Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mileage As Measure of Sport vs Transport

I was chatting with someone who wanted to know whether I was predominantly a recreational cyclist or a transportational one, and their criterion for determining this was mileage: how many miles I cycled for sport vs transport. Earlier I had seen an online poll that used the same measure - which made me wonder whether this is the de facto industry method for determining how cyclists see themselves. Do manufacturers conducting market research use mileage to understand what kinds of bicycles would be more in demand?

Even if I factor in the winter months, on average I cycle many more miles on a roadbike than I do for transportation. But I still see myself as a transportation cyclist first and foremost for one simple reason: I actually depend on my bike to get around. Sure, roadcycling is fun and I love it. But cycling for transportation is necessary. I do not drive and I am serious about not being able to take public transportation: I did it a total of maybe 6 times over the winter, each trip followed by nausea and migraine. When it snowed too much to ride a bike, I decreased my travel radius and compromised: Instead of going to my preferred stores, I went to the ones within walking distance, and I postponed a number of trips and activities. In the end, it wasn't so bad. But it made me aware of how bicycle-dependent I am. So even if my daily transportation trips total less than 5 miles, they are more important to me than a 50 mile "training" ride on a roadbike. In my view, that makes me a transportational cyclist.

What do you think of mileage as a determinant of what kind of cycling you affiliate yourself with - would your mileage be congruent with how you perceive yourself?

46 comments:

  1. I can see their thinking - they are using mileage because it's something they can measure - but as in your example, it is flawed.

    Some people may also 'depend' on a bike for a particular use, some may consider mileage or frequency, whereas others may prefer to associate with a particular type of cycling that gives them the most pleasure.

    To answer your question then, no I don't consider mileage to be the be all end all - maybe it's what the individual considers important that matters.

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  2. ian... said...
    "I can see their thinking - they are using mileage because it's something they can measure..."


    It also occurs to me that it's an outgrowth of the "roadcycling heritage." At least in N America and the UK, I think the industry is used to thinking in terms of mileage, and so they (mis)apply it here.

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  3. Perhaps number of trips would be a better measure; if I was a roadie and went out on a Sunday for a recreational blast that one trip could easily match or exceed the amount of cycling I do to get around on the other 6 days of the week. There is an inherent bias towards recreational road cycling with this type of measure. Similarly, if I was a BMXer I could spend several hours a day on it and still exceed the mileage with a few trips to the supermarket on my transportation bike despite obviously focussing more on the BMX

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  4. Does it matter? Truly? Aren't you just a cyclist - as are we all? I ride about 10,000 miles a year - some of it to go places, much of it for the sheer joy of being out and about on my bike. In any event, it is the pleasure of being on my bike that is the driving factor, the thing that brings me out there. I love it. I loved it in the years when I was commuting through the hurly burly of traffic in Melbourne ad I love it riding the lanes here in Sussex in the pre-dawn quiet.

    This matter of labeling reminds me of a very strange conversation I had with a woman once along the Great Ocean Road, in Victoria (Australia). I was nearing the end of a 10,000 mile sole trek through the Australian bush, my bike was laden with dusty panniers and I was very skinny and brown from months in the desert sun. In the course of our conversation she told me that her nephew liked bicycles too, but of course he was a REAL cyclist - unlike me, in my shorts and T-shirt - because he wore all the correct gear.

    What possible difference does it make to you or to anyone what percentage of your time in the saddle is for utilitarian purposes, and what percentage is for pleasure? The truly lovely thing about bicycles is the way they seamlessly combine these two things.

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  5. Anon - It doesn't matter in the sense that we are all people/cyclists and no one category is superior to another. But it does matter for certain types of research - the findings of which can be influential in policy, infrastructure decisions, production decisions, and so on.

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  6. Most of my trips on the bicycle are transportational, but I still try and get in the milage with 'training rides'. My local geography and trip distance are such that if I was not in good shape, riding wouldn't be much fun. For me, racking up some miles (and altitude gain) have the very real benefit of making it far more likely that I'll use the bike for its primary purpose, which in my case is transportation. It's a good feeling to be able to take on a longish, hilly transportational ride and have the stamina to do it with relative ease.

