Friday Group Ride #344

Friday Group Ride #344

I have an odd relationship with cycling technology. In the middle ’90s I worked with a small software group in the shadow of MIT focused on developing virtual reality exercise bikes. Everything was VR then, and we pushed as many pixels through a 486 processor as we could manage, while trying to convince gym owners that immersive, networked fitness was on the cusp of revolutionizing the way people pedaled.

vrbikeAs it turns out, we were early. And selling to the wrong market. But you learn things when you’re young, and I learned most of what I know (not all that much, honestly) about starting a company, establishing it, and keeping it together long enough to succeed (or not), while riding my bike into the heart of Cambridge those few years.

The core of our ideas was the power of the group to motivate exercise, the collection of data to reinforce the work done, and the immersiveness of the experience to push the exerciser to do more than they otherwise might have done.

Our products didn’t succeed because the groups we connected weren’t large enough. The machines operated on local area networks (LAN), rather than the Internet, which was not yet capable of streaming enough data to support the software. And while we collected user data during the ride, we didn’t have a good way to store it and report on it later. Finally, we struggled to craft a truly immersive experience with the common processing power of the time.

It has taken another couple of decades for some of our ideas to take hold in the market. The latest incarnations of virtual cycling are represented by products like Zwift and Peloton. I can tell you hand-on-heart that we wrote treatments for applications just like these 20 years ago. I would bet that a lot of developers did. What these two companies, and some others, have done is improve on the interactivity, data usage, and immersiveness, timing their offerings better and packaging them better than anyone else has managed to up to this point.

The VR group I worked with was purchased by a larger company who made an effort to succeed with our products, but then that company was purchased by an even larger one, and the wise heads there saw that our technology was too expensive and too complex for the fitness equipment market of the day. That was that.

I threw myself head first into cycling, and left technology behind. In fact, it was shortly after the demise of the VR project that I took the very rudimentary cycling computer I had been using off my bike, and rode au naturale for the better part of two decades, only recently dabbling with apps like Strava and Ride with GPS. My personal feeling is that the riding experience is hard to improve upon with technology. Mostly, for me, it just gets in the way.

This week’s Group Ride suspects you’re different, though. How much technology do you bring to your cycling game? Do you use any of the indoor apps or equipment? Or are you what I’ll call a “purist?” No Garmin/No Rules? “Give me a cue sheet and handlebar bag, and I will ride the Earth!”

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  1. AC

    How about all of the above.

    I use indoor apps, Zwift and ErgVideo on my computrainer. I was an early adopter of Strava, and RWGPS, and can totally geek over data after a ride. OTOH, I generally just ride when on a ride. I look at the data later. Live strava segments on a garmin just seem like a bad idea to me.

  2. gabe

    Technology I bring into my cycling:
    Garmin 500
    Cadence/speed/HR sensors
    Very Bright, rechargeable lights

    Dumb Trainer
    Trainer Road

    IMO, Technology, just like The Gear, can be either a tool or a distraction. The decision to make it either comes from the self.

    This Portlandia sketch speaks to me on this subject

  3. Miles Archer

    Inside – dumb trainer. NFL football.

    Outside. Google maps to plan rides, but I know most of the roads nearby. I just go out and ride. I use Map my ride and a spreadsheet to keep a log. I’m not training and not racing. I keep data because, shrug, I’m a geek.

  4. harris

    Everything I do is dumb or analog; rollers and trainer indoors, cadence/speedometer outside. It is getting harder to justify the outdoor cadence/speedometer, inasmuch as it is hard to find one that lasts longer than a season or two. Furthermore even my LBS dude has said he wouldn’t have a Garmin if he wasn’t trying to sell them. I am very curious about the Lezyne units though. It is a company that bleeds quality in tools and pumps.

  5. KG

    Inside: Power Meter w/Garmin, & Music
    Outside: Power Meter w/Garmin & the sounds of nature.
    Analytics (I’m an analyst for a living): Golden Cheetah
    Fun & Interval Motivation: Strava & Segments matching my interval needs (Tailwinds help)

  6. Ian

    Everything I do is dumb – in general.

    Outside, I ride with the RoadID app because family; oh and music because I cannot carry a tune.

