Tuesday, November 16, 2010


There is little doubt that we in the Western world have grown addicted to consuming technology. In 2005, the US alone generated 2.6 million tons of e-waste. It is the fastest growing waste stream in the civilized world. We don't see it because most of it gets shipped to China. In some sense that is befitting since most of the gadgets we buy come from there originally.


Gadgets dominate our lives and not always for the better. Deadly car accidents due to cell phones and texting have already taken up all the gains from enforcing DIU laws and then some. More people are being robbed and attacked because they are distracted by their cellphones than benefit from having a phone handy in an emergency. Gadgets are also a very expensive addiction on par with narcotics or other illegal substances.

I have to admit that I used to be an early adopter of all things electronic. I sold my record collection and switched to CD's before most record stores in Europe started selling CDs. That also coincided with my move to the US and since the US was lagging considerably in this matter, I had the hardest time finding music for many years.

One of the things that attracted me to cycling was technology and I quickly amassed enough gadgets to fill a small research lab. I bought one of the earliest heart rate monitors with a computer interface. At that time, the computer interface was bulky and cost more than the watch, which wasn't cheap either. Every time I rode I faithfully downloaded my data to the computer. It helped that I was working at a defense lab where computers were easy to access because at the time PC's were not common. I also sported one of the first laptops and lugged it around all over the world. I remember that many people looked at me with envy but they did not have to carry the box.

Years later I was one of the first to buy a power meter. And then a GPS. Not too long afterwards however, I started having second thoughts about gadgetry in everyday life. Not only was I getting tired of lugging stuff around, keeping it all charged, and downloading all the data, I quickly found that the data I collected were highly repetitive and devoid of new information.

Although lack of usefulness was not the main reason at the time, it did matter. Whatever the reason, I am happy to say that I am the most gadget-free rider out there. I don't even bother to install a speedometer any more.  As John Cobb once told me: "Why do you need a speedometer? As long as there is someone in front of you, you are not going fast enough."
My hitech Cockpit
More hitech cockpits

While I do not doubt the value of measuring devices such as heart rate monitors, power meters, and wind tunnels for those engaged in the quest for new knowledge, I think that their usefulness for everyday riders, and even pro cyclists, is not there. I would go further and say that in many cases these items become distractions that do at least as much harm as good -the good being next to zero in any case.

When you have a heart rate monitor or a power meter you quickly learn that after a short period of time, it becomes trivial for you to guess your heart rate or power output. These things do not change much and you can quickly develop a good estimate of your output. I used to be able to overlay my heart rate charts from all my Monday rides, all my Tuesday rides, etc. -we rode the same rides every week in my team- and they matched perfectly. 

If anything these items can become very limiting. If you rely on your power meter to tell you what you can do (i.e. to pace yourself) you could be limiting yourself. That too was said more than a few times at that same clinic -all the while showing that one of the uses of the power meter is to pace oneself.

The truth is that if you need a power meter to pace yourself, you probably also need a GPS to drive to the corner grocery store or a cellphone to keep track of your friends. If that is the case you will always lose out to those who can use their brain. It is the perfect low maintenance, low cost, supercomputer and it can run circles around those high tech contraptions. Furthermore, it is always there as long as you are.

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