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  7. Such questions are silly. Nobody would dream of asking a similar question of a motorist, though many of them spend far more miles on unnecessary trips than on those that are, strictly, necessary. If my regular trip home from work is seven miles and I ride two extra miles and stop for coffee, does that roll up two "recreational" miles?

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  8. I ride my bicycle solely for fun. I like to ride around the city, or my farm, taking in the scenery and enjoying being outside. My wife and family like the fact I am getting "some" exercise. I often take a camera along. In the city I probably average between 5 and 10 miles per outing although occasionally it is longer when my purpose is to increase my distance. At my farm, the terrain is such that I travel less distance. I do not ride for transportation nor, so far, do I get out on the road to ride great distances. Because of all this, I don't consider myself to be anywhere near the cyclist that you and most of your readers are. But, I love to read your blog and hear what you and others are experiencing. I really enjoy learning more about bikes ("with knowledge comes appreciation") as well as those craftsmen making the frames and the designers behind them. It is a great hobby/sport and I am happy I found it while I can still enjoy it.

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  9. I think I have to disagree with the suggestion infrastructure is implemented based on whether or not cycling enthusiasts wish to categorize themselves as transportational or recreational based on an arbitrary measurement of mileage or the classification of the particular bike that has accumulated the most miles. I think many policy makers would be surprised to find out some people have multiple bikes.
    On a side note, what is your aversion to public transit? That reaction seems more related to motion sickness, you may be able to control certain variables responsible for that.

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  10. Velouria, you say the difference maters for research -- but for usage research you are both -- assuming the goal of the research is to determine the number of cyclists riding for transport and the number riding for recreation you should be double-counted!

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  11. I'm with you for sure.

    Although, it could be said that most of my "recreational" riding would count as transportation riding too, since my recreational riding is usually touring, and I tour in order to get to places--I just plan to enjoy the trip too! Even when Shawn (aka adventure!) and I go places via train, we take our bicycles with us so we can get around town at our destination!

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  12. a randonneuring friend of mine had a nicely profound saying: "the body knows time, not distance."

    in other words, your body is less aware of the fact that you just spent the last seven hours riding 100 miles then it is aware of the fact that you just spent seven hours in intense, dedicated exercise. So, while I might ride a century on a weekend and the mileage on that century might exceed the 65 commuting miles that I put in on an average work week, the time spent on both is roughly equivalent and both hold equal weight in my mind.

    I agree that it is important to recognize that there are categories for different types of riding insofar as it is useful for setting priorities. I also think, however, it is equally important to recognize that people can fit in more than one category and trying to steer the conversation towards 'are you primarily one or the other' is oversimplification. As a cyclist, I would like my tax dollars put to both repaving country highways where I might ride on weekends and having more bike racks near the businesses that I frequent.

    Personally, I'd abide by minimum thresholds. Like, say, if you put in a 1000 annual miles of any purpose (ie. recreational, transportational, racing, touring, etc.) you'd count in that category.

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  13. it seems to me there should be a measure of how much does one reduce the miles on their car in exchange for miles on a bike. does that make sense?

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  14. I'm a mountain biker in San Francisco with no car, I depend on bikes for transportation 100%
    of the time, but still consider myself a mountain biker first and foremost. I look at every commute across the city as training. For some reason my commuter bikes never seem to stick around (not enough fun..?)

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  15. I don't know anything about your problems with public transportation, but I would like to make some suggestions. Make sure you look out the front of the vehicle you are on, at the road in front of you. Don't look at other people and definitely don't try to read or do other work.
    The reason for this is that the nausea comes when the brain gets confusing signals from your vestibular system (inner ear) and eyes as to your motion. Many poisons cause this sort of confusion (think of the room spinning after drinking too much) and we have evolved to respond to the evidence of poisoning with nausea, in order to get rid of the source of the problem. If you look forward at the road ahead you will be syncing your eyes with your inner ear and this may help.

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  16. Interesting question.

