Is all that data helping you?

January 14, 2019 § 16 Comments

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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