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Guest Article: The Bike Likelihood Equation

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Why do we love the cycling equation here? For me, applying equations to deal with the passion we feel for cycling is just always funny. Reducing one’s love to some numbers and square root signs doesn’t work but the attempts to quantify always bring a smile. So sharpen your pencils and break out the slide rulers, we have some homework here. Thanks to @JimBywater for doing the calculations. 

VLVV, Gianni

How hard is it for a man to ride his bike?

This isn’t a metaphysical or rhetorical interrogation, but a completely serious, straight forward question. Well, it depends where you live, what you do for work and what significant others you have in your life. They provide the all-important variables determining any man’s ability to successfully mount leg over bike.

But let’s take this question one step at a time. How hard is it for any man to ride his bike? Literally.

Well, first you have to learn how to ride a bike. Done. I did that when I was about 5 years old.

Next, you have to own or have access to a bike to ride. Check. 4 of them in the shed. Road, gravel, hybrid or mountain. Take your pick.

So, I have the requisite skills and equipment. Just need to choose a time and away I go.

How about today. Thursday 11th February 2016. Well, I have work between 9 and 5. I could cycle 30 miles to work, but the weather forecast shows it being about 1 degree at the time I’d need to leave, which means there would probably be ice, which is a little dangerous. However it does look like it’ll brighten up in the afternoon, so perhaps I could leave the office early and get a ride in. All my work is up to date, and baring any emergencies this should be possible as I worked late this week on something and am owed some lieu time. Ok, how about 2pm. That gives me 3 hours before I have to get back to the house to help out with the family duties.

11:40 on Thursday and the network in the office has crashed. I’m responsible for the network in the office, so I suppose I better hang around until it’s fixed, which will mean I probably won’t make my 2pm riding appointment. Ok, perhaps if things go well I could go later in the evening, say 7pm. Weather forecast has it at going down to 3 degree, which is a little close to the ice creation limit. Looks like another day with no ride, making it 7 days in a row where I haven’t ridden my bike.

As I think back across the last 6 days, it becomes frustratingly clear to me that there are 6 major forces at work to stop any man from riding his bicycle. You can assign a value to each factor and work out your riding likelihood on any given day. The higher the score, the more unlikely it is that you’ll be riding any time soon. Work out your values, plug them into the below equation and read your score:

W (W+T+R) + Wk + R + I = the Bike Likelihood Equation

The Bike Likelihood Score Table

0 – Definitely, 150km minimum. Big bowl of porridge and enjoy the day!

1 – Very likely, at least 100km. A solid session, probably get some top 10’s on Strava.

2 – Highly probable, should be an 80km day. Keep the pace quick in case you need to get back.

3 – Likely, you’re looking at 2-3 hour window for a ride. Nice local loop early morning, late evening.

4 – Good chance it will happen, keen the bibs on underneath in anticipation.

5 – Possible, be sharp and go as soon as the chance occurs

6 – Not looking great, although things could turn around so keep the Lycra out

7 – Unlikely. You’ll have to be very lucky and very economical with your time

8 – Very unlikely. More chance of Cav beating Kittel in a sprint nowadays.

9 & above – It’s not happening. If you have 7 of these in a row, think about another sport. Maybe computer gaming or something.

How to Score: The 6 Opposing Forces of Cycling

Weather – this can be broken down into 3 major components:

  1. Wind – I’m not impartial to the odd strong head wind but I call it off when faced with one of the 9 major storms that have hit the country so far this winter, providing winds in excess of 40mph. Wind that strong is both dangerous and impractical as you’ll hardly be moving anyway once riding into it or hardly riding because a tree has fallen on you.

Values – 0 = anything less than 13mph, 1 = 13 – 20 mph, 2 = 20-40mph, 3 = anything above 40mph

  1. Temperature – I have enough cold weather clothes to comfortably ride as cold as I can before ice is present on the roads. I did go out for a ride around the 2-3 degree last winter which resulted in hitting a patch of ice and crashing hard on my hip and shoulder. Not clever.

