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This article shows how to use Strava to measure your cycling activity, how to find cycling clubs and places to cycle, and lastly Sportives – what they are, why you should try them, how you enter and what they’re like to take part in.
Strava is a GPS based measurement app used to record cycling and running activity, and I wouldn’t think of not using this app when I’m cycling now. The orange themed app is downloadable on Android and at Apple’s App Store. The following images have kindly been provided by the Strava app on phone or on their site.
Once you’ve installed the app and registered for free, launching it displays your dashboard.
This is where you can start what they call a feed, to register distance and direction in figures and map display. This auto pauses if you stop your bike and restarts once you get going again. You have to stop it though, at which time you can decide whether to sync and save the run.
Once recorded and synced with your account you can review your miles online at https://www.strava.com/dashboard .
Its a lot easier to use and review progress on Strava if you get a mount for it. I use one from Topeak.
If you set your phone to permanent display, you’ll have a readout that’s on all the time. It consumes 30% of battery power over an hour on my iphone – just check that you’re charged up before you mount it, or if you’re out for a while, connect up your battery pack.
Strava allows you to see sections of road on your runs, and your relative performance against other people using Strava who have navigated the same stretch of road, giving you a ranking (mine as you’ll see is miles down the list).
It also gives you metrics on height, speed and power during a run, which is useful if you want to see your relative performance on different elevations.
There is much more to Strava including a video they send you annually of your achievements throughout the year, and premium contracted services offer a further tier of services for those who take cycling seriously.
The fastest way of finding cycling clubs in your area is to use the internet. Three useful sites are Meetup, British Cycling and Cycling UK.
Meetup is an online organising tool for people with similar interests and was founded in 2002 by Scott Heiferman, Matt Meeker and Brendan McGovern as a direct response to the 9/11 attacks, in order to bring people closer together. You can search for cycling clubs in a radius from a given town, and hotspots to local clubs allow you to see their meetup pages, e.g.
Image kindly provided by Meetup.
So you’ve put in all the cycling miles to lose weight. If you want to have a go at a non competitive race to see how you’d do over a longer distance against the clock, perhaps you’d like to try a sportive? Want some visible proof of your accomplishments? Read on.
I suspect you’re wondering why its a race if it’s not competitive? Technically its not a race but get yourself in amongst hundreds of riders and its difficult to resist the competitive spirit, even if there aren’t prizes or ranking position points which are the requirements for an official competitive race. They actually contain 2 or 3 separate ‘races’; short routes of around 25 miles, one for 50 miles plus and a longer one of 75 miles plus.
Sportives do allow you to meet other riders, tackle distance you may not have had time to do before, have a ride out with a large number of riders, and provides freebies for entering. Normally you’re presented with a medal, and free products from companies using the race for marketing. Sometimes t-shirts, bandanas or socks are given away. Most sportives cost from £25, depending on distance, and results are displayed after the race on the organiser’s website. There are normally photographers on the course taking snapshots of every rider which you can buy online a couple of days after the event.
I’ve competed in six sportives throughout the South East in the Wiggle series, but this isn’t the only series. The text following describes prep and race on one of Wiggle’s runs.
Entry is online, and they’ll add you to their list of riders for the event and send you confirmation of entry details, including route.
I prepare the night before as its usually an early start, and if the race is some distance from you you’ll obviously need to take this into account when determining time to set off in the morning.
I usually check the bike over; tyres, drive train, lights etc, and then because I’ve got a small car, remove the wheels and pack the bike so its one less thing to do first thing.
I also check the weather forecast on the BBC to see what it’s sensible wearing first thing.
- Printed entry confirmation and route map.
- A spare tube or two and rim removal tools.
- A mini pump.
- Waterproofs that are small enough that you can carry them with you. Legs are not as important as upper body so if you’re packing only one take the top.
- A thermos for coffee/tea. (Race organisers do have catering at the race but its normally a distance from the car park).
- Headgear. (This must have a US Snell B90/B95 or European standard CE test label).
- Portable USB charger (for lights and phone should they run low).
Water bottle(s). If you can take two do so. Better to need water and have it than the other way round.
- Dry clothing including socks (for when you finish). (Drive to the event in your race gear).
On the day
Plan to leave contingency time for bad traffic. You can start the ride after the start time periods (there are different ranges of time for each of the rides) but if you finish the race after the organisers have packed up their marshal stations, you won’t have an official finish time or be able to collect a goodies pack.
When you get closer to the race, you’ll see signposts for car parking. Once you’ve parked up, leave the bike where it is, pick up your headgear and go and register. You’ve entered, but the organisers will need to tick you off on their lists and slap a self adhesive transponder sticker with your race number barcode for their tracking mechanisms on your headgear. If you enter late, you may not be on their list. If this is the case, go to their ‘on the day’ race entrance table, and they’ll issue your headgear barcode.
With some races, dependent on whether you entered weeks in advance or signed up for particular deals, they’ll also give you whatever you’ve also bought or become eligible for, e.g. water bottles, energy bar packs.
Once you’ve registered, the time is yours to use as you wish before the race, remembering to leave enough time to get your bike assembled, your riding gear on and race number attached. Organisers usually have bike gear and clothing stalls on site, and there’s catering of some sort if you’ve not had breakfast.
Join the other riders at the start line, listen to the race safety briefing, set Strava on if you’re using it, and you’re off!
If its a longer distance than you normally cover, its best to pace at the start, and adjust your speed depending how you feel after a mile or two. Its not a race but they’ll be riders who are moving at a fair rate to beat personal times (or friends).
Depending on the length of race you’ve selected they’ll be a number of refreshment stations where you’ll get free drink and energy food, and facilities if you need them.
If you’re calorie counting and its food that isn’t packaged, you can note down roughly what calories these are. If you have a diet app, this makes this easier. Personally, I figure that its unlikely I’ll break my diet limit as the 30 mile races I enter use about 750 calories, so I don’t usually count on race days. It does give you a bit more freedom about what you can sensibly eat before and during the race.
- Its normal to overtake on the right and warn people if there trajectory looks like you might collide.
- If you can, on less busy roads, warn other grouped up riders ahead of you if there’s a car coming.
- Ride singly where you can. A fair proportion of the race will be on normal roads. I find that riders double up on narrow double white line stretches because it forces traffic to overtake sensibly.
- You’ll find that riders stop for puncture repairs and to rest. If you see another rider in obvious difficulty, ask them if they need assistance.
- Don’t stream riders you don’t know. Streaming is riding close up behind someone else to benefit from their slipstream and reduce pedalling effort. This should only be necessary and done by groups of riders who are taking turns whilst in a competitive race.
- Queue at the start and at junctions.
The end of the race
Cycle through the finish line to get your time recorded and be presented with finishing medal (and usually goody bag).
Stop Strava and save the session. Relax, and congratulations for finishing! Maybe mutter ‘Never again!’ but weeks later register for your next event.
If you’re calorie counting, add the event’s calorie count to your stats.
If you think you’re going to get into sportives, waterproof overboots are invaluable, as is a neck warmer for downhill segments. You only need one puddle to get drenched, and in a long race high speed gets your face and neck cold very quickly.
Take a break from exercise on the following day or two days.
All about gyms. How to find one, what they cost, what you can expect and how you can use them as part of your calorie controlled diet.
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