    Inside in the elliptical machine manufactured in Hades. I desperately try to ride outside.

  7. Lyford

    Indoors: This is my first year with a trainer. I’m currently using Zwift and trying some of the video-based apps that pair with a smart trainer. It’s much more motivating than staring at numbers. This is my first experience with power measurements and it’s been very educational.

    Outdoors: I ride with a naked handlebar, a phone in the pocket, and an ICEdot. I like having the data and Strava log to look at after the ride, but I don’t want to get sucked into the numbers while I’m riding.

  8. Michael

    Hmm, nice to see I am well inside the bell curve here. Inside: 25-year-old rollers with a little mag resistance unit and my laptop streaming NPR news because my little transistor radio my wife bought me died. Can’t watch anything on rollers or I’ll ride across the room.

    Outside, all my bikes but the commuter have a basic computer on them – speed, distance, and the newfangled ones have altitude and temperature too. I think I could set up cadence or heart rate if I wanted, but… The distance is often useful for figuring out where I am and how far I have to go, and the speed is fun to see sometimes, and horrifying at other times. I don’t keep track of any data.

  9. Tom

    Outside: Cyclemeter app on iPhone in pocket, with e-mail to my wife; Exposure lights front and rear, so hopefully she won’t have to; and RoadID.

    Inside: I don’t ride inside.

  10. Donovan

    Outside: Cyclometer w/basic speed and distance on (2) bikes, Nothing on the others. Have used heart rate monitor, it finally died.
    Rechargeable lights for commuting and a flip phone (under duress) for emergencies. I’m a bit of a Luddite, i would rather not be distracted and be aware of what’s around, like birds singing, sunrises/sunsets, clouds, traffic, etc.
    Inside: Gave up on windtrainers in the 90″s, nothing since. I commute daily year around so It doesn’t make much sense to take time away from the family.

  11. Aar

    Indoors and out, I usually have my computer collecting all of the data it can – power, HR, cadence, speed, etc. The only metric I’ve been using to drive my riding for a few years now is Training Stress Score. While riding I usually have 9 metrics on display at any time and will change them mid-ride as circumstances dictate and allow. I’m not the least bit into socializing my ride data nor using a “smart” trainer.

    For this winter, I’ve reduced the metrics displaying on my bike computer to the bare minimum – cadence, elapsed time, distance, time of day and temperature. IT’s pretty refreshing.

  12. Chris

    My outdoor riding is split between my commuter and my road bike.

    When commuting I don’t use any data. I just ride and smile.

    On my road bike, I use a power meter, heart rate sensor, and Garmin. The only number I care about post ride is my power. During the ride, it’s nice to see how far I’ve gone and how fast I’m going, look at the grade of the hill I’m climbing, and know my cadence.

    Inside I use my power meter (which is on my crank arm so it also tracks cadence), heart rate sensor, simple rollers, and TrainerRoad.

    The combination of power, rollers, and TrainerRoad is one I can’t recommend enough.

  13. Scott

    I don’t Stava — primarily because it would expose me as pathetic. Some say, “if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.” By that logic the last 30 years of my life is somewhat iffy.

    To prove that, in fact, I do exist, and ride to some very cool places, my technology weapon of choice is the camera on my phone. I capture images of rides so I can lure others to join me — Napa, Loon Lake, Dutch Flat, Donner Pass, Highway 4, Sonoma County — my photo album goes on and on. In this regard, my accomplishments are measured and documented in the manner which I enjoy and brings enjoyment to others.

    If I cared, stopping to shoot pics would only cost me precious seconds on some meaningless KOM.

  14. Fausto

    Early into Strava, late into Garmin and heart rate/cadence. Just like the basics and the garmin downloads let me ride to places I might not normally go. I like the clean look of the Garmin vs. cue sheet, call me a snob. Only spend a second looking at data post ride. Indoors I rock old school rollers, a watch and lots of load music. If I could afford a laptop, fancy trainer and Zwift, I probably would jump but would rather have a new set of wheels than the tech stuff for the winter.