Values – 0 = 15 degree or above, 1 = 8 – 14 degree, 2 = 3 – 7 degree, 3 = below 3 degree

  1. Rain – Whilst, I’m not overly bothered about rain (as I’ve purchased a gravel bike and hundreds of pounds worth of waterproof clothing) it would be dangerous to go out in a torrential thunderstorm. Some people aren’t keen on any wet, or don’t have appropriate equipment so the rain affects them differently and can be scored accordingly.

Values – 0 = not raining, 1 = spitting, 2 = raining, 3 = torrential downpour

Work

  1. My job has a couple of ‘business critical’ responsibilities meaning if things stop working, it doesn’t matter what time of the day, week or year it is, I have to get them working again otherwise the business will start to struggle to run and we all stop making money. Thankfully these situations don’t occur too often.

Values – 0 = no work impact whatsoever, 1 = occasional but very rare impact, 2 = rarely impacting but can exist with emergencies/special occasions, 3 = constant work impact (seriously demanding position with early mornings and late nights)

Relationship

  1. Having a wife and two children aged 2 and 7 mean that I have certain moral obligations imbued upon myself that aren’t particularly flexible. Evening reading, homework, parties, clubs, etc. etc. I have to be around to help out with these things and even show enthusiasm for them sometimes, in the glim optimism that perhaps someday they might want to share a ride with me. Now I know some guys have more/less paternal instinct than others, and feel more/less guilty about leaving for weekends at a time while they venture off around Europe, or you’re just getting into a new relationship with a partner and don’t want to ruin things, so please score yourself accordingly.

Values – 0 = no ties, responsibilities or significant others, 1 = my wife is pretty cool but does draw the line at a romantic weekend in Roubaix around April time, 2 = kids are young enough that I can sneak out every weekend without major issue, 3 = major troubles as kids are into everything, busy evenings & weekends, 4 = Kids at level 3 plus grandparents in the mix at weekends

Illness

  1. Here I’m talking about anything that makes riding the bike more painful, difficult or downright impractical. Colds can be ridden through but are often best left to heal as cycling will only prolong them. Flu, (proper flu with the shivers and fatigue) are common across winter and likely to strike at any moment, and living with others only makes this germination process more likely.

Values – 0 = clean bill of health, 1 = bit of sneezing/tight hammy, 2 = proper cold/sore knee, 3 = crocked with real injury or illness

So, if I assign some values for today and plug them into the formula let’s see what I get:

W – Not windy, very cold only going above 3 for a few hours while at work, no rain = 3

Wk – In the middle of a large, risky project upgrading telephony system in the office = 2

R – At least one child will need some attention and the wife will probably want to leave the house in the evening after spending all day inside it while potty training the 2 year old = 3

I – all good…at the moment = 0

Plug those values into the equation and we get

W (W0+T3+R0) + Wk2 + R3 + I0 = 8. Very Unlikely

If I run this formula on a simulation for myself in April, with some seasonal showers, a change in work situation but with R and I remaining fixed, you can see simply that the likelihood falls into a much more favourable score for my situation.

W (W0+T0+R1) + Wk1 + R3 + I0 = 5

When I look back across the previous 6 days, I can easily see that I’ve been scoring in between 7 and 9 every day, with at least 3 forces combining each time to prevent a cycling session from occurring.

Frustrating, but at least I can see what I need to do now. Change some variables. Move abroad, change jobs or ditch the family. Simple.

// Guest Article

  1. Very nice mathematics lesson!

    I fucking hate the wind. You can prepare for the other conditions, but not goddamn wind, especially since it only makes the forecast when it’s really blowing. Raining? Overshoes and jacket. Snow on the ground, it is going to be cold. Damn wind. I bet I harbor a hatred of it from childhood, when I’d always think it was a great idea to bring a Frisbee on beach trips. Then you get there…and you can’t play. Damn wind!

    My equation is about to become way, waaaay more complicated. The first pedalwan arrives in May.

  2. @Ron

    Yep, wind is the worse thing for me too.

    Every other weather you can cope with some equipment. Rain, you put a jacket, cold you put something warm on, even ice you can put studded tires on your bike.

