Saturday, November 29, 2014

Keeping Toll as You Roll?

Forest Path Bromptoneering

Having recently installed a new operating system on my mobile phone, I've discovered - only after being told of it by a friend - that it comes with this nifty built-in app which automatically tracks my daily walking milage. So I opened it up and had a glance at my stats. What I learned surprised me: Apparently, I've been walking an average of 7.5 miles a day over the past several days. And since the app can only track milage while the phone is on your person and I keep mine either in my coat or bag, that includes outdoor activity only. Had it also counted footsteps taken indoors, the figure would have been higher. All that considered, I am fairly impressed by the milage. Granted, I am traveling over Thanksgiving weekend and don't have a bike with me, so walking is how I've been getting around. Still we're talking about casual, purpose-driven urban pedestrianism here, not hiking. To rack up 7.5 miles a day on foot in this manner is more than I would have guessed.


This makes me rather curious about my cycling milage. Over the years I have never managed to keep track of it. Most of the serious cyclists I know seem to at the very least have an annual milage figure ready to report should anyone ask, but I honestly have no idea what mine is. Whenever this question is posed to me, I rack my brain - rewinding the year month-by-month and doing some quick math before throwing out a conservative figure. But no sooner does the number escape my lips than I already begin to second guess myself. Isn't that estimate for November a bit optimistic? Oh wait, but I forgot that 300K in May!

And what about utility miles? There are cyclists who count them, and there are those who don't think of them as "cycling" of the sort worth keeping track of at all. But just how often do I make that 2 mile round trip to the nearest shop that I never give a second thought to, not to mention the 14 mile round trips into town? And what of the endless toodling close to home with my camera round my neck? A mile here, two miles there, a kilometer around the farm yard to test the angle of my lights... Individually the trips seem too insignificant to consider. But each rotation of the wheels counts, and it all adds up. If you take the time to add it up, that is.

Ah but that part is easier said than done! While apps can automatically track walking by recognising the distinct bounce of human footsteps, the same degree of automated intelligence is not available (as far as I know) for tracking the roll of a bicycle's wheels. And while there is no shortage of cycling apps, it is up to their user to activate them, and to indicate start/stop times of two wheeled trips - resulting in lapses, omissions and incorrect readings.

I do envy those cyclists who keep journals, charts. The cyclists who diligently move their computer from one bike to another to make sure every single trip is recorded with scientific precision, then download data from those trips as soon as they are done. And sometimes, when the mood strikes me, I picture myself among them, tracking, analysing, keeping toll ...then later, poring over a little hardbound notebook - its corners worn from age and use, its yellowed pages dense with numbers, abbreviations, remarks - as I review my cycling stats from years past, nostalgic smile on my face and caramel-coloured drink in my hand (cut glass tumbler, fireplace, a tasteful apres-ride merino turtleneck, the works...).

Alas, I doubt it will ever happen. Our best indication of future behaviour is past behaviour. And for whatever reason, I am just not the type of cyclist who tracks her milage. If you ask me I will estimate. But judging by my walking estimates, I will probably be off.

"But you ride so much, what a shame not to know!" some have said to me. And, shaking my head at myself, I readily agree. Although there is also something perversely satisfying in that very not knowing. A feeling of having a degree of freedom from it perhaps.

44 comments:

  1. Funny, as OCD and Type-A as I am, I only know how much time my commute to work takes me. I only know that because I don't want to be late. I just enjoy riding.

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  2. I keep a rough estimate going of how many miles I ride, but I can do that only because my weekly routine varies little, and I measured all those routes long ago. No computer on the bike; no ride-tracking app on the phone. I need to know how far someplace is only to guess how long it'll take me to get there so i won't be late. It's not a contest, and it doesn't really matter, since I'm not in "training" for an event. Every day is the event, and I'm already trained up for it. Nothing left to do but enjoy the ride.

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  3. "Ah but that part is easier said than done! While apps can automatically track walking by recognising the distinct bounce of human footsteps, the same degree of automated intelligence is not available (as far as I know) for tracking the roll of a bicycle's wheels. And while there is no shortage of cycling apps, it is up to their user to activate them, and to indicate start/stop times of two wheeled trips - resulting in lapses, omissions and incorrect readings."

