Dec 2, 2010

Cycling by the numbers . . . numbers . . . numbers

Ever hear this one? "If only I could drop 5 pounds, increase my LT threshold by 20 watts, I could totally be pushing enough wattage for a top notch Cat 4!" How about this one? "Oh, man! I hit that hill so hard today, I totally set a PR, by 14 seconds, and I am now only a minute thirty from getting on the first page of Strava results [it's a two-mile hill]!" If you haven't heard that exact babble, you likely heard, or maybe even said, something very similar.

I can't picture my dad putting me on my first bike, with training wheels and timing my kilos per hour as I was riding up and down the street in front of our house. He didn't care, and why would he? It wasn't important how fast I went, what was important is whether I enjoyed myself. And in the very beginning, frankly, it was important that I just went.

This is the much newer and much more colorful model of the bike I used to ride as a little kid. It was my first bike, and it was also the first and only bike that I had stolen from me.
Now, it is difficult to imagine going for a ride without my heart rate monitor and a GPS device recording my every mile and heartbeat. It's really kind of ridiculous how much we rely on all of this technology to tell us how we are feeling on the bike. I remember when I was a bit older, with my steel Huffy, riding around the neighborhood, and not even suspecting that there could be something better or different. And I didn't really care - I was having a blast. Then, due to car ownership and the "cool" factor, I stopped transporting myself on a bike and it began to gather dust.

A few years later, I made a return to biking, except I started calling it "cycling" and slowly got sucked into measuring every metric.

Pretty soon, every one of the items above became almost as important as the bike itself. I mean, if there isn't a Garmin on my bike when I ride - the ride didn't happen. I have to be lighter, my bike has to be lighter, watts should be higher, speed should be faster, heart rate higher - it became a game of numbers. Never mind that I just rode along one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world; who cares if I climbed the highest peaks with views of snow caps on the horizon? If I didn't set some kind of PR, or crush at least someone on the group ride, or hit a certain wattage on the climb, or constantly paid attention to the grade, the ride is a total and complete fail! Sounds like a ton of fun, eh?

I exaggerate, of course, but it is not without some truth to it. On the one hand, all these metrics should be ridiculed more often, maybe then, once in a while, we'll be able to break free from them and simply enjoy the wind in our hair. On the other hand, I work hard, train, diet, do intervals, climb hills, and it feels good to see those things pay off. The moral of this blog is that while you should take pride in your accomplishments on the bike (even measured in metrics), don't be so focused on the end result that you fail to enjoy the journey. After all, that journey was by bike - something we loved as a kids and still love as adults. Sometimes we just forget.