Data Overload.

I had a new lust… a gleaming new Polar ‘device’ that is due out, the V650. A long time fan of Polar, as their HR kit is some of the best going, so the idea of bundling that with a good GPS and barometric elevation tracker was too good to be true. Bliss!

Then I thought about it.

The past few months has seen me back on the bike in anger. ‘Winter’ was a write off, three months of being constantly sick wiped out any form of riding, so when I finally got back to riding, I said to myself I was going to attack it hard. And for the most part I have. 3 mornings a week with 4.30am starts as I build up the miles to settle in to a 150-180k week; I can’t afford more time on the bike and that already comes to 6-7 hours solid saddle time each week. My rides revolve around a set of options based on the same route – I can do easy or hard and I base the rating on the climbing involved, which can vary between 300-850m per ‘course’. So as the rides tend to be short, sharp and quick, I liked the idea of being able to map everything to get the most out of them.

Then one morning I came back after a brilliant ride and asked ‘why?’

I have a Polar cycling HRM that is a bit dead due to batteries, or lack thereof, so of late I have been using Cyclometer on my phone that I use for anything and everything but a phone! Other than the times it goes nuts (as it did last week) and very generously adds 20km to my ride and clocks my fastest speed at a blistering 80 MILES per hour, it’s been pretty accurate. When I compared it to my Polar (with speed/distance sensor) some time back, it was about 300m out on the distance but the calorie count was pretty close (top speeds are to be ignored). So while it’s not super deluxe accurate, it does what I want and even uploads to Stravahole, because I keep on getting told ‘if it’s not on Stravahole, it didn’t happen’… or something like that.

So when I asked myself why, it was a question of how much data is too much?

I see lots of riders going around with the ‘helm’ of the Starship Enterprise strapped to their bars. Maps, numbers, blips, bloops and at ‘go’ at the traffic lights, I expect to hear Picard saying ‘make it so’ (that’s a New Generation reference to you younger folk!). Every meter is tracked, every push recorded, every heart beat charted. I am pretty sure if the rider farted, the ‘computer’ would know about it. The question that comes to my mind is what do people DO with all this data? I get it if you’re racing for farms, i.e. you are making money out of this, either as a serious top level pleb or a pro at any level. If money’s involved, knowing what the engine is doing is the first step to making sure you’re in with a chance. But what about everyone else?

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So very lust worthy, but do you need it?

When my trusty Polar was working, I used to log distance, HR’s and calories. Religiously. I even based rides on that data – the numbers were my God. But here’s the rub… ssshhhh – keep this to yourself – if you ride on a regular basis, you’ll have your set routes. You’ll know the distances and the times taken to do them. Leaving out the unavoidable variables such as traffic lights (if you’re on the road), flats, whatever, you’ll know from one ride to the next how you are doing using nothing more than a simple cycle computer for distance and time; and using the old the distance vs. time equation you’ll know pretty quickly how your riding is going i.e. same distance, less time = getting better. Do you need a gps map of that ride? How about what your heart was, or was not doing at a particular point? Calorie count is useful if you are looking to drop some weight (and are combining that info with other stuff you do off the bike) but the rest? Well, I offer ‘not so much’, at least not so much that’s going to make you any better below a certain point (that point being top level pleb or pro). It’s ultimately just filler you can use to distract yourself from other probably more important things like filing your nails.

To get better, fitter, faster on the bike is a simple equation – you need to be on the bike more!

One can easily fool themselves into thinking all this data is going to make a difference but if we are all honest with ourselves, it’s not. Unless you have a coach, are already really bloody fit (or are not and are following very strict instructions for whatever reason) and have some very specific goals, then for the most part all this info is just another form of data overload, something we all seemed buried by these days. It’s data you can bump back and forth with your mates/buddies to have a proverbial dick swinging competition but that’s about where it ends. Unless you have a properly qualified trainer telling you what to do with it, it all just looks pretty on screen but really, you’re better off watching an episode of the Simpsons, as at least it makes you laugh (which IS good for you).

It’s funny to think that a whole industry has sprung up based selling devices to track all this data, offering the concept that knowing it will make you better. In fact, what’s going to make you better is the simple act of just doing it (isn’t there a shoe company saying that??), often, and with purpose. If you get stuck, go race a race (or do a really hard ride), get spanked in the process and then go back at it knowing there is someone (or a whole lot of others) faster than you. I see too many people with too much tech still sporting a fat belly under that jersey, so quite clearly all that data is not doing its job!

For me, I’ll stick with the phone app as a bit of fun (and to prove to my non believing mates that I actually do ride) and maybe fire up the Polar again so I can at least measure the courses I do accurately; I do already have it after all. I’ve found though that the best bit of data I can gather is the simple fact that riding more makes you faster, riding harder courses makes you stronger and that being tired is not really too much of an excuse. If I want to get better? Oh, I know of a few more big hills I can add to my rides…

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PS: With the money I set aside for the Polar, I bought a new set of amazing lights – much better use of the money I think.