Spreadsheets and smiles – setting cycling goals

Cycling wheelie

Once it was staying upright with no stabilisers. Then it was riding no handed. Next it was pulling wheelies and achieving the perfect endo. Before long, it was all about riding far. Soon there was a need to go as fast as my legs would carry me. Climbing mountains followed. Most recently, it was a two-year quest to climb my local hill in under two minutes. This then is a short history of my goals and achievements on the bike.

Setting cycling goals is important. They keep us motivated. How else do you get out of bed at 5am in the morning to force feed yourself a bucket load of porridge and then set off in the dark to hit speeds of 40mph plus dressed only in Lycra? Goals, some will argue, are the antithesis of cycling, for they destroy the serenity of bike riding. That too is true.

Fortunately life is not a series of either/or decisions and riding a bike can be enjoyed both with and without these little motivators. As with anything, it’s about finding a balance that fits our needs. Sometimes I like a goal and sometimes I like to leave the house and point my bike any which way my whim fancies.

Context and the achievements of others

Racing up my local hill in under two minutes means nothing to you. But to me it meant an awful lot. It was a target that took two years to achieve and upon completion left me with a large smile for many a day. It set me wondering about the achievements of other cyclists, a question I asked on a road cycling forum.


What struck me was the variety of people’s achievements, demonstrating cycling’s ability to keep us entertained. Hell, I’d just spent two years riding up the same hill when there was so much more to be doing! This then is a list of ideas that I hope inspire you to get out on the bike. Categories are titles only, not labels.

The competitors

Nobody will know I'm actually last home
Nobody will know I’m actually last home
The inner-chimp demands we beat others. This week I will beat Bradley to that lamppost. I will climb up that hill quicker than my dad. I will finish in the top 10% on my next sportive. Sometimes arbitrary, always rewarding, such competition is a great motivator.

These targets mean little to me. Let’s face it, there’s always somebody who is quicker, stronger or more prepared than you. This I can guarantee. The only person I try to beat is myself. The bragging may not be so good but the satisfaction is immense.

Monster rides

I vividly remember my first odometer edging into double digits. I had cycled ten miles. Ten miles! Admittedly this was back when travelling to the end of my garden seemed exotic. Ten turned to 20, and then 30, and before long I was preparing for a metric century, a landmark in the cyclist’s brain.

Travelling great distances evokes the innate human desire for adventure, to travel, to keep on moving. Never satisfied with our lot, we are hardwired for change, always curious to explore. Next thing we know we’re planning multi-day trips and epic journeys. Cycling around the world or cycling from London to Paris and back again as fast as we can. Acronyms like LEJOG no longer resemble a typo for plastic toy bricks and actually mean something to us.

Mountain goats

Travelling far is not enough for some. We need to go up. We are spacemen aiming for Mars, never satisfied with the number of meters we climb. Why? Cycling uphill is probably the least popular activity for the majority of cyclists. In Paris, the Velib cycle hire scheme organisers have to transport bikes back to the top of the hills of Montmartre because cyclists freewheel down them and return by public transport.

As a victim of the hill climbing phenomenon, I prefer hills to mountains, which to be frank, can be a little monotonous grinding out mile after mile. Stunning views for sure, but give me lots and lots of hills, accumulating mountain worthy height by stealth.

Cumulative hill climbing is harder than mountain climbing. The gradients here in the UK demand so much more than your average mountain. Mentally, mountains are challenging but for me it’s more difficult facing the prospect of yet another two mile hill climb with 20 percent gradients, with 100 miles of hill climbing already in the legs. Argh!

The quirky and fun

How hard can this LEJOG thing really be?
How hard can this LEJOG thing really be?
Naked bike rides. Riding sportives dressed as Spiderman. Donning tweed for vintage cycling randonneuring. Riding 100 laps of the 1 mile loop of your local park. Climbing your local hill 27 times so you can claim to have climbed the equivalent height of Ventoux.

Above all else, cycling needs to fun. This I enjoy. Non-cyclists think their two wheel brethren are nuts and maybe they’re right. How else to explain the fun I had cycling the Dunwich Dynamo. Riding 112 miles through the night from London to the coast where your sleepy eyes can enjoy the sun rising over the North Sea. Magical.

The jokers

Bunnyhopping a frog. I can take my sunglasses off, turn them upside down and store them in my helmet. I once ate ice-cream cycling on the A40. Theses were some of the lip curling answers from the forum, highlighting that we simply shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.  Amen to that.

Skill, stunts and tricks

Who's shining that torch in my face?
Who’s shining that torch in my face?
This is my chance to look cool and arty with some black and whites of lithe young things dancing with their bikes, the streets their canvas, their bikes their paintbrushes. Pulling off the perfect trick takes many a failed attempt but when it comes together, wow.

Usually it is the view that is breathtaking, not the actual cycling. Youtube and Danny MacAskill in particular changed all that. Choreographed tricks vie for your attention against beautiful backdrops. Everything is jaw dropping.

