Today billions of people all over the planet ride bicycles. Some use them to commute, some to keep fit and some race them for sport. Traditional bicycle racing, where riders compete to be the fastest person over fixed courses has remained relatively unchanged for over a century and is epitomized professionally by the Tour De France, the most watched annual global event on TV. Riding a bike is and always has been amazing.
In recent years we have seen new types of cycle sport emerging with things like Strava, Everesting, Ultra Endurance Racing and even virtual worlds like Zwift. Riders have been able to use telemetry such as GPS data and power data to move from racing at the same time on the same courses to being able to compete at anytime with friends over ‘segments’; race unsupported across continents tracked by a GPS beacon; compete to be first on a unique route to climb the equivalent of Mt. Everest in 24 hours as a series of hill repeats or even race people across the world from the relative comfort of a home trainer in virtual reality world.
While it is interesting to see these new type of competitions emerge, we think that the pace innovation in cycling is generally slow and that modern technology could be used to enable a better riding experience and richer variety and new types of competition that are accessible to a wider group of riders.
In the modern dating scene there is Tinder that aims to match similar people and let them connect to meet up in the real world. If we want to find local people to ride with nothing similar exists. When we hail a taxi using Uber we know exactly where it is and when it will arrive. When we arrive at the top of a climb we have no idea how far behind the others are or even if they took the wrong turn. When we are out riding we often struggle to find drinking water.....and so it goes on.
In the competitive cycling world its lacking innovation just as much. For instance in Strava riders compete to be the fastest over ‘segments’, small physical sections of road or tracks. What if segments were rated like climbs (Hors Cat 1, Hors Cat 2 etc) with points assigned to harder or longer climbs ? What if points were assigned based on your current position in a competitive league on that and other climbs? What if people could compete over a full course rather than just a segment? What if people could compete over that course in a fixed period say, this weekend or in December? What if someone could set up a points based league with bonus points awarded much like intermediary sprints? What if riders anywhere around the world could compete to see who can ride the biggest elevation gain this weekend? What if riders could compete to ride the furthest distance anywhere in the world over five days? The possibilities for competition are endless.
We think there is a better way.
The first bit of good news is that a bunch of us recently sold our startup and were looking for a fun side-project. We have a load of experience in designing and developing big data-systems, applying machine learning and in creating and running community based open-source projects.
The second bit of good news is that modern cycling hardware already collects and transmits a huge amount of relevant data to the cloud that can then be used by modern data-science and machine learning to assist in creating (or in some cases automatically create) and track interesting competitions. It could also be used to match riders and races for better competition based on their historic and predicted performance data.
The third bit of good news is that open-source world has already created significant technology that can be used to build a platform from the ground up. Big-data systems, mobile development SDK’s and machine learning libraries; it’s all ready to be used and along with a very healthy grant from our friends at Google Cloud Platform, we are off to the races (pun intended).
Cycling will (and should) always come down to a human powered adventure and competition of mind and body but we think with the right technology we can make riding and cycling competitions even better.