Feature Vol. 64 Apr / May: I own the KOM

In fact I own the “KOM” on every cycling app I have ever used – fact! Allow me to elaborate, says Brett Fourie.

Image Credit: Kevin Troutman / KAP sani2c

Until the advent of smart phones, smart sports watches and the dozens of applications to run on these smart devices, the only way to settle who was the fastest on the bike, would be an old fashioned, side by side race. Two, three, four or more prepubescent boys, mostly on three speed Raleigh Choppers (this was the late seventies after all), lined up ready to race. First to the next street lamp would be the winner, the best, the champ, own the “KOM”.

Fast forward 40 years and not much has changed regarding cyclists wanting to best each other on the bike. Wanting to win and be the best is as much a part of our make-up as is the need to eat, sleep and love. So although our sentiments remain the same, no doubt fuelled by our narcissistic need to be the best or, as in my case, at least be faster than someone else, we simply can’t escape that evolutionary drive to compete.

Compete, compare, dissect the data and formulate a plan to be that tiny bit faster next time. However now we have so many apps linked to so many formats. Smart indoor trainers allow us to race virtually and in real time against a host of likeminded “athletes”, simultaneously and over any terrain, distance or in any conditions we choose. The most popular cycling apps all include that element of competition carefully disguised by the amount of “valuable content” the user is constantly inundated with.

Power output, cadence, top speed, average speed, elevation gained and lost, ambient temperature, heart rate, distance covered, power to weight ratio, ftp. The list goes on, ad-infinitum.

MY QUESTION IS:

Where does it stop? When is enough actually enough? Whenever I ask my mates why they use a particular app or why they insist on completing each ride with a host of electronic devices wirelessly communicating with one another, the answer is always the same: “Collecting data to help improve my cycling and improve on the way in which I train.”

At this juncture let me just add that I too have been there and done that and to be brutally honest, my motivation was simple – I wanted to be the first chopper to the next lamp post!

That’s the bottom line in my opinion. It’s all about winning. All about taking that segment or claiming that KOM. The very individuals claiming they do this purely to better their health or as a lifestyle choice, are the same ones to first flag a ride they don’t agree with on our favourite cycling app and all because Joe Bloggs took their KOM. “He must be cheating!” “How else could this upstart possibly be faster than I am on that
piece of trail that I cut and maintain myself?” “The audacity!” “He must be in a car or on a motorcycle or, God forbid, on an E-Bike? That’s it. He’s on an E-bike!” “He has the money so now he’s buying speed. What a cheat!”

BUYING SPEED? REALLY?

How many of us haven’t “upgraded” components or entire bicycles in search of those elusive few extra seconds? Who hasn’t upgraded suspension to gain an edge on the technical terrain?

Who hasn’t upgraded to a lighter, stiffer wheelset in search of a few seconds in a sprint? Dropperposts, more efficient drivetrains, ceramic bearings, carbon bars and carbon seatposts to complement our carbon frame, electronic shifting, tubeless tyres, aerodynamic frames as well as helmets? The list goes on. All these  upgrades cost money, often large sums of money. Is this BUYING SPEED? Is this CHEATING?

 

THE ANSWER IN REALITY IS FAIRLY SIMPLE.

Everyone out there is unique. Most of us are on different bikes built at different price points to suite our differing budgets. We differ in age, weight, health and whether we are male or female. Applying this logic, I own the KOM on every segment on every cycling app I have ever used – fact!

We are in constant competition with one another because we find ourselves using the same cycling apps. The 62 year old ex pro now carrying a few extra rolls around his midriff suddenly has no choice but to be placed 19th on his favourite sprint. Easily taking the KOM is the 20 year old second year varsity student who also happens to be the captain of the 1st 15 rugby team. At 74 kg he’s perfect at fly half but more importantly 15 kg lighter and 42 years younger than our ex pro. He lives in the CrossFit gym and dabbles in
a bit of road cycling at the weekends on the latest aero road bike his dad picked up for him from an upmarket bike store. The reality is we are all so obsessed with the numbers and what to do with those numbers in order for us to be faster than the next guy or girl. However the playing field is not level. With so many variables in play, how could it ever be?

Forget the numbers. Next time you ride, leave all your gadgets at home. Ride your 80k cross-country bike. Ride your gravel bike. Ride your single speed. Just ride. Start when you please and return when you please. Stop as often as you like along the way. Or don’t. Just ride for you, not for what the numbers on an app are going to tell you. When you can no longer harness that age old need to compete – call me. I’d love to race you to the next lamp post.

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