    Wind you can’t do anything about it. And if it was only a question of slowing you down i would apply Rule #5, but the sudden gust sideway when a car pass you can kill you.

  3. Heard another one the other day relating to performance and training

    PERFORMANCE = HUNGER X COMMITMENT – DISTRACTIONS

    Got to minimise those distractions.

  4. Everything in balance. The equation would probably reveal why I ride alone at sunrise in the dead of winter, dealing with a sub freezing start and hassling with the kit shuffling and stowage required by the 15 – 20 degree rise during ride, when most other area riders are taking their ride mid-day in the company of other zealots in better conditions. My way I get the ride and am back for lunch and a somewhat normal day with family.

  5. Solution …. Retire and move to Southern California …. ;)

  6. I’m liking the equation. Nice work James. The The Bike Likelihood Score Table might need to be personalized and wind speeds should prob be in kph not mph. I’m assuming the temps are in degrees Celsius though right? In Canada, we might go out when it’s a little below freezing if the roads are clear and the sky is blue–depending on the other Opposing Forces of Cycling of course.

  7. Hey James…once we’ve used your equation to tell us that there’s a good likelihood that we will ride, now we need to know what kit to wear. You’ve already got the weather components, but we may need factors for club ride vs solo or family, what’s in the wash, the lost sock factor, Bike #1 or lessor member of the stable, etc, etc. Maybe there’s already an app for that?

  8. There was a time when I cussed the wind. Now I accept it. I live in a valley that tends to funnel the wind from the west in the early part of the day. It just so happens that I often must begin riding directly into it. As the day warms, the winds will swirl in an unpredictable manner. When this happens there is no fooling yourself that you will have a tailwind home. In the Autumn and Spring it blows with some hellish force. On the flats, my power meter shows me I am giving it 300+ watts, but the speed doesn’t correlate. I wrote the following after training in 56kpm wind gusts in early November:

    Autumn Wind

    On the road I see and feel the strongest and coldest of winds that have ever blown. I know my potential and I feel it squandering. God damn it. An entire season of intervals, pace lines, mountain climbs and gutting efforts; now to be a slave to the wind. Mother nature screams, “Listen up maggot, you are not special. You are not more beautiful, unique or powerful than I. You are at my mercy when I deem so”.

    I am alone now, riding until my muscles burn and my veins pump battery acid. I ride on kicking and screaming but refusing to yield. I taunt it. I start a fight. I want you to hit me as hard as you can. I deliberately repeat the rule: The first rule of the head wind. You don’t give in to the head wind. I have incited it and it is very, very pissed off. As it slowly destroys my body, it realigns my perceptions. I become euphoric and attack my fate. I am liberated now for tomorrow will be the most beautiful day.

  9. @Sparty

    Sounds like spring in Wellington.

  10. @Oli

    @Sparty

    Sounds like spring in Wellington.

    56kph bahahahahaha, that’s not wind, thats just convection moving the air up and down the valley, 115kph was the best last month, in one of the warmest summer months on record, oh we have hills too…

  11. The thing that gets me about the wind is how you can go on a circular ride and have a head wind all the way. This factor somehow always seems worse in winter.

  12. The wind is a welcome foe to me. I live in a flat state, no mountains, few hills to speak of, nothing that will expedite a meeting with The Man with the Hammer anyways. The Wind, the wind is my most valuable training asset. Coming off the ocean and hammering your face until the legs are screaming for it to relent. I welcome the wind, i mean i truly hate it, but i welcome it.

  13. Spot on with the math though, and the article! Two kids in sports with a younger one who is a Daddys boy, my time is plotted out for me. But before you Move abroad, change jobs or ditch the family”, maybe try something a little less drastic, for me, its temperature; if i cared about the temperature or the ice on the road then i wouldn’t get to commute, if i don’t commute, i would maybe get 65k a week. Going down on ice sucks but, at least you don’t really see it coming.

  14. @piwakawaka

    @Oli

    @Sparty

    Sounds like spring in Wellington.

