Cycling Computers and When They’re Useful – Why I Finally Bit the Bullet
Up till Thursday I’ve opted to forgo the cycling computer. The way I saw it, tracking my rides with Endomondo on my cell phone was good enough. When I started riding with the advanced club fellas it was suggested I buy an on board cycling computer but I resisted. When I bought my Life-proof case for my iPhone I went all out and bought a stem mount for it so I could use that, when I wanted to, as my computer. I figured I had to keep my phone with me anyway so I may as well put it to use.
There were two problems with this approach. First, the tracking apps suck battery life faster than a vampire latched onto a woman’s neck. Second, even with the most advanced GPS settings, current speed lags by a few seconds while data is bounced off a satellite. When you want current speed, it helps if it’s actually current.
Well folks, Tuesday night Mike and I were a few tenths shy of a 22 mph average and we wanted to make it up so with about five miles to go, Mike says, “When you get up there, take it to 23 and keep it there.” I didn’t even bother waiting, I passed two guys up to take the lead and took the speed up… Going by feel, we were between 19.5 and 20.5. Mike called the marks off. “21”. “22”. “23”… “Okay, you’re passed 24 and breaking us up.”
Therein lies my problem. My “feel” for speed sucks, I go by cadence. With my current gearing, 24 mph is easier to hold than 23. This may seem odd but not if you fully understand how training, gearing and cadence work together.
I am used to a 90-100 rpm cadence when I’m pulling up front and I know my gears… I’ve got a 19 mph gear, a 22, a 24, 26 and 28 before I get into the descent and sprint gearing. Each 2 mph increase is one less tooth per cog on the cassette. Once I get up to that 90 cadence, pedaling becomes more efficient, it feels easier (don’t ask, I don’t know why, it just is). So, to take that 24 down to 23, I have to pedal that 22 mph gear at 100-110 rpm or pedal the 24 mph gear at somewhere around 75-80 rpm. If I pedal above 100 rpm my heart rate spikes. Below 85 and I’m using too much muscle to get the pedals around and the lactic acid builds up. In the meantime I’m also trying to save up for the sprint finish, so I was struggling to maintain a consistent pace… Thus, 23 is harder to maintain 24 because I’m out of my wheelhouse. Not only that, I can “feel” 24 and maintain that for a mile or two – just put it in the proper gear and hit 90 rpm (or thereabouts) and I’m good. I have no feel for 23.
Now, this inability of mine to “feel” odd speeds, combined with another problem I’ve written about before, my tendency to blow groups up unless they’re stronger than I am, meant that it was time to bite the bullet and buy a computer.
Oddly enough, I didn’t want to go big on this… I only had five requirements: Small, weather tight, wireless, a stem mount and I only needed current and average speeds, GPS was absolutely not necessary. I could live with a few other options, trip and odometer were alright but not necessary. I also hoped for a rear wheel mount but was told that I would have to go with a Garmin for that – and part with another $210 to do it. I opted for the $40 Specialized Sport and settled for the front wheel mounted sensor. It’s wireless, small and gives me only what I need:
Plain, simple, and it matches the Venge.
I haven’t even used it with the club yet but I’ve already become fond of it. Mrs. Bgddy and I went for a ride yesterday and I was able to pace her better for the whole 32.4 miles. It was so easy. Not perfect of course, but close enough for government work. The thing that really surprised me was how accurate it was. My wife Endomondo’d the ride and we were within a hundredth of a mile and we were right on for average speed. No crazy, convoluted setup, no measurements. Just slap it on, program in a few particulars, like tire size, time and a few others and you’re good to go. I’ll be good to go for Sunday’s ride.
So here’s how it adds to riding with others… I know my wife’s pace is around 16-17 mph unless we’ve got a headwind. Up until yesterday I’d gone by gear, meaning I pick a gear that I can pedal comfortably that matches her pace. This works great when there’s no wind and we’re on flat ground – in other words, rarely. With the computer I can keep a more consistent pace so my wife, whom I always block headwinds for, has an easier time staying on my wheel. Now, would I recommend using a computer? That would certainly depend on the situation but at $40 for a decent wireless computer (I’d expected to spend between $100 and $150), buying one certainly won’t break the bank. If you have a need to maintain a speed or simply want to know how fast you’re going at a given moment, it’s certainly a lot better than draining the battery on your phone.
UPDATE: The Pretend Triathlete commented: “It sounds like it’s benefited you to get to know your bike and your gearing before using a computer. Seems like a good approach.”
I actually was going to write about this in the post but figured it was getting a little wordy… Knowing my gearing and what I’m capable of with each one is something I’ve taken great care to pay attention to do well. Whether the way I chose to do this, sans computer, is a good approach or not, I’ll leave that to sharper cycling minds than mine. The reality is I simply make do with what I have and I want to be the best possible cyclist I can with the time and effort I want to put into it.