    Each of my bikes has its own computer. My iPhone app is good for all the bikes & Kickbikes, scooters (wheel size differences, etc.), runs & walks and automatically registers any stops/pauses along the way re time & mileage. Although I don't use a watt meter; cadence, heart rate and VO2 Max are helpful along with speed/distance to fine tune my training. Thanks for sharing! Jim Duncan

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  4. Bike has a computer, but the piece of junk has one of the world's worst UIs (it's still reporting time in daylight time). A few years ago I did make the effort to measure distance per week and compare to my estimate. It was about 50 miles per week -- all utility cycling. My estimate now is larger -- I'm riding a shorter distance to work, but more often.

    I had a shot at the "Occupy Strava" thing (utility cyclists wanting to be sure that they were represented in the Strava Heat Maps -- I used a retired smart phone that had GPS) but that was also too much of a pain.

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  5. I always go the right distance in the right amount of time on both foot and bike.

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  6. Like Jim, I keep a basic bike computer on each of my bikes. All I track is mileage, time, and average speed. I mostly do it to keep myself honest about how much (or how little!) I'm riding. I don't care about power or heart rate or anything. I have a little app on my iPod Touch, and it's become just second nature to tap in the numbers from bike bike computer at the end of a ride.

    There's certainly no need to track data if you're not interested in it. But I like to be able to tell people that I am 62 years old, and still manage to ride over 3000 miles/year (albeit rather slowly). :)

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  7. I use the Moves App on my phone. It automatically detects walking, cycling and transport. It sometimes mixes up cycling and transport, but usually it is right. I would recommend trying it out. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  8. What is done, is done but what is not done might be interesting to do but only if we know we've not done it before. :-p

    A fringe benefit of tracking your rides with GPS is that it allows you to look back and see what roads you have explored but more importantly to see where you have never roamed before, I have found many an interesting local route where once I might have passed by not knowing it even existed.

    http://www.strava.com/athletes/130161/heatmaps/5dfe0a28#9/52.02461/-8.02277 This is a poor example of a view of roads traveled but the only one I can share to illustrate to show how you can use your past history to plan future fertile exploration, near or far.

    There are other benefits to tracking your bike rides than simply pouring over statistics and it is much simpler to move a newer GPS type computers from bike to bike as they don't need any sensors installed, you can even simply press start and pop it in your pocket (or wear it on your wrist) until your ride is finished and then press stop. If you stop during your ride or even get off to walk around, they will recognize you are going too slow to be cycling and automatically pause and resume as required and without the fiddling about that most phone apps take. Devices need regular charging but will store months of data if you are not inclined to upload frequently.

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  9. I guess you have never heard of the app "moves". It tracks cycling and walking distances, no need to turn on/off... Has a very nice interface. I used it for a while, it was interesting to see how far I walked & cycled a day, a week, a month....

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    1. A couple of people I know who've used it reported it was not very accurate and also drained battery life, so I never looked into it. But just had a look now and it does sound pretty good, if it works. Might give it a try, thanks!

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    2. Well, those critiques are correct - it is not that accurate, and it does eat battery life! Its still fun though, as its accurate enough. I used it on my commuting bike which doesn't have cycle computer, just to see how far I was going.

      I could never get strava working correctly on my phone, it always turned off or I accidently turned it off, completely frustrating! I would like to see where I've been, but I do also use real maps and a cycle computer, so I really don't need another app.

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  10. Wow, ios 8 has an app for walking - amazing!

    No one cares how many miles you ride; people do seemed impressed how much my dog walks though. What people do surprises no one.

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    1. Jim! Are you kidding? Tons of people care how much EVERYONE rides, it's all we talk about from around Dec.1 to about Feb. 28 around here.

