I think the most exciting Christmas present I ever received as a child was an Avocet 30 in what must have been 1989. Being in Minnesota and it being December, it meant my bike was going nowhere near the road any time soon, so I kept the silver dollar-sized computer in my pocket wherever I went, just so I could look at it, touch it, and imagine how much I was going to look like Greg LeMond now that I had this computer. My heart broke a little bit that next summer when I realized he had abandoned the Avocet in favor of a Ciclomaster CM34 with a built in gradient meter and altimeter. Perhaps this signalled the beginning of the end of my love affair with data on my bike; it faded almost as soon as it had begun.
I have a Garmin 810 which I use primarily on rides with whose routes I’m unfamiliar, or on any gravel ride in the mountains for safety reasons. It makes me feel like I’m riding with my iPhone on my handlebars. It probably has Facebook on it. While riding, it serves as a constant distraction; how much have I climbed, how much longer is the climb, where is the next turn. Even when I know a turn is coming up and precisely where it is, I still find myself distracted by the little changes on the screen as the directions flicker across.
The background noise serves as constant static between me and the sanctity of the ride, always there simmering just below the surface. What bothers me about it is that these questions are raised by the availability of the data, not by a need to have the questions answered. Brad Wiggins reportedly crashed out of the Giro d’Italia because he was staring at his power meter data, wondering if it was accurate. This was not a relevant question to be asking when descending a mountain pass in the rain.
Riding is one of the few opportunities we have where we can escape the internet, data, and the noise of our daily lives. Data has its place in Cycling, but there is an undeniable liberation in untethering and riding just for the sake of riding.