Interesting ACA Ride Registry Data

When I look at data I almost always try to make sense of it. As an engineering manager later in my career I became interested in interpreting all kinds of data to understand the performance of the organization on projects. When I looked at the Adventure Cycling Association Ride Registry data I wondered how the data might be interpreted. The registry contains tour information that includes participant age, number of riders, number of days, length of the tour in miles, weight of the gear, and number of flats experienced. There appear to be over 3400 rides registered in the data base. I wondered, “Where do I fit in these data?” and “What does it mean?”

Caution is needed to avoid interpreting this data in too much detail. First of all, it is a database of voluntarily submitted ride data. That means that it may not be representative of touring cyclists at large. Second, it seems to be skewed toward very long rides of a thousand miles or more, which may indicate that people who accomplish them feel that they are worth sharing. In contrast, someone who completes a 300 mile tour may not feel that it was enough of an achievement to share.

There are a number of interesting things about the data nevertheless. The age of the riders is reasonably evenly distributed between the ages of eighteen and sixty five. Under seventeen and over sixty five, the numbers fall off dramatically. The under seventeen people are probably less likely to travel on their own because they are still dependent on their parents. Over sixty five people may be reaching the age when they can no longer perform at the level necessary for a sustained tour. It may also mean that the people less than sixty five with a zeal for bicycle touring have not yet aged into the over sixty five group. In our society people are more able to remain active to a later age and the drop-off at 65 may change with time. Since I’m 69 years old myself, I’m hoping that my cycling career isn’t ending anytime soon.

69% of the registered tours had one or two participants. 38% had just one person on the tour. That aligns with my personal experience on the trail. People travel in pairs or alone because it is difficult to find people who have a similar interest in bicycle touring and have the same physical abilities. You would think that large group rides would swamp those numbers, but less than 20% of the registered rides are organized, commercial rides that would have many more riders.

As a person who prefers tours that are one to two weeks in duration, I was surprised to see the large number of registered tours that far exceed two weeks. 51% of the tours had durations from 31 to 100 days. 41% were in my range of from two to thirty days. The remainder was almost evenly split along the edges. That correlates well with the tour distances: 59% in the 1001 to 5000 mile range and 39% from 101 to 1000 miles.

Gear weight was reported to fall within the range of 21 to 75 pounds 77% of the time. Another way to look at the data is that gear weight falls into the moderate range of 31 to 50 pounds 44% of the time, while light loads of one to thirty pounds were carried 30% of the time and heavy loads of over 51 pounds 25% of the time. This of course means that travelling for longer periods of time doesn’t translate to the need to carry more gear.

The flat tire data seems to indicate that 32% of the tours experienced no flat tires based on the assumption that I correctly inferred the number of rides recorded in the registry. Of the 68% of the tours reporting flats, 43% were in the range of one to three flats and 57% of the tours reported four or more flats suggesting a correlation with trip duration. That means that you can expect to have a flat if you ride a tour of any appreciable duration.

There is no action that I would take and there is nothing that I would do differently based on this data. The interesting thing for me is that it supports my thinking on these topics except for one thing: I don’t understand how so many people have the ability to take off on a bicycle tour for one to three months. I’m jealous.

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