not alone in this sort of fixation, not when you consider the flood of photos from gravel grinders or the number of Go-Pro edits from the baggy shorts mtb set. We all have different favorite ways to quantify & publicize our rides.
Froome staring at his SRM again
There is one group of cyclists who do not care about putting their rides on the internet, kids. Every child I know under age 12 who loves to ride bikes just loves to ride bikes. None of them have any way to document their time in the saddle, except when Mom or Dad (usually Dad) does it for them. All they want to do is have fun on two wheels. I am an advocate for riding like a kid again, for riding digitally naked once in a while, no devices, no planned agenda, just ride. If that is a bridge too far, put the computer in your jersey pocket and/or wait to up load the ride for a day or three. I do not ride that way often enough. I still like to measure my annual total mileage, but the recording of it can wait until the happiness from my last good ride fades away.
Not a ride on Strava
Until then, look up from your stem, turn off the camera, and enjoy the ride.

1 comment:

  1. Curious but did you try mounting the Garmin (huh-huh) as a device and just importing the file vs using the synch or whatever it is? The former is more reliable in my experience. Doesn't always mount the first try (keeping older files cleaned off seems to help) but I am always able to get it to show up eventually (I'm using W7 64 and an ancient Garmin 500).

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