  15. Quentin

    Speed and distance. When I started riding as a teenager, the magazines told me I needed to know my cadence, so for a while I had a computer that tracked that. Now I don’t care anymore, either because I’ve developed a pedaling style I’m comfortable with or I just got over knowing, or both, I’m not sure. So, since about 1990 I have only used devices that track speed and distance, and I’ve never done heart rate or power. I now have a GPS version of just speed and distance (Garmin Edge 25). It is easy to move between bikes, so I use it on whichever bike I’m on, and I don’t ride indoors.

  16. Mark Fluss

    Inside. Controllable Tacx trainer connected to Zwift or Perfpro.

    Outside. I run Strava on my phone. No computer or GPS.

    But it is changing. I just got a power meter installed, and once I buy a head unit of some sort, I’ll be riding with data up the wazoo.

  17. Winky

    Nothing. Just nothing. I haven’t had so much as a computer on my bike in 20 years. And I’d rather eat my own organs than cycle indoors.

  18. FodFod

    indoors: Wahoo Kickr and Trainer Road. I have HATED riding indoors until this season. This combo of structured Indoor power training with progressive plans has been a game changer.

    Outdoors: A Garmin 500 I swap between all the bikes. I don’t get Strava.

    1. Lyford

      I don’t use the social features of Strava. I follow no one, I allow only my wife to follow me, and I turn on all the privacy options. But I do like it as an automatic ride recorder and logbook.

  19. DMo

    A few years back I built from plywood a stand that straddles my front wheel and holds a magazine or book between the horns of my handlebars. My tech innovation includes a 3 oz fishing lead on short twine that slings over the bookstand to hold the page open. After a fair bit of practice I have found that I can read on the trainer at all but the highest intensity. It’s pretty slow going and my retention is only fair. Helps to have less dense prose; more David Sedaris than Henry James. That bookstand and an iPod get me through the winter. The other indoor equipment that helps winter pass is a Concept2 rowing machine. Nice cross-training, attracts blood to my otherwise atrophied arms.

    On the road, I go with the simplest computer — miles and speed. I need to know that miles to follow that cue sheet you mentioned.

  20. Wyatt

    I too cut the cord 20 years ago. No tech on bike or rider. I use mapping websites to virtually explore new roads and trails sometimes but just ride when riding. I have friends who are all the way at the other end of this spectrum with strava, swift, etc–they are wonderfully fun people and mostly stronger then me. It’s the gloriously efficient self propelled machine called bicycle that unites us all whether we care how fast/far/up we have gone or not.

  21. Hoshie99

    Inside – kickr plus wahoo app or trainer road because those 45 minutes are business and the power is great for intervals.

    Outside – pretty much cut all out; did have a garmin but the phone is all I bring. Strava didn’t stick with me either. No music as well.

    It’s all great stuff yet the tech gadgets and electronic groups don’t do it for me. All nice but not turning my crank so to speak.

    I do have a newer aero helmet and wheels and those advances plus tires seem more attractive to me. I could go on and on about 38s vs 33s on my Ross bike for example.

    The irony is that i run a decent size software business unit, enjoy innovation, so perhaps it’s my more analog escape; I just like to ride.

  22. Jimmy

    Rollers or mag trainer for 20+ winters with a Walkman, CD player, then music downloads. I could do a recovery ride or a few intervals in 30-45 minutes no problem. Anything longer was sometimes a challenge, sometimes purgatory. Recently got the Kickr set up with zwift and easily can knock out 2 hrs riding courses and pacing with other riders. I’m not concerned about passing everyone and being the champion of an infinite Bike path. The I joined some friends on zwift with teamspeak app. Nothing but stress. All the tech to juggle didn’t leave me feeling as if I went on a ride and escaped life’s grip. Came to the conclusion that if I want focused intervals, I’m best without the tech. If I’m just after saddle time or tempo rides, zwift is fantastic. But not trying to e-ride with buddies across town. I don’t need to hear them breathing hard in my headset!

  23. Stephen Barner

    Not too many years ago, I was chatting with a co-worker with whom I caught a lift to a spring conference, planning to bike the 60 miles home, afterwards. I remarked that I didn’t ride with a GPS (they were pretty new at the time), as I liked the adventure of new roads and was pretty good at keeping track of direction. You can guess where this is going–on the way home I missed a turn and found myself on an unexpectedly deteriorating road which turned to dirt as I climbed a mountain into the wilderness, then mud, then snow-covered mud. I became increasingly concerned that I didn’t have sufficient lighting with me to handle more than an hour of additional riding time than what I had expected. It definitely wasn’t a road suitable for my 23mm sewups!

