In 2007 I bought a cycle computer because I wanted to know how far and how fast I was cycling, and I started keeping records. I have a spreadsheet with time, distance, average and maximum speed as well as a basic description of the ride, places I've been, and a little column just for the weather. I know that these days we have bicycle computers which record everything for you, but at first I had to remember where I'd been.
Keeping the log of rides is very compulsive, I would be uncomfortable in choosing to stop recording having written down all the data for such a long time. There is also a sense that if I haven't recorded the ride then it didn't happen! I'm not sure why I feel that way, especially when I have clearly been for a ride. Some of the facts I like to know are:
- How far have I ridden this year, and was it further than last year?
- How many rides I've done this year.
- Am I getting better? By this I mean that is there some measure that shows I've become a better cyclist?
So in order to think about some of this I wondered what creative ways I could look at the data. WordClouds are quite trendy and Wordle
lets you upload text and create word clouds easily. A word cloud is a frequency diagram where the size of the word is related to the number of times it appears. In my spreadsheet I keep a ride description, so from that we should be able to see what sort of riding I do:
I like to think of myself as a long distance cyclist, so I was surprised not to see the word "long" or "audax
" appear more frequently. I can spot "long" right in the middle and extremely small. By my own descriptions I appear to enjoy riding with my friends, taking on some hills, cycling to church or on errands and I notice beer made it in there too. Despite cyclists being well known for being cake-powered, it doesn't register in my records.
Perhaps a better way to find out if I'm a long distance cyclist is to look at the length of the rides I do, so I gathered and crunched the data. In the last 5.5 years I have made 1653 bicycle journeys, ranging in length from 1 km to 650 km; less than 90 km short of 43,000 km in total. I catagorised these as:
- short - a ride up to 16 km (10 miles)
- medium - rides between 16 km and 50 km (10 to 31 miles)
- long - a ride between 50 km and 160 km (31 to 100 miles)
- ultra-long - any ride over 160 km (over 100 miles)
I know that these measures are subjective, it just felt like a reasonable selection based on how I feel after a ride. Based on these categories, a word cloud will give a sense of how often I cycle long or ultra-long distances.
What sort of distances do I ride?
So I sheepishly learn that, regardless of how far I think I ride, I spend the vast majority of my time riding short journeys of less than 16 km (10 miles). To church and back, to the pub and back, to the supermarket on errands and back. In terms of saving the planet one bicycle ride at a time, I calculate that I have made 614 short journeys in the last 5.5 years, covering 3,376 km. Most of these have been instead of driving and a rough estimate is that I have saved putting about 500 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Using some really basic searching on the internet to benchmark my savings, that is the equivalent of 13 seconds of emissions from one coal fired power station. Yay for saving the planet!
I've kept a record of the weather while I'm cycling too, and that should make a heroic report of into battling through the toughest conditions known to man. Over the years I have cycled in hail, snow, wind and rain... applying a word cloud to the weather records year on year will surely prove how tough a cyclist I am.
So far all my assumptions about what sort of cyclist I am have been undermined by my own records, I clearly only ever go for short easy rides in the sunshine. Not exactly the hardcore long distance cyclist I thought I was. Oh dear.
A more traditional presentation of the same dataset