09 Sep, 2015

Benefits of keeping cycling records

After many years of competitive cycling, Garth has amassed a considerable collection of medals … and information.

During road cycle races, I invariably pass some cyclists fixing punctures on the side of the road. I have often wondered what proportion of those who start races have suffered punctures during the course of a race.

While not knowing the answer to this, I didn’t even know until recently how often I had punctured while riding.

Shortly after my first cycle race, I decided to keep a record of all my cycling. For about 20 years, this consisted of keeping paper records. I had thought a number of times about computerising them but their volume was a deterrent.

Eventually, last year I decided it was time to take the plunge and do to it in bite size sections over time.

On my home computer I have a database system and so I captured the records over a period. When I completed this effort, I found that the database’s reporting system was limited as to the number of reports that could be produced.

I then found I had a more sophisticated database program on the laptop I use and so I decided I would transfer my records to this other system while on holiday away from home. Unfortunately, my anticipation in producing various reports was dashed as the original database could not be read by the database on the laptop.

Subsequent to my holiday, I was able to transfer the data, first from the original database to a spreadsheet and then to the other database.

I then discovered that the sophisticated database was difficult to use without training. Eventually through trial and error, I managed to produce reports which provided useful information.

Coming back to the subject of punctures I found that on four per cent of my rides, I had suffered punctures. I was surprised to find that on races, this increased to nine per cent. On analysing this further, I noticed that this percentage during races was 17% during the first half of the number of races I have done and only three per cent in the second half of my races.

Upon wondering why this percentage had dropped so dramatically, I realised there were a number of factors that contributed to this. In the early days of my cycling my pump didn’t have a pressure gauge on it and so the pressure in the tyres was a hit and miss affair.

After purchasing a pump with a pressure gauge, I realised I had been under-inflating my tyres, making them more prone to punctures. Secondly, I had replaced my tyres with more puncture resistant tyres. Thirdly, I reduced the chance of punctures by inserting a tyre liner between the tube and tyre.

The irony of using tyre liners is that the only puncture I have had in races in recent years was caused by the tyre liner. I was doing quite well in a race and was keeping up with a large bunch when about two kilometres from the end my back wheel slowly went flat.

When I also had punctures on three rides over the next two weeks, I realised something was wrong. I then found that the tyre liner was square at the end and one corner was sharp and was penetrating my tubes. Why this only happened then is still a mystery as the tyre liner had been in place for a while.

It would be interesting to know whether my experience in punctures is similar or different to others who have road bikes.

Before we leave the subject of punctures in one race, my friend, with whom I have done many hours of training, wasn’t any help. Fairly early in a race, my pump fell off my bike with my friend promptly riding over it.

When I had a puncture later in the race, he was nowhere to be seen and so I borrowed a pump from another competitor. When I had another puncture close to the end of the race, I wasn’t thinking too many kind thoughts about my friend.

Fortunately cycling has many more positives than nuisances such as punctures.

In going over my cycling records I found some interesting information. I found that in some races my average speed was quite different from other races. For example, for the Ride for Sight race my average speed has been over 31 kilometre per hour, while for the Cape Town Cycle Tour it has been close to 29 kilometres per hour. Both of these are more than the approximately 26 kilometres per hour achieved for the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge.

Although the average speed for the Ride for Sight races has been higher than the average speed for the other two races mentioned, in that race on average I beat 47% of other participants while for the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge these percentages are 74% and 58% respectively.

The ratio for the Ride for Sight race is impacted by those who instead cycle the shorter route, while my lack of hill climbing strength affects the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge more than the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

As I cycle throughout the year, I also looked at the amount of cycling I did at different times of the year. For example, from the beginning of January until the Cape Town Cycle Tour accounts on average for about 43% of the distance I do each year, while the five months from April to August when I do less cycling accounts for 20% of my annual distance on average.

With electronic devices, it is possible to capture electronic information quite easily. For example, I can upload information to the internet from my heart rate monitor.

This can be used to show information as to how often I have ridden, distance travelled and time ridden in addition to information on my heart rate and calories consumed. However, I have been less successful in being able to obtain such information as that noted above from the data or to transfer the data to the database programme.

While information can be interesting just by itself, it can also be useful. For example, I use it to track my fitness over a period by comparing my average speed over same routes. This can relate to training before a major race or over time as I age.

It is also interesting to see to what extent my times in races are affected by the amount of training I do. It has also been a bit depressing to notice a gradual decline in my average speed during training since I turned 50, but at least cycling is a sport I can continue to enjoy into my mature years.

For those who might be interested in creating their own data base, the following is the information included in my database:
• Date of ride
• Whether I rode in the morning or afternoon
• Whether it was a training ride or race
• Distance ridden
• Average speed
• Time ridden – only captured for races
• Where my ride started
• Details of where I rode or if I rode the same route previously the date I first rode that route
• My maximum heart rate (since using a heart rate monitor)
• Calories consumed (since using a heart rate monitor)
• An indicator that I had a puncture, whenever this occurred
• Weather conditions (when other than normal such as hot, cold, wind and rain)
• Other - covering comments such as mechanical or equipment failure and time splits on certain routes

It might also be interesting for other readers to share some details on information they might have collected. In my early years of doing the Cape Town Cycle Tour I thought I did extremely well in comparison to the amount of training (or lack thereof) but now I am less sure.

I used to be vague when others asked me how much training I did as I felt guilty doing quite a bit less than the average cyclist, but I now suspect that what is suggested as the amount of training needed for a reasonable time in a race is probably not being achieved by many of those working hard at their employment each day, and so there might be merit is being able find out what different cyclists are achieving.

Garth Coppin

Garth Coppin

Contributor |

After riding road races for years and years, Garth has become a fundi on statistics and other interesting titbits of cycling information.