      It's SO everlastingly tedious but the fact is some folks want to make sure you know how many miles they rack up in a year so you will be sufficiently deferential in conversation, some want you to know they continue to slay you on every hill with just the mileage it takes to work in the chamois creme and then guys like me want to know "How fardjego last year?" to see if we're still "in it". It seems like the only folks I ride with who(say they) don't keep track at all are the ones who are even MORE in-secure than ME. Actually, there ARE some that don't keep track and really don't seem to care and manage to have more fun than some of the rest of us. If you are one of the ones who are truly free of this, than I gotta' say I envy you.

      I try not to get all wound up about it but I still find myself comparing and exaggerating. It IS stupid but, Yes, I would LOVE to know how far V rides in a year, I'd love to know how far YOU ride in a year, Hell, I'm sort of tempted to ask how many miles that dog of yours racks up in a year("I share a bathroom with a Border Collie that I betcha' gets more" my in-secure inner voice remarks in a snarky tone).

      I have one computer that lives on my Mercian and the rest of them I try(TRY) not to give a shit about. I've got a smidge over 2,000 miles in on that bike this year and when I talk to people who've ridden a lot farther than that I make sure to list the jillions of other bikes I ride that I don't log the miles on so they can (hopefully) assume I'm killing it on the others too. As long as I can say with a strait face that I don't have a computer on the bike I ride the most, at least some people will think "Wow, even that fat-ass must ride AT LEAST 4,000 miles a year! I better step up!", right? Even though the bike I ride the "most" happens to be a 24" Mongoose BMX I keep at the shop to ride to the back of the building twice a day to turn on/off the air compressor and once in a while to 7/11 for a Big Gulp and a Pay-Day. Lets say 1,500 yards a month. Between a half dozen outings on my camping bike, the MTN Bikes, the old friction shift Puch and Raleigh Roadbikes and the various 3 spds and junk bikes, I've had dozens of un-logged rides this year, maybe a hundred(!), who knows how many miles I should be claiming! Geeze, there I go, see what I mean? I've been riding more the last few years than I have for a decade but it will never be enough for the part of me that feels like it isn't "enough". Knowing every mile from every ride on every bike is seductive to the wrong parts of my character, I'd only use it to blackmail myself into even dumber behavior...

      Sometimes, for weeks or a month I won't really think that much about mileage, but let me struggle a bit on the Thursday ride or find myself creeping back up into Clydesdale territory and suddenly getting that number up seems like the key to validation and keeping that lovable old Scamp Death at bay for another year.

      Ugh.

      Spindizzy



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    2. Rev. Spin, beyond the middle of the Bell Curve there is no need for a device that tells me I'm a step slower yet one step closer to death. I look at the Moves app sometimes to corroborate the dog's subsequent coma time to see if it's justified but in actuality it's no where near accurate as my line is not her squirrel-chasing line.

      Perhaps I should get one of those phones that are pre-loaded with magic trackers but I'm afraid she'd develop a iP6-shaped tumor from my dog-cissim. Well, no different from the 3 year old with a GoPro facing him on his tricycle I suppose.

      How much do I ride? Much less and my knees are much happier for it. If I rode in your group with that much talk about miles...well I'd probably peel off and take up shopping. Blech.

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    3. It's really only the Wed. ride I do where people are so fixated on it and then mostly at the end of the season. I might also have exaggerated a bit. But the fact remains I am particularly susceptible to fixating on this one dumb number and there are any number of other folks around who will accommodate me with opportunities to obsess over it.

      I do ride with people who don't care about it much or at all, especially the people I've been bike camping with and the Mtn. Bike crowd, but I'd say 50% of the people I ride roadbikes with are tracking every ride and it HAS become the first topic of conversation on every one of those rides. The fact that I don't have a smart phone or any sort of GPS device has sort of made me a novelty even as I keep closer track of roadbike miles than I have in the past. The guys I ride with that are more serious about racing than me(especially the CX guys) act like they're making a living at it instead of fighting for 12th in the Masters. It can get pretty ridiculous but it can be difficult to keep from absorbing some of it. When I decided to try some brevettes this year I really had to make specific plans and goals and they were inevitably going to include mileage totals, it's been helpful but I don't think I'll have to worry about it quite so much now that I've survived some of the bigger rides without any real problems.

