Is all that data helping you?

All the news is about Big Data, how it can blah blah blah and how companies and governments use it to blah blah blah, to which I say, “Blah.”

But what about little data? The measurements that people started making en masse with their bike computers, heart rate monitors, and power meters are now as much a part of cycling as the bike.

Actually, more, because you don’t even need a bike to bike now. You can purchase a computer, pedal it in your living room, never go anywhere, and have an experience that is created, memorialized, and spit back to you as data.

So I wonder if all that data is really helping you? To which you might rejoin, “What do you mean by ‘help’?”

To which I might rejoin, with the mysticism of Jerry Garcia, “Whatever you want it to mean, dude.”

Actually, what I mean by “help” is “make you want to ride your bike.” Because if something doesn’t make you want to ride your bike, or worse, if it makes you not want to ride your bike, it isn’t helping.

Little data can really make you not want to ride your bike, because in order to make sense of the data you have to compare it to something, and all such tables and charts can basically be subsumed under the title “You Suck.”

No one has ever put on a power meter and discovered that they are the next Greg Lemond.

Instead, people put on a power meter and discover that they suck. This results in immediately hiring a coach who can say with a straight face, “You don’t actually suck. You just haven’t realized your potential.”

Eventually, though, no matter what your goals, you read enough and learn enough to understand that you really do suck, or, and there are lots of folks like this in LA, you just keep forking over the bucks to “realize your potential.”

I have plenty of friends who don’t use little data at all, and one or two who contentedly pedal cruisers. Most of the e-bike commuters, regular commuters, and bike path recreationalists don’t have little data, and they pretty much all look happy.

My own experience was pretty simple. I got a power meter before they were mandatory, and all it ever said was “You suck.” I got tired of staring down at that Garmin head unit, twisting myself into a vomit ball trying to hold onto a wheel, only to see a number that said “You suck.” Same with the You Suck Software. I’d download the data and get several complex graphs that all said “You suck” in different colors and with different granular explanations of my suckage.

There was a graph showing how my 5-minute power sucked, how my 20-minute power sucked, how my FTP sucked, how my max wattage sucked, how my power distribution in races sucked … it was actually impressive, I first thought, to suck in so many different parameters until I realized that everyone else sucked, too, they just sucked slightly differently.

I ditched the power meter because it was making cycling a lot less fun. Facts interpolated as little data are not fun when they all say “You suck.”

Take away the little data and whoosh! In swept the Big Delusions, where you can imagine whatever you want and not be bothered by reality, which in turn leads to wanting to ride again rather than wanting to not.

That’s how it seems to me, anyway.

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END

16 thoughts on “Is all that data helping you?”

  1. michaelsmithintexas

    It’s was always motivating to download race data files to have quantitative power data to corroborate the qualitative race results and the first person eye witnesses that all said the same thing… “you suck”

  2. michelleryryback

    Great post. Two things, though….first, it can be motivating to know that with effort and over time, you suck less. Second, for those who live in the cold, snowy mountains, if we couldn’t ride in our livingrooms, for 6 months out of the year we wouldn’t ride at all. And we’d have to do something truly heinous. Like run.

    1. If, over time, you suck less, I WANT THAT DATA. And yes, anything to save us from the dreaded running. I’d rather have atherosclerosis and kidney stones the size of golf balls rather than run around the block.

      1. Michelle McCormick Ryback

        Sorry, Seth. You just peaked too early. If you had waited until you were a middle-aged woman to start riding a bike, you’d have a lot more potential for improvement. Note: Last time I referred to myself as ‘middle-aged’ my son asked if I planned to live to 106. Bastard.

  3. I was a runner for years, and used “little data” that told me I sucked too much when training for 10Ks and the like. That (and knees going bad) made running a love/hate thing for me. When I took up cycling at age 50, I promised myself I’d not go down that path of seeing how fast I could go on rides, etc. I do record rides (using Cyclemeter, not Strava), but I use it mostly for recording distance, and that’s about it. I want to enjoy riding primarily for its own sake, and, so far, it’s working.

  4. Yep. The very best in the world reach that level because they have a way of being oblivious to limitations. Power meters seem to be all about staying within parameters/limitations.

    1. The very best in the world … hmmmm … not sure that includes me or anyone I ride with.

  5. My preferred suck metric was your beloved Boulevard road race. Who didn’t want to quit after that ?

  6. I suppose I disagree with the suckage metric. I guess it’s all how your look at it. Since I generally ride to go some place, not some fun ride for the sake of riding, no one usually is going the same place to pace me. Not riding just for the sake of riding makes it actually useful transportation. Same with the inexpensive little tachometer/speed/mileage thingie on my bars. Keeps me closer to that efficient 83 rpm I desire to be, and at the end of the day I see I went way further than I thought in less time. Kinda fun!

    1. Yep, it’s like having the odometer on your car. And for people who use it like that, it’s actually helpful in a lot of ways. But the folks who pin on a power meter in order to up their game end up, in my observation, changing games.

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