    Now, I will typically ride with an older Garmin 705, for the maps, if I’m in a totally unfamiliar area and my route has lots of turns. Otherwise, it’s basic speed-distance-time types of inexpensive computers. Classic bikes sport no computer at all and I enjoy the freedom from incessant data. I find that not having a display on the handlebars keeps me more in touch with my surroundings. In a place as beautiful as Vermont, that is a good thing. I haven’t logged into my Strava account in at least a year, but I do record basic statistics on MyCyclingLog, as I like to track my overall mileage, which ranges between 7-10 thousand miles a year. Keeping a cycling log is something I started doing back in the 1970s and I still have those paper journals somewhere.

  24. Stephen Schubauer

    Outside- Three bikes, one Garmin. No cadence, no HR, all GPS. Spent ten years post-racing sans data, living in the moment. Damned brother-in-law/riding partner bought an early Garmin and sent me route maps. As a map geek I was helpless to resist, enjoy the data but mostly enjoy the mapping and route data.
    Inside- 30 year old AC rollers, have worn out numerous sets of bearings, roller bands. Kudos to Bill Shook for stocking and selling old shit to old guys like me. Never thought that I would ever want anything else for indoor work…Really? VR on an indoor trainer? HTFU, go outside, deal with it.
    Then winter of 2016/2017 arrived. Got invited to ride with a friend at a club with Kickrs and Swift VR stuff on a rainy day in early December. Sounded lame but I was bored. OMFG!. Just took delivery of my own Kickr this week, have a Swift account and have done a couple of rides. Can honestly say that I could see why riding indoors is now not only feasible but one could actually get fitter this way than riding on the road. Pretty sure that this will change the way that racing cyclists will train from now on, IMHO.

  25. Dave

    What’s Strava? I have a simple Cateye computer for speed and distance, no cadence or HRM. Watts? Who cares. My goals on the bike are principally to have fun and enjoy the ride while staying fit. I take my flip-fone for emergencies in my jersey pocket.

    I bought a stationary Turbo-Trainer way back in like 1985 and I think used it twice for it’s intended purpose. Now it serves as a wash stand. I also have a set of rollers with maybe 10 hours in the last 4 years. I keep thinking that I should sell them because I’m certain that I’ll never use them again. Here in North Texas the winters are so mild that I can ride year round outside.

  26. Jeff Dieffenbach

    Reposting/enhancing from the Paceline #50 Podcast Comment section:

    ROAD/ADVENTURE: For longer rides where I don’t know the route, I’m in map mode with turn-by-turn enabled most of the time. Even on longer rides, I’ll switch to a data page occasionally, mostly to get the time (I’d love it if Garmin allowed the time to be displayed on the map). I generally don’t want to know remaining distance, but may occasionally check that too.

    For bigger/longer climbs, I have a climbing page that shows elevation, grade, cadence, and heart rate. I can maintain up to 150bpm for reasonably long periods–that’s the key metric I’m looking at (I’m not measuring power, but would like to once my younger son is finished with college). I want to spin as fast as I can, but that’s generally limited by grade, so cadence is a curiosity.

    CX: Two numbers here: ride time and heart rate (again, no power meter). I’m looking at how hard I’m going and how hard can I afford to go. I care about cadence, but don’t monitor it–that’s purely by feel.

    MTB AND FAT: Here I’m almost entirely about the map. I don’t have cadence on either of these bikes (nor power). I don’t wear my heart rate monitor when I’m riding MTB and fat, so that’s not an issue either. I don’t care about speed, and time generally isn’t an issue. Even if I know the route well, I like to see it on the map.

    INDOORS: Road bike on Kurt Kinetic Road Machine with Trainer Road and virtual power. I aim to do 28 structured sessions (2/week) over the course of the winter. Other than these sessions, the only time I’m on a trainer is at hotels when that’s my only option or warming up for CX, MTB, and fat races.

    Pretty sure all of this plants me squarely in the middle of the group data/device-wise.

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