    I too consider myself a "transportation" cyclist first, simply because I rely on it to get around, and my weekly schedule is shaped around it. I total no more than 5 miles a day cycling to work daily (excluding any shopping/errand trips).

    However, this morning I went on a 5:30am bike ride for "sport" and clocked in 24 miles. And in nicer weather, my road cycling miles far exceed my transportation cycling miles. But still, that's maybe once a week, so I still consider myself a transportation cyclist first.

    If I categorize my primary cycling based on Mr. Colostomy's proposal, I am *definitely* a transportational cyclist, as 9 out of 10 times I'm hoping on my bike it's to do a very short ride to work or the store.

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  17. I suppose in the purely commercial sense, miles = wear and tear on the bike so, assuming separate bikes, if you're doing more miles for one activity that is where your purchases are likely to be focused. On the other hand I imagine transportation bikes get a bit more wear and tear per mile travelled as they're likely to be out in all weathers

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  18. Milage is irrelevant as to how I perceive myself. Wouldn't the relevant question for research be 'what is your intended use?' or 'what percentage of your riding is for transportation vs. recreation?' Then the measure would be frequency not milage.

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  19. I see myself as a guy with a bike. Sometimes I ride to work or to the store. Sometimes I ride for fun, for exercise. I didn't realize I needed a categorical tag. I don't see that it matters for research--if city planners want to know how many commuters there are out there on bikes, they don't ask us how we categorize ourselves, they go out and count the bikes on the road.

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  20. The "impact" of the miles that you do in transportation is much more significant in your every day quality of life, but that's a tricky metric.

    I get a bit crazy when I can't bike my normal errands, because they're so much harder to do by foot, T or car...I think that's why there's been this enormous burst of cyclists since the thaw. Everyone who was gritting their teeth on other forms of transport is joyously returning to using bikes again.

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  21. I never suggested - or at least didn't intend to suggest - that any one category of cyclist was superior to another, but rather questioned the need for subdivisions and categorization in the first place. I can understand a division between racers and non-racers; those lines seem pretty sharply drawn anyway, but for the life of me I cannot understand this perceived need to create distinctions between 'transportational' cyclists and those who ride for pleasure since nearly all of the riders in this broader phylum of non-racers will wear both hats (or rather, helmets) interchangeably.

    For that matter racing cyclists will often still have their commuter bike as well, and maybe an MTB in the shed, and a light tourer etc. etc. They identify themselves as 'cyclists'. Even for the sake of abstract research, I cannot see how parsing out their mileage would yield any meaningful results.

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  22. I really can't tell whether I'm a commuter or a roadie. All my mileage is put on going to or from work on my bike. I choose routes that are 2 - 3x the length of direct route because I can't get enough miles in on just the direct route.

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  23. I don't use milage as a guide for whether or not I am a transportation cyclist. Only the fact that I use my bike for transportation. Even though I bike about 15k, round trip a day.

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  24. Everyone is pointing out correctly that a recreational ride can easily cover more distance that transportation miles. I wonder if "they" think of cars the same way. Am I a recreational driver if going for a Sunday drive to look at the scenery is more miles than I drive during the week to get to work? I don't think so. But I agree that the distinction is important. Every time I write a letter to the editor or email my congresswoman, I identify myself as a transportational cyclist. Funding for infrastructure is slim at best and would decrease if every biker was considered recreational. My transportation cycling I have to do, fun rides are just nice to do. I identify with what is important and necessary, regardless of trips counts or mileage.

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  25. Why did public transport cause you the nausea and migraine? I hate to use buses or trains here in th UK, because you can't control who will be sitting next to you. I've had the misfortune of ending up sat next to what I can only describe as vagrants and yobs, making the trip a misery. I do a minimum of 150 miles a week commuting, except when ice is on the ground, so I consider myself to be a transportational cyclist.

