If there’s one thing humans like to do, it’s categorize people. Everything from race to religion, height, weight, age, gender, ethnicity, ability, talent and achievement — to name a few — are considered.
Once everyone is classified into at least one group, but more likely into multiple groups, the comparisons begin. Individuals who like to classify everyone in this manner are constantly looking for similarities and differences in those around them.
If two people are alike in any way, they are lumped into the same group, irrespective of whatever differences they may have. This creates a neat little world where every individual has lost their individuality to a group, making only one thing about them apparent.
After the classification takes place, the comparisons between the groups begin. Naturally, humans being the competitive creatures that they are, the first thing to be considered is which group is “better.”
“Better” is not only a relative term, it is subjective. Who or what is better depends upon the values of the person or persons doing the assessment.
Better also cannot be understood without also comprehending the concept of worse. While it is generally assumed that being deemed better is contingent upon a measure of superiority, in fact, it is often a question of being the lesser of two evils.
When one thing is considered to be worse, the contrasting item, by default, is rendered “better.” This is not the same as being superior. It is simply not as bad as the thing to which it is being compared.
This phenomenon can be seen in all facets of life, so it it no surprise to see it play a prominent role in the realm of bicycling. A good example of this appeared in an article recently published in the The Telegraph.
It is an article about whether and how the North-South divide in the UK affects cycling. Of course, if it weren’t for the Internet, the rest of us would not know there was a North-South divide. But, as was mentioned above, humans are always dividing themselves in some fashion and drawing comparisons based on those divisions.
As an American who only recently became aware of the North-South divide, I was forced to read up on it to understand the point of the article. Fortunately, the article’s author provided a useful link which I followed and thereby gained enlightenment.
Members of the Department of Geology at the University of Sheffield had the following to say:
“About the line
The country is best typified as being divided regionally between the north and the south. Ideas of a midlands region add more confusion than light.
The line that separates the North from the South is fractal. The closer you look at it the more detail you see. It weaves between fields and houses. That such an exact line can be drawn is, of course, a fiction but it is also fair to say that moving from North to South is not that gradual an experience.
This is the line that separates upland from lowland Britain, the hills from the most fertile farmland, areas invaded by Vikings from those first colonised by Saxons. Numerous facts of life divide the North from the South – there is a missing year of life expectancy north of this line. Children south of the line are much more likely to attend Russell group universities for those that do go to University (and they often go to the North to study!), a house price cliff now runs along much of the line, and, on the voting map, the line still often separates red from blue.
In terms of life chances the only line within another European country that is comparable to the North-South divide is that which used to separate East and West Germany. This is found not just in terms of relative differences in wealth either side of the line, but most importantly in terms of health where some of the extremes of Europe are now found within this one divided island of Britain.”
To save my non-UK readers a bit of Googling, I will mention that the “Russell group universities” is a group of elite schools equivalent to the US’s Ivy League. So, we see that those who grow up in the South are likely to live a year longer and attend an elite college. Surprisingly, these elite colleges are in located in the North.
Thanks to the online cycling network Strava, the author of this article was able to evaluate data uploaded by millions of cyclists in the UK to compare those in the North with those in the South. A number of differences — which I must admit seemed fairly minor to me — were discovered.
“According to the statistics, an average recreational (non-commute) ride in the north lasts for 2hr 21mins and covers 24.61 miles, while an average ride in the south takes less time (2hr 17mins) but covers an extra 0.2 miles.
Cyclists in the south consequently travel 0.62mph faster than their northern counterparts.
However, any suggestion that the southerners have their wheels marginally in front in the battle of the regions is dispelled by the fact that, on average, rides in the north gain 398 metres in elevation – 119 metres more than in the south.”
As commenters on the article pointed out, differences besides elevation affected the speed at which the cyclists rode. For instance, in certain open areas it is quite windy and cyclists find themselves riding into a strong headwind. This would certainly slow one down and might cause one to choose to ride a shorter distance, having gotten more of a workout by riding into the wind.
This is one of the problems with Strava. Raw data is taken at face value and unless the user of the data attempts to dig into it further before drawing conclusions, the conclusions drawn can be way off the mark.
One interesting fact was that in London which is “known to be the most prolific commuting cycling area in the UK” had a very low number of recreational miles per rider compared with other areas. The author attributed this low number to the amount of time cyclists spent commuting.
Londoners also had the lowest average speed which was attributed to the amount of time they spent stuck in traffic. “Rides that started in London are also notable for spending a lot of time at a standstill. While the average elapsed time for these rides was 212mins, only 113mins were spent actually moving.”
If we need more evidence that there are too many motor vehicles on the roads, and globally we need more bike lanes, this is it. A cyclist should not spend half of his or her travel time at a standstill. As a small vehicle, a bicycle should be able to continue its journey with relatively few stops. Those stops should primarily be at traffic lights or stop signs.
Another interesting observation had nothing to do with the Strava data or the North-South divide. It was about the section of the website where The Telegraph published this article. A quick look at the bread crumb trail (the previous section links which appear horizontally at the top of a web page for the purpose of assisting with navigation) shows that this article was in the “Men’s” section of the site, specifically at: Home» Men» Active» Recreational Cycling.
Although it’s possible that men would be more interested in Strava statistics and how riders in the North and the South stack up, why wouldn’t “Recreational Cycling” appear under sports? Could this be another reason why women don’t feel welcome in the world of cycling?
Of note is the fact that one of the commenters, who left the most intelligent comment, by the way, identified herself as a woman (by using a female name).
On her Disqus profile, there are other comments about cycling. Clearly, women are interested in cycling, and I suppose if they are regular readers of The Telegraph, they must peruse the Men’s section for cycling articles.
This is another example of how humans divide everything into categories. Cycling has traditionally been associated with males. Thus, it is placed where males would find it. And females, who are apparently supposed to be interested in family, relationships and fashion — if you peruse the “Women’s” section — must venture out of the box they have been placed in to read about a subject which lies among their interests.
Perhaps cyclists could start a trend by seeing themselves as a single group of distinct individuals united by bicycle use. However, if we did this, it would mess up all of the data collection efforts which are so prevalent nowadays. On the other hand, it would do wonders to help protect cyclists’ privacy.