The cycling apps that can make you go faster

"Why would you exercise on a bicycle? It's the most energy-efficient form of transport there is. Trying to get fit on a bicycle is like trying to bulk up on lettuce."

This was one of the many tedious things I used to say to cycling friends in my pre-enlightenment days. But there is a certain truth to what I was saying - because it's easy to bludge on a bicycle.

Of course, it depends on what you're trying to achieve. Rolling along almost effortlessly on a treadly is one of life's great pleasures, too often forgotten with the arrival of P plates.

But if you're cycling for exercise – I'm busy trying to stay ahead of the age truck - rolling along won't cut it. You've got to push down on those pedals.

My first gadget was a Polar heart rate monitor. With a watch unit and a chest strap, it was a motivating machine for solo training. Many's the time I'd be zipping along, thinking I was doing quite well, only to look down at my HRM and hear it saying: "120 beats per minute. You're bludging. Get out of the saddle."

Even more inspiring was looking at a graph of my efforts on the Polar software. Ahh, that big spike is where I nearly lost my Weet-Bix on Wakehurst hill.

Two years ago, the Polar watch went to join the great timekeeper in the sky. I upgraded to a Garmin Edge 500, a GPS unit that also counts heart rate, speed, altitude variations and a score of other things.

With great power comes great app options. At first, I was uploading my workouts to the Garmin Training Centre and the Garmin Connect website. Apart from storing your data, these are useful tools for setting training programs ... but I'm not a training program kinda guy.

There are a host of apps that run off fitness devices or even just a smartphone. I had a play with Endomondo, which was popular with a few mates. Recently, I had a look at a new contender, Runtastic, which has an impressive smartphone app.


But like many a Mamil, my virtual training partner of choice is Strava.

Ride down a road with your Garmin or phone app switched on, and when you upload the results to the Strava website, you can compare your efforts with those of everyone who's ever gone the same way – with a special focus on friends or clubmates.

Meanwhile, it stores a map of your route, keeps count of your totals, lets you create your own segments, emails your friends with news of your mighty feats ... the list goes on.

One of the greatest quotes about cycling is by Greg LeMond: "It never gets easier – you just go faster." Training apps are great for unveiling the truth behind that statement.

Many's the time I've come home feeling wrecked after some seemingly Sisyphean ride, only to find that I've just set my best time of 50 previous attempts on some popular route – in the process, beating a keen rival.

Apps such as Strava have come in for criticism, with the perception that cyclists are "racing" on public roads. Well, no more than runners are "racing" on public pavements. Cycle training is more about effort than velocity - a hard, hilly ride for me would yield an average speed of under 30km/h, and I seldom would be able to reach the speed limit.

Ultimately, if someone's going to ride like a reckless idiot, they'll still do it without the promise of some random computer ranking. And since they're on a bicycle, the only person they're liable to injure is themselves.

Some might say it's a bit sad, using a website to motivate fitness behaviour. In reply, I'd say: "Whatever it takes, baby." Nothing like an app for getting you out of bed on a Sunday morning to make sure you meet your training goals. Especially when all your mates can see if you don't.

And just think ... in an infinitely adaptable program, with age and weight divisions, where you can create your own segments, everyone can be a world record holder.

Example. In this year's Audax Alpine Classic, on a segment from Bright up Mount Buffalo - a 35km route with a 1171-metre climb - I was a mere 303rd among some 780 uploads. But wait ... careful sifting of the results tells me I was the fastest 95kg+ contender in my middle-aged category.

That's as close to cycling glory as I'll ever get. And I'll take it.

Do you use a cycling app? Which one? And if not, why not?

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