5 times you should ignore your bike computer

Most of us have some kind of electronic gadget on our handlebars to record our rides or help with navigation. Whether you are a Garmin user, Stravaholic or Wahooligan it is easy to become overly reliant. We look at the times when all that data can be a hindrance, rather than a help.

Where are we going again?

Having the route on your computer makes navigation simple but it also means you might not bother to check your location on a larger map before heading out. Without looking at a map for an overview of the region you’re riding in, you are less aware of the context of your ride and the geography of the region you are travelling through. You can become so fixated on the purple line that you are unable to relax and observe what is going on around you; often missing the sights, scenes and sounds that we ride our bike to experience. It is much easier to get disorientated if you don’t have awareness of your surroundings.

Watching the screen can remove your attention from the road and traffic when at junctions – the time you need it most. Always ride safely and if you need to check navigation, pull over to the side of the road, away from traffic, until you know exactly where you need to go.

Are we nearly there yet?

GPS stats are not always accurate and vary from device to device, but they can help you to pace your effort and answer the questions ‘how far to go?’ and ‘how long is this climb?’ However, it is very easy to get fixated on the stats and sometimes they are wrong. If you think the summit is 14km and it’s actually 14.5km, then that extra 500m can feel like hell! Stats and figures can detract from using ‘feel’ and just enjoying the ride and the scenery. If you are doing a 100km event and your computer reads 101km and the end still isn’t in sight, it can cause a lot of frustration and destroy your mental focus. Without a computer you just have to keep riding till you see the finish banner – simple!

Who is the boss? 

If you start leaving all the decisions to the little box on the handlebars things can go wrong. Even very intelligent and astute riders can switch off their own brain when handed a GPS. Bizarrely, a rider once claimed that they had ‘got lost’ in a tunnel because the GPS had lost satellite signal!

Following the line on your GPS can build a dependency so you stop using your own common sense. If the purple line takes you down a dead end, over a cliff edge or onto a motorway, the danger is you just follow it without thinking – “is this the right place for me to be riding my bike?” They are a good tool but sometimes you will need to apply logical thought and override your device’s direction.

Just a little further!

There is nothing more frustrating than finishing a 100km ride to see the upload actually reads 99km!  Riding specific distances or finishing on a round number can become compulsive behavior, but if the numbers weren’t in front of you then the need to go twice round the car park to round it up wouldn’t be there either! It’s not as if the numbers are 100% accurate anyway!

Each device or program smooths out data differently and there will always be a margin of error in the accuracy of its recording. Your device may record a point every 1 metre, but smooth this to every 5 metres in order to plot a logical path of travel. Over a 100km ride this can create significant differences. Your Auto-pause function can also kick in at varying times when you are decelerating to a stop, thus removing parts of the ride. That’s why you could do a ride with a friend and both have slightly different distances recorded.

Keep an eye on the bigger picture

If you ride the same route regularly you may start racing yourself to get a new personal best on every ride, and that’s not even considering the Strava segments, but an obsession with the numbers and times can be demoralising. Wind, rain and traffic conditions will all make a difference to your average speed, plus if you ride frequently there will be days when you feel great and days when you feel a bit, well, meh. Daily improvements are simply not possible, instead measure your ride only once a week on the days you feel good, and watch how you improve over months, not days.