      Spindizzy

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    4. Having some measure of how far and fast you can ride, given hills, or not, is a great use of Garmins or Cateye or whatever device you use. I recall long tours in unknown country with few signs and wondering if I might make it to town in time to get food for dinner. Maybe that is fun for some people. They can opt out while I prefer to opt in. The funny thing I was a late adopter of a basic computer and nowhere near an early adopter of Garmins. That said, I'd prefer a basic wireless computer over a Garmin but strong battery powered lights run on less than full brightness and dynamo hubs kill the signal. So I have an old wired unit on my commuter and a Garmin on my road bike, which I now prefer to run with lights on whenever I ride.

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    5. It certainly is up to the individual, but a Garmin or bike computer is not necessary to gauge location on tour.

      A decent map, paper or digital, will have enough detail that after a while knowing where you are and how much riding is left before the day's destination becomes second nature.

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    6. A decent map can get you so far and if you don't know your approximate speed, which might be low or screaming fast since you are crossing the Rockies, then timing your arrival might be difficult. I've toured 10,000 miles (approximate, derived from maps) without a computer. It can be done but it can, for some, be more fun with one. I continue to use paper and digital maps and they are great when I have the time to stop and look at the map.

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  11. I don't own a smartphone, but I have a computer on my road bike. It's fun to track those miles, but I can't get worked up enough to transfer it to my errand bike or mountain bike - or to have separate computers for those. I'm not sure I would really care about this stuff if left to my own devices - CatMan is the big mileage tracker, and I wouldn't even own a computer were it not for him. Mostly I like it because it allows me to track my speed which is helpful and interesting.

    Though... I often wonder how meaningful any of those numbers are. I mean riding 50 miles of flat terrain is not exactly the same thing as riding 50 miles up steep mountain passes. And the speed thing... sometimes all it does is scare the pants off of me - like the time we were screaming down a big hill with a fierce tailwind. I looked down at the computer and saw that I was going 38.5 mph! Holy Moly! The mere thought of a mishap at that speed terrifies me!

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  12. Some people keep a spreadsheet of their rides; I'm too uncool for that. But with Garmin/Strava all I have to do is plug it in, which also has the effect of charging its battery. In addition, for someone who spends their rides day-dreaming this procedure provides the answer to the natural question 'Where have I just been??'

    Boris Pasternak wrote that one should leave blank spaces in one's life. For better or worse, the Garmin is so buggy, it will lose entire chapters let alone paragraphs. So that angle is covered as well.

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    1. Blank spaces in our lives... Do concussions count?

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  13. I use Strava on most of my rides. I know it gets a bad rap because of the segments feature that "encourages" people to ride faster and possibly take more risks than they otherwise would, but I like it. It keeps track of how far I ride and how far on each bike. A "replaced a car trip" button would be good. As well as giving me some extra feel good points, the data could be used to see trends and other useful stuff.
    Having said all that, I went for a ride once and forgot my phone. It was very refreshing, I felt naked.. oh, wait, that was another time.. but anyway, whatever works for you.

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  14. I suppose it could be a bit of fun, keeping track of distance but I don't recognise it as a serious endeavour - I can't imagine talking to people about how far I have cycled - I can't imagine why they would be interested and I am certainly not interested in hearing the details about all the cycling data someone else has stored.

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  15. I only keep a rough estimate of my mileage so I can do routine maintenance, mostly replacing the chain after 1000 miles before my freewheel cogs wear irreparably. Since I don't have a computer on my bike, my estimate is +/- 10% at best.

    Also, for bike tests in Bicycle Quarterly, we report the total distance we've ridden the test bike. (Most magazines don't, since they don't ride them very far!) I don't tally my annual mileage any longer, and when I needed to know how far I'd ridden my "new" bike for a recent article, it took about 10 minutes with a calculator, and I was surprised by how high the number turned out to be. (I do enjoy looking at my little book with its dog-eared pages that records most of my rides through the decades.)

    In the end, trying to compress cycling into figures seems futile. Whether you are after fitness or experiences, the mileage itself (or the hours spent on the bike) don't really matter.

