04 June 2012

Social Riding ... Overkill?

On Sunday, I headed out on my first normal weekend ride in some time.

The weekend before, visitors in town, then looking back down the calendar, Tokyo-Itoigawa, the weekend before that, recovery, and before that, Tohoku Brevets, Ishigakijima, Yatsugatake, Tateyama, etc.  So I have not really had any normal weekend rides since the trip over Matsuhime on April 1.

Since I did not plan ahead, and ended up leaving home well after 9:30AM, I rode alone.  Still, I was determined to make this a "social" ride.  Alone, but social.  "Social" in the sense of socially networked.

I made sure that my Garmin GPS was fully charged and switched on as I left home.  This is my ride to Tomin no Mori and back -- 148 kms and including the classic hill climb up to 1000 meters:

Or here:

I use two GPS online services, RidewithGPS and Strava.  I gave up on Garmin Connect when they switched from Google maps to Bing's vomit-colored yellow, difficult-to-read maps at one point -- though they seem to have improved since.  And Mapmyride ... had some annoying features for its free (non-premium) users and the site did not function nearly as quickly for me as RidewithGPS.  Strava ... might have captured my loyalty, except they initially limited the number of rides per month that a non-premium user could upload, so there was no way to "catch up" and load a set of historical rides.

Also, RidewithGPS has the best explanations I have seen online for how to upload to a Garmin Edge 705 or Garmin Edge 800 micro SD card the free OSM maps available at various sites -- tricky, and crucial if you need a map for a region where you do not have (and do not want to pay a lot of money for) a Garmin basemap.  They also make it extremely easy to draw your own tracks for a future ride.  And they help you to download your own or others' rides and tracks, give you information on which type of file (tcx and gpx) to select, and how to upload/use those on your Garmin device, for which purpose.  So they are doing the "customer service" that Garmin really should provide.

Strava is much more polished, has more money behind it -- maybe real venture capital funding, etc.  Ride with GPS seems to be two guys (maybe just one?) in Oregon.  When you have question, you get a personal response from Cullen.  So long ago I decided I would use RidewithGPS, and it is the only service where I signed up for "Premium" (paid) features.

Still, I now find that I really need to upload my rides to Strava as well, since it has become a social network, and if record a ride using GPS, and don't upload the results, it is as if I did not ride it at all.

This has the feeling of back when Facebook first became popular a number of years back.  If people were in a group of friends that reported happenings on Facebook, you were pretty much compelled to do so as well if you wanted to stay in touch.  Now, I'm following over 20 Tokyo-based cyclists on Strava, and 20 or more are following me.  Plus I am following Taylor Phinney (BMC) and Ted King (Liquigas).

Some of the folks I follow record EVERY ride, even daily commutes, by GPS.  Every day I get an email telling me who rode where: that M. rode to 9.8 work and set a personal record on a 500 meter stretch of a road, or that G. rode home from the swimming pool.  And of course the email also notes that Tom rode 250 kms and set the "KOM" on more passes in the mountains of NW Saitama.

The feature that drives all of this "social" (but not truly social) behavior is Strava's segment feature.  You can define a "segment" from any of your rides, and then track your times (and others') on that particular stretch of road.  And you will unwittingly ride others' defined segments and get a notice after the fact that, even when you did not realize that you were being "compared".  Ride with GPS has added a similar feature, though they have fewer users in Japan at this point, so it is less of a network effect.

As Graham noted the absurdity of all this to me a few months back, one of the defined segments is along Komazawa Dori, from the traffic signal at Nakameguro/Yamate Dori up the hill toward Yutenji.  This 650 meter stretch, with 20 meters of elevation gain, is now to be raced at maximum speed (?).  Actually, there are four traffic signals along this stretch, and plenty of traffic, so it is not recommended for racing.  I've ridden this stretch for years, ... but always commuting, and I never thought it was a test of my climbing ability, or worth uploading.  I should note that Graham rode a personal best up this slope on his way out of town on May 26, and is now back up to 3rd place out of 45 Strava riders, ahead of James, Dominic, Thomas P., Tim S., Shane, and even Race-Across-America veteran Jamie S.  Keep it up!  Kudos!  And the rest of you, haul ass and put up some better times.  We are watching.

