I’ve been on strava a lot more lately. This is because I have been riding my bike. In fact, last week I managed nearly 170 miles, which is quite a lot by my standards. Of course, for a standard Gespink ride, they’d still have another 50 to go before the cake stop.
I’ve been looking at other people’s ‘feeds’, a vicarious thrill. Far too many of the bastards are abroad at the moment, hitting up the mean streets of Sydney, for example, in the name of Das Rad Klub. Ho-hum; another shitty winter’s day in 30 degree sun beckons.
One thing which is startlingly obvious is the rampant success of Zwift. The world and his dog are posting carefully mapped rides with power estimates and climbing, often achieved in the wacky world of Zwift watopia. I can’t work it out. Most of the rides seem to take place in open water.
However… there is no avoiding the increasing ubiquity of the smart trainer and the hyperreal evangelistas; “it’s a social thing”, “I keep my bike clean”, “it helps me train”, “it allows me to structure my sessions and maximise my time on the bike.”
Of course, all
three two of you are expecting me to say something short and pithy, maybe that begins with “Fuck” and ends with “that shit”, and you’d be entirely right, because like most new things I reserve the right to be the world’s angriest luddite until such a time as I am seduced by the same things, just decades later. Like when your Mum finally turns to you and says; “Ooh that song by Slayer is actually quite melodic. I think I can see the depth and meaning behind this particular genre after all”.
However, it’s also opened up a really confusing layer of reality and hyperreality when I’m looking at strava, because I can no longer tell if a ride is real or if it’s something that took place in a dank cellar, with the protagonist dressed only in bibshorts, a sweatcatcher for each salty rivulet hanging off their unkempt chest hair and a book under the front wheel, all the while listening to a podcast about Josef Fritzl. People are even having celebrity encounters with famous people whilst riding in the virtual world.
I half imagine an x-box live type scenario when all these ghost riders in the sky start getting dropped.
I’m not sure it ever reaches the ‘fuck you fucker I’ll fucking kill myself and your first born’ stage but I can’t be certain because I’ve never been there, or not there, or wherever not there is.
On to the point – I can no longer tell what is real and what isn’t. Here are some ride maps from strava. All you need to do is work out what is real and what isn’t.
As fun as this game is, this week I used a dated hashtag linked to the outdoors being free, because i felt it quite palpably. It just doesn’t seem to matter as much these days. I’m not going to take it too seriously, after all, it’s just a big, sprawling computer game and everyone will bang on again about how useful it is and all that bollocks. But, as I famously said in a book read by about 11 people, it is a huge part of the gamification of modern life and the illusory nature of ‘social’ media. Beyond that, it’s not cycling as I know or see it to be. It’s the part where cycling met with big business and sold its soul in exchange for crystalline views, the breath of air and savagery of a headwind, replacing it with control and numbers.
I can’t imagine Zwift ever being a transcendent experience, which is by the by, because it isn’t really supposed be anything of the sort. However, the more I see it, the more it’s coming to replace the kind of experiences that cannot be replaced: swapping the infinite joy of a winter morning on the Mendips with the turgid monotony of an FTP builder in your kitchen.