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    1. Do you find that your chain really needs replacing every 1000 miles? I've got over 5000 miles on mine and the chain measuring tool still says it's fine. Perhaps that just means that I'm a wimpy rider? I dunno. Just wondering if I should be relying on that tool or not.

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    2. Same here, 1000 miles seems way low. I probably replace mine every year to 18 months. That equates to about 6-9000 miles. It has been commented on a few times though that I'm very light on my gear.

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    3. Thanks for sharing how you log things Jan. I've wondered about how you went about it since your bikes seem to be without computers or phone mounts but you have good useful information about distances and time on the bike.

      I really prefer to leave even my dumb phone at home as I think it helps me be a bit more prepared in other more useful ways.I still rely on maps and my watch for navigating and planning but I doubt I'm more than 20% proficient with them...

      Spindizzy

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    4. I use old-stock freewheels that are very difficult to replace. On the other hand, 7/8-speed chains are inexpensive. So I change my chain more often than most. If you have a modern drivetrain with an expensive chain, it may make sense to accept more wear on the cassette, and then replace that after 2-4 chain changes...

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    5. Changing a chain at 1000 miles means, on a 7-speed and assuming equal use, each cog is only seeing 143 miles of wear.

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    6. Hmmm.... sad that so many ppl took the bait. When JH tells us that he keeps track of mileage to better manage service intervals, he will always make sure to specifically mention the ridiculously low number of miles per interval... then, he lies in wait, like an araignée in a web trying to ambush an unsuspecting moucheron. Someone is *sure* to ask why he changes chains every month, and when they do, he'll pounce! & inform them that he must replace his chains almost as quickly as Nashbar can ship them out b/c, as we all know, JH ONLY runs irreplaceable, prehistoric, NOS freewheels that were unearthed at Lascaux in the early 1940s. Oh, and Mike, you know JH wouldn't be caught dead running something so gauche as a 7 speed freewheel, right?

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    7. It never occurred to me preferring vintage components was an affront to other cyclists.

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    8. A preference for vintage components is an affront to no one. However, a tendency to bait others into discussions where by one can brag about these preferences is a little off-putting.

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    9. It wasn't meant as bait or bragging. I didn't think twice when I wrote that I replace my chains every 1000 miles. I and my friends started doing this way back, when it was common, since chains were cheap and good freewheels expensive. Next time, I won't put the mileage in, so I won't cause any erroneous discussion that has little to do with the topic at hand. I apologize for any offense I have caused.

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  16. Ancien du Paris BrestNovember 30, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    No computer on the bike; no ride-tracking app on the phone, but at home I track my ride on www.gpsies.com and write the km down in my Moleskine.
    It's a good brain-training (sometimes not very easy, specially if I did a ride on very small streets) and I like to know how many km I ride and to compare it to the previous years.

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  17. I have twelve bikes. I ride nearly every day. None have a computer. Haven't had a computer for many years.

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  18. I'm with JH. I really only care about how long between drivetrain services, and sometimes how the numbers added up compare to my impression of the distances. Occasionally I'll map out a route on Mapmyride from home, usually using cue sheets or memory. Smiles per mile, clarity, and earned fatigue are the goals.

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  19. I've been all over the spectrum from "must record all of the miles" to "none of that matters". I feel pretty ambivalent about the whole thing now.

    For the past 12-18 years (since about the time I got the Enigma, in fact, and had to take the decision whether or not to install a computer - I did), I've had computers on certain bikes but not on others. The 'free' bikes tend to be the ones that make the same trips over and over again so, when I have to, I can fairly easily estimate how many miles they're doing. The Enigma has a fancy-schmancy unit that will record cadence and even heart rate if I want (I don't). I may put a simple Cateye odometer on the Puch mixte. My reasoning is, those bikes are the ones I set off on at the weekend feeling curious about where we'll go, how far we'll go and how long we might take to get there. Every ride is different. I usually have my "explorer head" on and rarely look at the computer while riding. But it can be fun -- and often surprising, sometimes even gratifying -- to look at the stats afterwards.