So I set out on Sunday with a specific goal.  I wanted to get a better time on the climb from Motojuku Crossing to Tomin No Mori.  This is a true, even a "classic" hill climb segment in the Tokyo area.  It is where Pete W. and many others train regularly.  I don't ride it regularly, but I've gone up it at least 2-3 times each year since 2005.  My personal best at the climb, in December 2010, is 68 minutes and 43 seconds, as you can see from the Positivo Espresso Togebaka page.  (See Togebaka #3).  I think I did it in 71 or 72 minutes once back in 2008 or 2009, but not with a full GPS recording.

The problem is that when I did the climb in December 2010, I must have rested at the bottom and/or the top, and missed either the beginning or end of the segment, and left the recording on while resting at the time.  So the Strava/Ridewith GPS segments add additional time, recording 102 instead of 68 minutes.

So yesterday, despite roads that remained wet, the hot, sticky mid-day air, my Brevet wheelset (testing slightly heavier Conti Four Season 25x622 tires on 36/32 spoke wheels), and suffering a somewhat bloated stomach after the traditional 7-11 food stop at Itsukaichi, I tried to make a good effort on the climb.  I started BEFORE the intersection at Motojuku, and kept going for at least another 50 meters AFTER the parking lot for Tomin no Mori, no stops, just to make sure that I got a complete time.

I recorded 73 minutes and 31 seconds for the Strava segment, and 73 minutes 14 seconds for the nearly identical RidewithGPS segment.  Not great, but acceptable given the conditions, and enough to at least push me up by 5 spots in the rankings.  I need to go back and try this climb one cool morning later in the year, with my best climbing gear, and see if I can get my recorded time under 70 minutes.  And I'll need to return to most of the "Togebaka" climbs later in the year and at least post a time that is representative for me, even if I'll never be KOM up these or other hills.

If you don't post and share a ride using these services, ... you might as well have stayed home.


mob said...

Interesting post, thanks.

I believe that GPS is still not consumer-friendly enough. All this technical talk reminds me of long gone MS DOS days when you needed to have some ideas about computers to use one as opposed to today.
And also that you have to make sure that the battery is fully loaded before heading out on a ride. Or that you need an USB charger port plus a dynamo to use a Garmin on your bike for longer distances.

Yes they will be the devices of choice some day but not today.

I was riding out with skysurfer some days ago and he owns a Garmin as well. We knew where to go but he still had his Garmin running which was beeping all teh time to inform us of this and that until he finally switched it off and we rode in relative tranquility.

One question though: If you ride to Tomin no Mori and back the same way, why is the elevation profile not symmetrical (if the x axis is distance and not time)?

David Litt said...

Well, the first thing to do when you get a Garmin device is to turn off all of the sounds. I tried to navigate one event before had figured that out and the beeps drove me (and anyone near me) crazy. Of course, it was Japan so no one told me to turn the $#)*$#)(*& thing off.

The lack of consumer friendliness is why smartphone app versions will end up winning out.

As for the elevation profile being off, yes, I noticed that. I think the weather was changing rapidly and so any barometric pressure readings were way off. At least the grade reading seemed okay during the climb. The device said I was still over 550m elev. when I passed the Kobu tunnel turn off on the descent.

Gueorgui said...

Haha, sorry about the swimming pool commute ride. I just received my Edge 800 the other day and am overly eager to try it out I guess.

I'm now uploading all my triathlon training data to a variety of services, including Garmin Connect, Strava, Runkeeper, etc., but I haven't figured what the best one is, yet. I haven't checked out Ride with GPS yet. It looks like it's cycling-only, though, and I'm really looking for a multi-sports service.

I do love the segments functionality of Strava. I'm not usually very competitive, but I do enjoy when the occasional segment pops up on a ride and I discover how well (or poorly) I've performed. Though recently, on that same ride from the swimming pool, I've been pleasantly surprised to find that I was #2 on a pretty steep climb, only to discover that only two people have actually ever ridden that segment.

David Litt said...

Thanks, G.

See this about "Stravacide" from our friends over at mamil.cc


David Litt said...

Update: Strava is now being sued by the family of a cyclist killed in California in a collision with a car, as he chased a Strava "segment" record. Based on the reactions at TCC, it seems that others feel as conflicted about the whole Strava segment boom as I do. MOB -- if you hold off in getting a GPS for awhile longer, they may go out of style.