Simon Usborne: There's a case for purer cycling, but technology can offer the means to achieve it


A colleague of mine has written a book called Free Running. A celebration of exercise in its purest form, it questions what Richard Askwith views as the industrialisation of his sport, or Big Running. He advocates slow running, which leaves behind the gadgetry and science used relentlessly in sports marketing.

Richard, who avoids roads at all costs, would have a field day if he looked at Big Cycling. Unlike running, cycling can only be so pure, relying as it does on the greatest gadget of all – the bicycle – but boy has it become digitised. Athlete Lab, which I visited this week (see link below), perhaps marks 'peak' big cycling. It's a temple to the data obsession so many of us now have thanks to the rise of Strava and Garmin.

Read more: Athlete Lab's new cycling facility offers the best simulation of real riding

Yes, there's a case for purer cycling, but technology can offer the means to achieve it. Last week, for example, I wanted to ride from London to my mum's in Oxford. I fired up Strava's route builder and clicked on my house, then hers. A wiggly line appeared between them. I stuck it on my Garmin cycle satnav. It took two minutes.

That's clever enough, but this wasn't the shortest route, but one which followed roads already popular among Strava-using locals. So what could have been a grey slog along A roads was a delightful tour of stunning countryside. No flapping with maps, no getting lost. In an instant, technology had allowed me to look up and enjoy the view, and the purity of my own pedalling.