For the past year I have been using a power meter and gps unit for nearly every bike ride and run. There are a lot of coaches and experts that advocate the use of these gadgets, and if you read enough articles you might start to believe that if you aren’t using them you are at a huge disadvantage. I was rather hesitant initially to get a power meter because of the investment. When you add on the Garmin devices, and want multiple power meters for additional bikes or wheels, the expense can be rather significant. Now that I’ve been using the devices for some time I realize that there is a lot to learn to maximize their benefits. I have been reading forums recently with coaches and athletes arguing about a lot of minutia and details that I think the average consumer of such devices has no knowledge of. And from what I can tell, ignorance may be a good thing. These devices, although praised highly, are far from perfect.

I had somebody ask me recently about some of the power data that I had posted on my blog. There is an interesting phenomenon in racing. Many triathletes started in order to challenge themselves in completing such an event. Somewhere along the line though it seems that most people find competition within themselves, and strive to at least improve their own fitness as measured by faster times. The question a lot of people have is, do they need the device to see the improvement that they desire. This is an interesting question, and I have a few comments to what I have seen, experienced, and learned in the past year. Granted, in another year as I continue to learn more about these devices and about my own strengths and weaknesses, my perspective may change in one direction or another. Instead of listing all the pros and cons, I’ll give an example of a strong rider that does not use any such device.

I have a friend, Jeff Radan, who has given me some perspective on riding that is quite different than I would get from a bike shop or magazine. Jeff and I met during my first brevet with DC Randonneurs in December 2006. I had never done a 200K ride before, and doing one in December in Maryland and Pennsylvania was quite an experience. The ride started early in the morning, when it was still dark, and after the first control I was chasing down a rider on a small bike. Latter I realized that he had just let me catch him for some company, and as we rode the next 100 miles together I got to learn what an extraordinary rider he was. Jeff’s bike was a Bike Friday, a travel bike, and it was a fixed gear model. Also, Jeff didn’t ride with a cyclometer of any sorts. He explained that he was pretty good at estimating distances while riding. Although I had a cyclometer, I would miss turn much easier than he would not using any such device. Later I found out that Jeff had also ridden about 30 miles to the start of the ride, and rode another 30 miles home from the finish. He admits that at one time he used cyclometers, but now he knows that such extra stuff isn’t necessary.

Here are some pictures I found of that brevet.

Bill Beck’s recording of the profile from the ride. This is something that you get from devices. Interesting, but is it necessary?

My friend John Laird and I checking in for our first brevet.

Here is Jeff prior to the start. Notice the cold weather gear he has on. You don’t see that kind of stuff being worn in California. Jeff had left his house on his bike a couple hours before this.

Here is Jeff on his Bike Friday. A single fixed gear, a single brake, no computers.

This was the first control point. In a ride like this the group ends up pretty spread out, and you end up riding with the same few people the entire way.

Another control point, and then we were on our way again.

Here we are at the finish, getting some snacks and signing our control cards. Jeff continued on his bike back home. Where’s John? Actually he wasn’t too much further behind.

Computers, GPS devices, power meters, they are all fun, just like your smart phone is. Are they necessary? Not really. Getting out and riding the bike is what you need. I’ll continue to use my computers and post some charts, and try to extract something useful from them, but getting out there and working is the bottom line.