    56kph bahahahahaha, that’s not wind, thats just convection moving the air up and down the valley, 115kph was the best last month, in one of the warmest summer months on record, oh we have hills too…

    I stand corrected.

  15. Wind for me is ‘just there’, not something I take into account. You go against it like you climb a mountain (and since there are no mountains here, wind is the next best thing )

    Actually I prefer headwind over tailwind. On a group ride headwind keeps the big guns in check while i get to draft (rest assured, I do my time in the wind. But ‘my time’ is a little less than theirs), while a tailwind is like going with all brakes off and the big guys just fly off and I… Let’s say I’m not one of the big guys…

  16. Wind: Can’t recall EVER saying “Nah, too windy today” and staying home. The best solution is to go out with a diesel engine who is bulkier that you are and stay in his shadow.

    Temp: Brisk but Sunny should score lower than Cloudy and Raw

    Rain: Not being Dutch, or a Level V, my suffering is usually self-imposed by going too long or too hard when it’s too hot; not trying to replicate Paris-Roubaix is just, well, sane.

    Work: If you own your own business, you think you’re gonna have all this freedom (and unfettered time to ride), but I discovered that there is no “OFF” button; when I jumped off the cliff into the abyss of being The Boss of Everything, a former boss said to me “Welcome to the world of working half days- any 12 hours your want!” No, you have to put riding into your iCal like any other important client- if you wait for random opportunities you’ll end up fat and out of shape.

    Relationship: This scale should be weighted, which makes for vastly more complex actuarial calculations- but isn’t that the truth of the matter? Unless you are Sean Kelly, and let’s face it you are not, Rule #11 does not apply to you. @Ron, you have just 2 more months of unfettered cycling whenever all the other factors align, then I suggest you negotiate for wall space to hang your steed where you can gaze upon it whist sitting on the sofa holding a warm 10 lb creature and sniffing pablum on your shoulder! Some day, in a galaxy far, far away, you will figure out the least convenient time (for you) to ride while not affecting your VMH- like when everyone in the house is sleeping…..Pay your dues, and one day she will turn to you and say “You are always grouchy when you don’t get a ride in (what, like sex?); why don’t you go for a ride this afternoon, and don’t come back until you feel better!” To which you should not hesitate to say “You don’t have to ask me twice, Dear, I’m going right away, if that’s what you want, Dear!”

    Illness: Refer to Rule #V and Rule #X; unless it’s the Flu, or perhaps Angina, get out there and it’ll clear your sinuses, and you can cradle a mug of Vegetable Minestrone soup when you return to bed!

  17. For me it pretty much has to be a 1 or 0 and even then I still might not.

    I’d say I do probably 60-70% of my riding indoors now, and 90% of my training.

    At first it was the only way I could ride after a bad accident, later to avoid any slippery roads or other conditions which might increase the risk.

    And now I don’t really regard outside riding as training. It’s fun, it’s social, it’s part of cycling but if enjoyment is the reason I’m doing it why bother plugging away in wind, rain and other crap.

    There are too many variables apart from the ones you mentioned – cars, intersections, downhills while you’re trying to sustain 300 watts. Endurance, maybe, but I can put myself through just as much pain and suffering on a trainer as on a road. And I can do it any time of the day without having to spend ages just getting to somewhere I can open the throttle.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love club rides and if I’ve committed to a group or an event I’ll do it unless it’s really bad but if I want to be a faster, fitter, stronger cyclist I stay inside.

  18. Two kids under 9, wife who works part time and the eldest daughter who dances all disciplines 9 days a week.

    My score is always going to be a 5 and above.

    Windows of opportunity come but need to be planned and stated on the calendar months in advance.

    I will say the bike lights ( and good ones – Ay-Ups with a fully charged battery ) are my best friend and give the best window when all is dark and the crew are asleep.

  19. Spot-on article, Sir James – great stuff. Thanks.

  20. @David Booth Beers

    Well said.

    @ChrisO

    I understand your perspective but that sounds like hell to me. I’m logging a fair few trainer hours myself at the moment but I don’t really class it as going for a ride.