    Each to his own, I think. If not keeping track is not triggering a strong feeling of one kind of another, then why bother investing time/money/energy in changing what you're doing, or not doing? Feeling "meh" or telling yourself "should" are not good reasons to change whatever you're doing.

    I guess what I'm saying is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And "it" can include "you".

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    1. Whoops! "12-18 years" should have read "12-18 months"!

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  20. I also use the Moves app on the iPhone. The iPhone 5s and 6 has a built in motion sensor which minimizes the battery consumption. It was nice to meet you at the Bike Builders Ball in Providence.

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  21. I admit to being a techno-geek - smart phones, GPS, apps, Strava, I like to have a play with them all. However paradoxically, the easier it is to track everything you do on a bike, the less I have cared about it so now I really couldn't be bothered...

    With smart watches becoming mainstream consumer items, I can see some people taking this "monitored life" thing to even further extremes...

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  22. I think a lot of cyclists might under-estimate how many miles they ride. I tracked my miles for the first time in 20 years last year, including commute (very short one) and casual errand miles. I didn't think I had a particularly "strong" year of riding, I was actually kind of disapponted throughout the year that I didn't have as much time to ride as I would've liked - no events, only a couple "memoriable" or "significant" rides, but mostly my usual routes. I also tracked my mtb miles and I was very surprised that when I added up my miles for the year I had over 3500 miles. If you had asked me, I would've said maybe 1000 miles for the year.

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  23. It was always that way when having a car, too. Every year the surprise was to see how many miles had accumulated, even when it didn't seem like the car was used. Now that I only ride a bike the same is true. Mostly, I track miles in order to know when it's time to change the oil in my rear hub.

    When you change the battery on your cyclometer do you reset the odometer or clear it?

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  24. I've used the iPhone app Cyclemeter for a couple of years; it's not bad for free. I've toyed with the idea of getting a Garmin, but for my purposes -- strictly <= 3 hr rides -- and for its cost (again, free) -- it's hard to work up an appetite; though 3 hours on a full charge is about all you can expect from it.

    But it's great not to feel obliged to accept the hassle, cost, and obtrusion of a computer on each bike.

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  25. About 30 years ago, a running friend gave me a diary to log my bike miles. He used one for running and tracking his training for marathons. I wasn't *training* for anything, but thought I'd just see how much I actually rode. It was a diary of sorts, with a space to include comments. I might add details about the route, how a I felt on the day. I could kept a running tally of mileage, each week, month and for the year and thus began my habit of logging mileage. It was always interesting to go back sometime later and read a comment about some ride, like the note I wrote after riding up Mt Mitchell the first time - Don't do this again! I distinctly remember reading and ignoring that note before I registered for the event the next year! I kept those paper diaries for years, and then eventually started using a spreadsheet on my computer. The nice thing about this was that I could track the mileage on different bikes, and use it to plan maintenance like replacing chains and such. Also the spreadsheet could do the math! While I left a column in the spreadhsheet for comments, I found that I didn't include as much as I had in the paper diaries. But still it was cool to have many years of logs showing that I had managed several hundred thousand miles. Then GPS and online tracking came in, making it so much easier to log everything. And thanks to the fact that it also stores routes, I can keep track of rides I'd like to do again. I can note mood in the title of the ride, or with added notes. I can even include photos. Sure there's the social aspect, (which can be enabled or disabled) and it does surprise me how much attention some folks pay to my rides. It is cool when I hear from someone who used one of my tracks as the basis for their own ride later. But for me it isn't about competing on climbs or showing off, but really just a convenient way to track what I've tracked for years. After my injury last year, I started using an app on my phone to also track my walks, and like you I was surprised my how far I was actually walking. John teased me about tracking every walk to the pharmacy in town, but all those trips to get drugs really add up. As part of tracking my recovery, I continued to log the walks. Some may view it as a little OCD to track these things, but I do like being able to look back and see what I've done over time. And with the GPS data, I can also create a heat map that shows ALL the paces I've ridden or walked. I'm quite proud that my maps show a massive amount of exploring, as opposed to doing the same route over and over again.

    Anyway, it seems I am an outlier among your commenters, but I just had to stand up for the obsessive trackers ;-)

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