San Francycle: Riding to Work Doesn't Make You an Athlete

Categories: bikes
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If you're like us, you spend an hour or so on your bike every day, from home to work and then back, then maybe to the supermarket, and occasionally over to a friend's house or up to Corona Heights to watch the sunset.

Wouldn't it be neat to keep track of your rides so you know how far you've gone in a week? Or whether your favorite route to the Marina is any shorter than the city's official route? Or whether Polk is a steeper climb than Van Ness?

Yes, yes it would. Whether you're commuting to work, the park, or the corner store, you could use that information to find better, shorter, less hilly routes around the city. And that means getting where you're going faster, and being less smelly once you get there.

This week we took one of the most popular bike-mappers for a spin: MapMyRide, which boasts "the fastest growing online fitness-oriented social networks and training applications."

So how does it stack up? Well ... let's just say it certainly highlights the differences between biking for fitness and biking to commute.

Here is how it works: You install a free iPhone app, switch it on before you leave the house, and then it tracks your travels and tells you how many miles you rode, shows you the hills that you climbed, and gives you a map of your route.

That's useful to know, but then things kind of veer into the weeds: The app calls your ride to work a "workout." It records every ride as a separate "route," even if you take the same path to work every week. Then you can offer routes to other athletes as a "challenge," or which they can put on their "must do" list of rides.

It offers similar "nearby" rides, which might be helpful for finding an alternate path to the office but its idea of nearby is Sunnyvale, Pacifica, and Newark. And there's a "leaderboard" that does God knows what. When's the last time you used a leaderboard to go to the grocery store?

We're just running errands and going to work in the morning --  it's not the Tour de France.

Now, obviously, it makes sense for a biking tool to behave this way. Most people, when they bike, are doing it for fitness instead of for transportation. Biking to work every day is weird. That's why San Francisco only does it in an official capacity once a year.

And yes, it's hard to say those words just one week after Bike To Work Day -- the biggest Bike To Work Day yet, no less! But only a tiny fraction of trips in the city are done by bike, so of course tools like MapMyRide are tailored to guys in spandex rather than moms taking the kids to the park.

In order for MapMyRideish apps to catch up with commuters, we're going to have to get a lot more Amsterdammish in this country. That is, we're going to have to keep pushing bikes as a viable means of transportation -- not just something for crusty weirdos.

And that means making biking safe and comfy for regular people. Better bike lanes, more racks, valet parking, green-wave signal timing. In other words, all of the accommodations that motorists have been entitled to since the 1950's.

After all, the speedometer on your car isn't designed for a racetrack. When you pull into the gas station, a pit crew doesn't rush out to change your tires in under 15 seconds. When you drive to the grocery store, they don't wave a checkered flag when you pull into the parking lot.

If we can get enough people into cars that they become a fact of life instead of a sports toy, we can do the same with bikes.

But until then, if you want to track your ride to work, you'll have to get used to being treated like an athlete.

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