Guest writer Jeff Hemmel checks in with another view on the average speed debate we’ve been kicking around here.
I love my bike computer. It keeps me informed, letting me know how fast, how far, and how long I’m riding. It even gives me the time and temp, although to be honest the latter function is far from accurate. But I have also come to realize one undisputable fact — bike computers suck.
That’s my conclusion. Now in a Quentin Tarantino-esque way of getting there, I’ll give you the supporting argument.
You see, like probably most of you who’ve made the transition into more serious cycling, I didn’t start with a computer. I just rode, guessing at how far I’d gone or how fast I got there, but never really obsessing about it. Eventually, however, curiosity got the better of me and I hooked up one of the little gizmos to my handlebars, a magnet to my wheel, and voila, suddenly I had knowledge.
And I loved it. Now, I knew exactly how far my typical route really was, just how fast I was going at any given moment, even my average speed over a two-hour ride. By the time I signed up for my first charity event, I had a good idea of what I could do, and thanks to that computer, I didn’t go crazy at the beginning, kept my pace up during the middle, and even found myself with some decent reserves at the end.
But as the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. What once were regular, enjoyable rides were suddenly taking on an air of seriousness. I started checking the computer readout like a man possessed, constantly pushing myself to better my last time, or at least equal it. God forbid I should fall, gasp, below my average. When I got my road bike, things only worsened. Now, I reasoned I had done that time on a clunky hybrid. Surely I had to beat it by a good margin on my new speedy road machine. To not would be like, well, a sign of the apocalypse or something.
On a ride the other day, it was like that little computer brain had taken on the personality of the Robot in Lost In Space. “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! If you do not increase the current pace you risk finishing with an average speed below, I repeat, below the critical threshold of 18.2 mph!”
It was then and there that I realized that in trying so hard to become a better bike rider, I was forgetting perhaps the most important thing — to enjoy the ride.
So I ripped that computer from my handlebars and threw it onto the side of the road. Just kidding. I did, however, do the next best thing. I clicked to a screen that didn’t give me any information that I could immediately process into a speed or time, things that were fast coming to signify a loss or failure. Yup, like Doctor Smith used to do to the robot on occasion, I pulled the plug. And free from the data, I just pedaled. I don’t know how fast. But I do know it was a fun ride. I wasn’t rushing to reach any imaginary checkpoint, or agonizing over whether I had slipped off my pace. Instead, I noticed that there was actually a decent breeze on what had seemed like a scorching day. I noticed the trees that lined the paved rail trail I was riding were gently swaying, and that, if I steered carefully, I could enjoy their shade.
I noticed that I was out riding my bike, rather than sitting in a cubicle somewhere, or locked in traffic.
Yes, I ride for fitness, and yes, I ride because I think cycling is a pretty cool thing to do. But I love cycling because, above all other things, it’s fun. Obsessed with the computer, I was beginning to forget that fact.
No, I don’t plan to give it up. C’mon, I’m not that crazy. But every so often, when I feel my inner competitor becoming just a little too competitive, I click away from that screen. I pull the plug. And I do what I started out to do…
Enjoy my ride.
The Bike Noob’s own ride this morning ended with an average speed of … well, as you all said, it’s just not that important. What mattered today was riding a favorite route with some new folks I hope to ride with a lot in the future. Thanks for all your lively comments to the last post.