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  26. I think number of trips per week is a better metric than anything. It indicates how many times you reach for the bike as your solution for 'whatever': Boredom, hunger, work, social hookup, etc.
    If I ride my bike to a pub and join my friends, is that transport or recreational?
    If I ride my bike to a group ride where we go to ride to a series of restaurants and eat and drink, is that transport or recreational?
    If I ride my bike to the movies, is that recreational or transport?
    The thing is, many of the cyclists I know incorporate cycling into their social fabric as well as their way of getting to/from work. Hmmm, just like motorists do!!
    This doesn't solve the problem for the city planner who's trying to figure out parking for a mall; bike racks, lockers, corral? vs. car lot size.

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  27. Hmm--lots of folks don't like the categories. I'm with them.

    This reminds me of a riddle: What do you call a chicken in a musette on the way back from a training ride?

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  28. Mileage is part of the metric but it is dependent on your location in relation to your resources.

    Two other variables that are just as important in the equation: 1) the destination and 2) how one rides the bike to that destination.

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  29. Since I work at home all day, no day is complete without a bike ride. I bicycle to escape.

    If I don't get out on a ride there is a gaping hole that taking a walk can't fill. It's something about sailing along that just can't be matched.

    As for categories, I'm just a wussie cyclist, no badges, no awards. My goal is to enjoy the ride as much as I can... in the most scenic locale. I also do the occasional shopping, but I don't bring home groceries for 4 on my bike. I tried it once when we were carless. I carry home most of the groceries on foot... which is also great exercise.

    I met my spouse on public transport... so one never knows what's gonna happen I guess.

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  30. I think of my myself as a transportational cyclist. For the past few years, I've been living either in the city or abroad where I've either had no car or infrequent access to a car, so the bike got used a LOT. I especially liked using my bike in England because the city busses were always noisy/smelly/crowded and it was just so much easier to either walk or take my bike for longer trips. Plus, it had the added benefit of being able to carry my shopping for me, so I wouldn't get as tired hauling groceries on and off the bus.

    In my current town, we have the added benefit of having bike racks on our city buses, but my 28" roadster doesn't fit on them and the closest bus to my house only makes 2 trips per day, so it really isn't a viable option unless you have a traditional 8-5 job. Living IN the city, however, was so much fun. Everything is totally flat, there are tons of bike lanes and in the summertime there was nothing more enjoyable than hopping on the riverfront road and cruising from one end of the city to the other.

    So I guess I'm now a nostalgic perhaps. ;) I miss transportation cycling, even if I do have the luxury of a car available now.

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  31. For those asking about public transportation - It's a number of things. Motion sickness is one of them, and you absolutely cannot choose to sit in the front on a crowded bus/subway with standing room only and everyone pushing you. When the bus or traincar slowly sways when coming to a stop but not quite, it's the worst. But it's also the air or the pressure change in some subway systems; I get pretty bad headaches. By the time I arrive via public transit, I look terrible and feel battered. It's not a viable solution for me.

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  32. If asked, I guess I'd consider myself a transportation cyclist, as it's my "vehicle". But then the miles I tour beat out the miles around town. Then again, I'm touring so it's transportation, right? ;-)

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  33. Don't take this the wrong way...I don't usually pick on people's grammar, and your site certainly wouldn't be my target if I did (I appreciate how well it's written). However, I did get a great chuckle out of the word "criterium" used in place of "criterion." I think that there must be some subconscious bike racer trying to be heard!

    "...and their criterium for determining this..."

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  34. Oh my. Criterium indeed!

    You know, I kept staring at that word thinking "hmmm is that how it's spelled?" but couldn't think of what was wrong with it.

    Thanks for pointing it out; I've fixed it now : )

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  35. Velouria, I believe that you have successfully answered your own question.

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  36. Miles Schmiles! You are correct. The only reason I keep track of miles or spend anytime calculating it, is so I can estimate how how it will take to get there. Some people use milage to motivate them. I just focus on riding a lot. Mile counters don't take into account that they may be riding an ultra-light bike, while I am often on a bike that weighs over 50lbs. 30 miles on my bike isn't a comparable measure of effort, to their bike.

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  37. townmouse said...
    "I suppose in the purely commercial sense, miles = wear and tear on the bike"


    That is a good point!