  21. Sorry, completely unrelated, but something shocking happens at about 2:42 into this video: http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/videos/racing/watch-highlights-of-the-2016-strade-bianche-video

    Please discuss now!

  22. @Harminator

    @ChrisO

    I understand your perspective but that sounds like hell to me. I’m logging a fair few trainer hours myself at the moment but I don’t really class it as going for a ride.

    Zwift. It’s enough to make me believe in a benevolent deity.

    It launched just about the time I broke my hip. Prior to that an hour on the trainer was indeed a particularly nasty section of hell but now it’s quite fun.

    There are people on there who I ride with in real life, there are people I know just from Zwift and even if I’m not riding with them in the virtual environment there’s always lots of other people to watch, chase down, chat with if you want.

    I’ve done rides on there with Jens Voigt, Ted King, Beppi Fumuyaki (?)… Laurens Ten Dam does a regular ride on there I think. A lot of people do big scheduled group rides and there’s a lot of racing as well, although personally I don’t think it works well for racing at the moment – hopefully they’ll roll out some new features to support it.

    So while I wish I could claim to be enduring the mind-numbing pain of the trainer in the pursuit of greater glory, I’m afraid I’m enjoying it AND getting the best training possible.

  23. @ChrisO

    @Harminator

    @ChrisO

    I understand your perspective but that sounds like hell to me. I’m logging a fair few trainer hours myself at the moment but I don’t really class it as going for a ride.

    Zwift. It’s enough to make me believe in a benevolent deity.

    It launched just about the time I broke my hip. Prior to that an hour on the trainer was indeed a particularly nasty section of hell but now it’s quite fun.

    There are people on there who I ride with in real life, there are people I know just from Zwift and even if I’m not riding with them in the virtual environment there’s always lots of other people to watch, chase down, chat with if you want.

    I’ve done rides on there with Jens Voigt, Ted King, Beppi Fumuyaki (?)… Laurens Ten Dam does a regular ride on there I think. A lot of people do big scheduled group rides and there’s a lot of racing as well, although personally I don’t think it works well for racing at the moment – hopefully they’ll roll out some new features to support it.

    So while I wish I could claim to be enduring the mind-numbing pain of the trainer in the pursuit of greater glory, I’m afraid I’m enjoying it AND getting the best training possible.

    So… stay inside and play video games?

  24. Friggen Zwift… folks are showing up for spring races ready to rip legs off instead of the good ol’ racing in to shape… didn’t even having the local state spring training races this year. That apparently happened in Dec/Jan zwifting away on the trainer. And yea… posted on Strava. Zwift KOMs ?!? Racing Richmond ! yeeesh.

  25. @wilburrox

    Yes, a lot of people have been overtraining and will find it hard to sustain but it has been a great tool. And for many people it is allowing them to do miles where there are genuine problems getting out – injury, traffic, weather, time etc.

    It’s useful having it on Strava although it is classified as a Virtual Ride exactly so it doesn’t show up on KOMs and leaderboards.

    Within Zwift I don’t take much notice of that side of it – the comparisons between different trainers are too variable and too many people cheat. It’s one of the areas I’ve been most disappointed with Zwift themselves, failing to address the cheating element.

    Put it this way, in real life I know I’ll be in the top 5-10% of most Strava segments. On Box Hill for example I think I’m in the top 600 of something like 30,000 attempts. On Zwift segments I’m more like around 20-25%. So either the sample of cyclists in south-east England, including the pros who raced it in the Olympics, is skewed towards poorer performance or the sample of virtual cyclists online where they can choose to manipulate power and weight is skewed towards higher performance. Place your bets.

    So far I haven’t done much racing for the same reason – the races tend to be just a constant TT of who can maintain the highest w/kg for an hour, not like a real road race. I’m hoping that improves soon with some new features.

    But as a way to pass time while cranking out watts and intervals it’s bloody brilliant. And for people who have smart trainers where the resistance changes according to the online terrain it is the closest way to replicate real riding.

  26. @Slowtrane

    Sorry, completely unrelated, but something shocking happens at about 2:42 into this video: http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/videos/racing/watch-highlights-of-the-2016-strade-bianche-video

    Please discuss now!