Heavy duty specialists

Damn it, forgot my aero helmet again
Damn it, forgot my aero helmet again
Respect to the madmen and women of our world. Or any cyclist in south east Asia. These cyclists are not risk averse. Helmet? Ha! How would I carry this grand piano on my head whilst riding home? There’s many a video out there with cyclists balancing goodness knows what on their head. This one in particular caught my attention, a man transporting a double mattress home on his bicycle. The man deserves his own circus.

The mechanics

So inferior are my mechanical skills that fixing a puncture invariably makes me pound my chest with clenched fists and proudly announce to the world that yes, I am a man. Fixing my chain on the road? My goodness, how I bored every person I saw with this tale the next day! Full respect then to those who build their own bikes. One day I shall do the same.

Speed freaks and statisticians

Obsessed with your average speed? Ah, a cyclist you are. Even though deep down you know average speed is a pretty poor measure of your effort, still you chase incremental targets to up your average speed by 0.1mph! We’ve all been there. Before you know it you have a bike computer and a thousand spreadsheets charting your progress. Graphs follow, linear lines forecast your efforts, exponential lines hint at your targets.

Travelling x mph for x miles. These are the numbers you remember and quote at dinner parties much to everyone’s bemusement. These numbers mean the world to us but very little to anybody else. The distances can be round numbers or simply a lap of our local park. Since the arrival of Strava it can even be a 0.1mm segment of road where we can proudly say we are the cycling king of the world.

The everyday

I bet my average cadence is really suffering
I bet my average cadence is really suffering
Bare with me while I dim the lights and get sentimental. Everyday somebody is achieving something special on the bike. Be it the first time commuter, the shopper loaded with panniers. The mother of two towing her children to school. The plumber with his tool box weighing down his bike with bungee cords. The overweight gentleman who empties himself on the smallest of inclines. The older lady who still puts the miles in on her original Raleigh three speed. The three-year-old on her trike. The commuter negotiating the wind, rain, ice and snow all year round. The schoolboy carrying his Sesame Street lunchbox on his BMX. The pedicab driver entertaining tourists. The paramedic beating the city traffic on their bike.

This blog post is for you as much as it is the superhumans.
What about you, what keeps your pedals turning?

Images courtesy of 1) Unknown 2) INRNG 3) Unknown 4) Raymond McCrea Jones/The New York Times 5) China Photo Press / Barcroft Media, 6) Unknown


11 thoughts on “Spreadsheets and smiles – setting cycling goals

  1. Crikey, it must be 20 years since i last thought about doing an endo, i might have another crack tomorrow.

    What are my targets? I have a mate who is about 10 years younger than me and just keeps getting quicker – my target is always to go for a ride with him and and at least keep him in sight (rather than watch him disappear over the horizon).

    I don’t ask for much.


  2. In Summer I have a weekly mileage goal, in Winter it changes to a weekly hourly goal – bloody turbos…

    Each ride then has it’s own goal:
    – stay out for duration of podcast playlist; climb a defined amount of feet for that damn #rapharising roundel (does anybody sew these things onto anything!?);
    – reach a destination to get a photo (of that cake of course…);
    – return before the sunburn sets in or the skin gets drenched and prune fingers develop or the feet develop frostbite after still refusing to wear overshoes;
    – or just potter, meander and de-stress which is quite often the most satisfying goal of all 🙂


    1. I think most people sew those badges onto their y-fronts. Rapharising and all that 😉 Prune fingers – that’s a new one to me! Don’t know how you manage without overshoes. My toes get cold in the middle of summer. If I could cycle in furry Ugg boots I would.


  3. Great post- the joy of cycling goals is its about you, and the effort you put in (and clearly a degree of realism).

    Current goal since watching this year’s TdF is to perfect cruising at speed with forearms draped nonchalantly over the tops, pro-style. Not so good in the recent gales…

    And another- to understand my Garmin Edge 800.


    1. Ah yes, the mysteries of the Garmin Edge. Have one myself but have never used the workout functions on the thing. That really would be cycling by numbers. I’ll stick to the romantic notion of cycling by feel. Still, the Edge was one great investment – beats reading paper maps that’s for sure.


  4. ”What about you, what keeps your pedals turning?”

    Jelly babies.

    I’m not very goal driven I’m afraid – never mind going up a hill in two minutes, it takes me two minutes to get the bike over the kerb outside my house when I come home from a ride. In the rich galaxy of cycling you so vividly portray here I am Pluto, a bit cold and out of the loop and not exerting much gravity on anyone else 😦

    We had the hill climb championships the other weekend near here by the way. I couldn’t make it to watch which was a shame. Just hope I don’t get a similar diary clash next July.


    1. “I am Pluto” – loving that analogy and quite the opening line at a dinner party I bet! I’m hoping to make it along to a hill climb one day, as a spectator or competitor I can’t quite decide, each option looks pretty gruelling judging by recent weather!


  5. Great post. I recently joined Strava and it is motivating me to set some goals, so maybe, just maybe I can creep up from the bottom 1/8th in all of the segments I cover.


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