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  38. Me again! Mode of transportation! That's what former US Rep Jim Oberstar said at the recent Minnesota Bike Summit. We need to refer to biking as a Mode of Transportation. He should know because he was a bike infrastructure god until the recent Republican tide. That guy did more for biking on a macro-level than anybody. If biking is going to get it's piece of the pie, we need to frame it in terms of transportation, not recreation. So, in answer to your question of sport or transport, your bike is a Mode of Transportation!

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  39. I guess I would have to consider myself based on miles (between riding my mountain bike and road bike) a recreational cyclist more so than a transportation cyclist. But, then again, sometimes I have to transport myself to the trail head via the mountain bike...hmmm. I do hope to use my newest bike more for transportation vs using my car this spring & summer like going to my son's baseball games and other events etc. Last week at the Dentist's office I found out my dentist cycles and the first question he asked me was how many miles do you ride per year? What? Seriously? My first question would have been where do you like to ride and what style bicycle do you ride and how often do you ride. The question came across to me as if to determine whether I was a true cyclist. In other words you're not a real cyclist unless you ride thousands of miles per year.

    Spiderleggreen: I like that. Mode of Transportation it is.

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  40. I compare it to driving. Right now, I have two cars. My daily driver goes 80 miles per day (yeah, I'm trying to move closer so I can bike!), and has racked up 80,000 miles over the past 5 years. The race car has put on 30,000 miles in 12 years. it gets driven on nice days, and 1/4 mile at a time once we hit the race track. I would say that I'm more of a transportation driver, as the vast majority of my miles are in the transportation car, while I certainly do love racing.

    Compared to biking - there are many times where I'm riding my bike to GET to somewhere. I never drive in the town in which I live, and even bike to the surrounding towns instead of driving (the closest is 10 miles, the furthest I regularly go to is 17). That said, there's nothing wrong with hopping on a go-fast bike and doing a quick 30 in the evening when I get off of work. I'm primarily a transportation cyclist, but the line gets fuzzy - I bike to the nearby towns because it's more fun and more healthy, making it recreation, but I achieve something as well, making it transportation. It seems that there are not necessarily hard and fast rules to which is which.

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  41. Matthew - When I lived in rural NH, my daily driving milage was about 80miles as well. 35miles each way to work and back, plus various errands here and there. I actually lived near a race track there, so got to see trucks dragging race cars along in processions every Friday night!

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  42. reading this made me realize that i have ridden through floods, blizzards, broken ribs, broken skulls, broken wrists, flu, heat waves, all more of less to avoid taking public transportation...its not that I hate the train, i think its more that I love my bicycle.

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  43. number of trips vs mileage would be a better benchmark, but I would say alot of people are doing both at the same time. My daily commute is actually longer than some people's recreational ride and I have to do it to and from work. I live in the country so have to bike into the town the opposite direction of where I work to run errands so everything requires biking a fair distance. Going to the library, the bank, the store etc has to be planned ahead and integrated into the ride. I actually don't have time for a 'recreational' ride because without a car everything has to be done and carried by bike and one only has so much time. So even if I ride for the fun of it or to get to a hiking trail or to the beach in the summer, I usually have panniers or at least a shoulder bag because I will remember I need milk or some other groceries on the way home.

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  44. I agree that mileage is definitely not the best way to measure it, since sport rides are usually longer, possibly as long as five days of commuting added up, but that does not mean that sport riding is automatically more dominant in one's life.

    Personally, I'm definitely a transportation cyclist. Even when I go on longer "fun" rides, I usually make up a destination so I'm not riding just to ride.

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  45. I'm with everyone else. I don't like the catagories either. Here in NL, I live 3 blocks from the train station. We chose not to own a car even though we can afford one easily. We can easily go to the station without a bike, but all other trips are with a bike.

    But what have we started doing on the weekends? Biking for fun. We have done one hunebedden trip already and planning another one soon. When the weather is nice, we like to bike instead of the train too. We fit clearly in "both".

    -Rona

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  46. I do not drive and consider the bike as my main mode of transport, all my trips tend to be either commuting or shopping or just going from A to B.
    So for my case I would consider the way the manufactures work out there usage to be fairly accurate.

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