The cult(ure) of cycling – how much has technology shaped the rise of the sport?
A few weeks ago, I was up at 04:00 to squeeze in a quick 130 km bike ride in the Alpes-Maritimes in France before a business meeting to discuss our digital and analytics solution for the Tour de France with our technical team. The view was definitely worth the early morning start. For me, there’s a purity in cycling that’s exhilarating: it’s just you and the elements. Man together with nature.
As I climbed the hills — nothing flat in this terrain — it struck me that cycling is a big part of my lifestyle and it’s now fused with my business day. I’ve always been an avid mountain biker, but I’m not alone in my passion for cycling. Ten years ago in the UK, you’d go out and wouldn’t see anyone else on two wheels. Today you can go to a café around the corner and you won’t get a table because it’s crammed with cyclists. Cities across the world are designing and creating cycle parks and bikes-for-hire schemes. In fact, according to Gizmodo, by August 2014 there were more than 600 cities worldwide with their own cycle schemes, up almost 100 since the previous year. And the number of bikes available for hire more than doubled between 2011 and 2014, with the total now way over half a million.
Has technology changed the game?
The culture of cycling is definitely on the rise, whether its professional riders, commuters, leisure riders, or fitness enthusiasts. It probably reaches a fever pitch when the Tour de France comes around each July.
What’s intriguing to see is the world of cycling and technology are increasingly coming together. I spend my day immersed in technology and know first-hand the innovation it delivers. It’s radically changing the way people work, play, communicate, and do business. So, as I took on another steep climb in the French countryside, I asked myself: Has technology also played a role in making the sport a worldwide phenomenon?
The popularity of wearable fitness devices among athletes and amateurs, such as smart bands or pulse-rate monitors, is an obvious example of technology fusing with our everyday lifestyles. With the explosion of the Internet of Things, we can expect to see a lot more connected devices that monitor health and track fitness progress. We can’t dismiss it as a fad. Does this new awareness — not to mention better and more immediate information — encourage people to take up sports like cycling?
Growing digital cycling community
While it may not be strictly true for other sports, the role of data in a high-performance sport such as cycling can’t be overlooked. The widgets and applications that are created for professionals are increasingly available for enthusiasts who want to track and improve their performance. Data as a lens is critical in cycling. Performances can be recorded digitally and analysed accurately. You can track and compare your time, your climbs, and even the energy you’ve burned. The insight data delivers can help you improve your future performance immeasurably. And for those competing as either amateurs or professionals, it can make the difference between winning – or losing – a race.
Another factor contributing to the rise in popularity of cycling is found in the way data is shared within the cycling community. The demand for this level of self-assessment has seen the creation of websites that act as repositories for a myriad of information out there. You can record your training sessions with GPS devices, upload the data, analyse it, compare it with previous sessions, and share with other enthusiasts. You can even rate your performance against the professionals.
Anyone can be part of it…
The appeal of cycling crystallised for me as I pedalled fast on my last downhill sprint that morning. Unlike many other sports, it’s not elitist. It’s accessible. You don’t need the latest or best gear – just strap on a helmet and a pair of trainers and you can enjoy its exhilaration in a hour or two between meetings. It’s simple. People love to cycle. Fans love to watch cycling, whether it’s from the side lines, on TV, or on a live tracking website. And yes, technology is what pulls it all together and allows us to engage with others who love the sport as much as we do.