    You mean the Rule #49 and #95 violations?

    I think there might possibly be three mitigating factors here;

    1. Its Faboo

    2. This is post Strade Bianche victory number IIV

    3. Its only a Trek…

  27. @Slowtrane

    Sorry, completely unrelated, but something shocking happens at about 2:42 into this video: http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/videos/racing/watch-highlights-of-the-2016-strade-bianche-video

    Please discuss now!

    Oi! Don’t get me going on Sparty. To early in the morning for that! But then again, I am an avowed Tommeke lover so I have never been a fan of Sparty. Next he’ll be whinging about it was too hot, too cold, too wet, too dangerous, too many people stuck to his wheel, etc, etc, etc.

    Glad to see Tommeke in 6th place yesterday at Paris-Nice! Not seeing much hope for my old Tommeke at the big Classics this spring but I will continue to love his racing and cheer him on!

  28. @ChrisO

    I recall you making mention of trying out this new Zwift thing right after your injury. What great timing. And the racing thing yes, nothing like bumping elbows with a dude next to ya. Can you get a draft effect when Zwift racing?

    And I have to believe it’s cool as the cyclists I know using it are not gonna be messing with anything that doesn’t cut it. And they’re fit coming in to the year. And maintaining thru the year is certainly something that’ll be of interest. We’re all just a bunch of amateur dudes with jobs and aren’t really physically geared and supported by a team for long duration peak performance. There’s gotta be some ebb and flows. So traditional timing for them will be a little off.

    I do recall watching a video of some cats using a power drill to f*** with people they were “riding” with on a Zwift ride. I couldn’t guess how it worked. Maybe an rpm thing? Anyways, same cats that use the cheat codes on their xbox games we can be sure.

    Cheers

  29. @wilburrox

    Yes you can actually draft. Generally your w/kg will be about 10-15% lower if you are in someone’s draft.

    There are a lot of very genuine guys on there, and some genuinely good riders as well. There’s a pretty well-known Aussie guy called Shane Miller, a multiple national masters champion, who’s on there all the time and leads some of the Australian-timed groups. That’s one of the coolest things – it can be 5am in the morning for you and there will still be hundreds of people riding somewhere around the world.

    The thing with the drills is to change the power-to-weight ratio. A Zwift avatar’s speed is determined by w/kg, so you have two opportunities to game the system. If the drill can out out 1600 watts of power then bang, you’ll get the sprint jersey. Or you just shave a few kilos off – it’s self declared.

    They’re still working on the race elements, but what it really needs is some categorisation and independent verification – a few people have started to do that off their own bat and those races work better.

  30. @ChrisO

    Are you able to set up races and compete in some sort of closed club format ? So that participants are known/verified/trusted entities so to speak?

  31. @ChrisO

    There is no *replicate real riding.*

  32. @wilburrox

    @ChrisO

    Are you able to set up races and compete in some sort of closed club format ? So that participants are known/verified/trusted entities so to speak?

    Yes, basically that’s the way the races which seem to get the best feedback are operating. It’s not official so it depends on a volunteer taking on the task but for example there’s one where the organiser asks you to send him a link to your Strava profile and your best 3 lap time around the course which he then uses to create time handicaps.

    Some of the others have a categorisation system where they ask the top riders to move up categories if they win or consistently place highly although because that’s a much more open event where anyone can turn up it means for every person who moves up a ringer takes their place and smashes everyone.

    I think the race modules they are bringing out are more technical to allow synchronised starts and neutral zones so people don’t sneak ahead, and I presume some timing – at the moment it works through Strava and some guy has written a piece of code to extract the results so racers have to enter the right ‘code’ in the title of the ride. Bit hit and miss.

    @Universo The watts are real, no doubt about that !

  33. Wow, I hate Math but your article makes me feel like Math is just that easy. :)

    I just started learning bike (seriously with my age now) but many says it would be a great help for me to lose weight, so I did. I have been through injuries, wounds all over my knees but it’s worth it. I also tried training classes at biketeacher.com for me to learn in building my own bike.

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