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‘Just me and my bike’: Cycling legend Bob Roll rides Silicon Valley in a low-tech way

He’s big on YouTube, but you won’t catch the ex-pro staring at his Garmin


by John Rieti

RBC Gran Fondo in Silicon Valley

Bob Roll loves what technology is doing for cycling, but when it comes to his own rides the American cycling legend shuns nearly all of it.

“No watts, no heart rate, no GPS, no speed, no distance, no cadence,” he said, ahead of taking part in Saturday’s inaugural RBC Gran Fondo in Silicon Valley.

“Once in a blue moon, I’ll take my cell phone.”

This may come as a surprise considering Roll, affectionately dubbed Bobke by the Dutch racers he competed against in events like Paris-Roubaix, runs his own YouTube channel that attracts thousands of viewers.

BobkeTV dishes out expert advice on topics like climbing (find the rhythm you can maintain, and maintain it), pro cycling commentary (he won’t divulge his Tour de France pick yet, sorry) and, because it’s the internet, what he eats for breakfast before hopping on the bike (coffee and oatmeal cooked with blueberries and butter).

“My professional mission in cycling has always been to increase the enjoyment, frequency, and safety of cycling,” he told Canadian Cycling.

“BobkeTV is an extension of that.”

Roll has seen first-hand how technology – much of it created near the California roads he’s spent hours of his life training on – is changing the sport. In one video, he reflects on his early days of racing in Europe, when there was no way for fans back home to follow his progress.

1990, Tour de France, tappa 11 Fontaine - Villard de Lans, Seven Eleven, Roll Bob, Villard de Lans
Bob Roll climbing out of the saddle at the 1990 Tour de France. Photo: Sirotti.

Now, fans can stream races live, check athletes’ Strava data moments after they cross the finish line, and even use their trainers to climb virtual mountains alongside pros.

“Access to what the best racers are doing has had a huge impact on the overall level of cyclists everywhere,” Roll said.

“Some of the previously unknown qualities of racing — training, travel, diet, team meetings, and human performance — are now easy to research. The knowledge available doesn’t necessarily mean you will win pro races but you certainly can improve at whatever level you currently find yourself.”

So is the future of cycling some kind of super plugged-in experience? The Oakland-born Roll isn’t so sure.

“I see events far from the beaten path (cars) being more and more visited by people from more congested locales,” he said.

That’s one thing that keeps Roll excited about riding in California, and he’s eager to share that experience with the some 1,000 riders set to take part in the Silicon Valley Fondo.

“Palo Alto and the surrounding area has some of the nicest roads for riding bikes on Earth,” he said.

“There is great diversity of terrain: forested climbs, dramatic coast line, long stretches of flat and rolling roads, and a great mix of rural and urban landscapes. Of course great coffee shops and restaurants don’t hurt either!”

And for Roll, the best way to take it all in is simple.

“Just me and my bike and my wits.”