Monday, April 15, 2013

Mountain Biking...Literally

After the finish of this year’s Kona Odyssey mountain bike race in Forrest I overheard a particularly enthusiastic gentleman make a particularly interesting claim – “I was literally at 110% of my maximum heartrate going up the first climb!”
Hmmm. It would seem, even to the untrained, that there is a lot wrong with this statement.

Although I’m not a scientist, I have some friends who are, and they have reliably informed me that it is generally considered impossible to achieve 110% of the maximum of anything. This is because ‘maximum’, by definition, is the most that can be achieved. So, for the particularly enthusiastic gentleman in question, a heartrate measured at 110% of his maximum is unfortunately not possible.

And while I’m also not a PhD in literature, I have some friends that read occasionally, and they have also reliably informed me that the term ‘literally’ cannot accurately be used to refer to something that is impossible. Literally is defined as ‘actually’ or without exaggeration, inaccuracy or using a figure of speech.

So where does that leave this gentleman’s statement? Probably to be taken with a grain of salt, and not that fancy Himalayan Pink Rock Salt either, just the regular home-brand Iodised Table Salt, extra-fine grind.

When your jar of salt comes with its own mini-grater it’s time to seriously re-assess your grocery shopping habits.

Even the term “mountain biking” can’t really be taken literally most of the time. Not all mountain biking takes place in the mountains and what really defines it is the off-road nature of the terrain usually encountered. The French probably have a more accurate label for this type of riding which is known as “Vélo Tout Terrain” (VTT) which, I assume, means something about cycling on different types of terrain and should not be confused with “Velu Truite Terrine” which is a cold and hairy, fish-based meatloaf (

The other ‘VTT’. Asking for this in your local French bike shop is likely to be met with a blank stare.

Mountain biking isn’t the only activity to be plagued by inappropriate use of the work ‘literally’ though. There are literally tens of articles on the Internet dedicated to the incorrect use of this word:

So, when trying to impress your friends with a statement about your extraordinary effort on the mountain bike, how does one manage to convey the powerful meaning without annoying all the picky linguists and grammarians (like me)?

The phrase could be changed to “I was figuratively at 110% of my maximum heartrate” but this effectively acknowledges the inaccuracy of the statement and would make you sound like a bit of an idiot. Alternatively you could say, “I was literally at a heart rate 10% higher than my previously recorded maximum” but that implies that you have never previously put in an effort hard enough to reach your actual maximum – and puts you at risk of appearing like a lazy athlete, unable to properly exert yourself.

Probably the safest thing to do would be not to speak at all, because the risks of sounding like a dumb cyclist are just too high.

With Lance Armstrong no longer the poster boy for Trek Bicycles, George W. Bush might need to step in and fill the void.

No comments:

Post a Comment