Thursday, August 21, 2014

Powermeters have ruined riding bikes

Every good story draws you in some way, preferably within the first page or two.  I don't have a couple of pages to ramble on so I had to draw in my reader with a good title.  I've been riding a bicycle since roughly 2002.  In the scheme of things, that's not a particularly long time.  I have not been riding consistently that whole time either; there were times in college when I took a break from cycling to "focus on my academics" (hehe) and didn't ride with the team much.  There were times after college where I "focused on work" (hehe) and didn't exercise at all.

BUT, the point of it is that I've been riding a bike for ~13 years.  I have enjoyed all different types of riding:

1) Riding by myself
2) Riding with friends
3) Racing with friends
4) Racing with enemies
5) Mountains
6) Trail riding with friends
7) Trail riding with animals
8) Cyclo cross racing
9) Criteriums, time trials, circuit racing, road races, omniums, prologues
10) Naked mountain biking across the Sunken Gardens
11) Self contained long distance riding (camping+)
12) You name it

The common bond through ALL of that is that riding a bicycle is just plain FUN.  I remember one summer between freshman and sophomore year I wanted to get better at sprinting so I would ride my bike on the levee out and back almost every day (1-1.5hrs) and pick 3 or 4 signs and entertain myself by holding little sprint competitions...with myself.  Now that's fun. It's like playing with legos when you're younger but all of a sudden those crazy cool genius interlocking bricks become mad dashes across an imaginary line while on two wheels with shaved legs.  It's basically the same thing.

TDEA 2000something

Then there were those rides where you and your friends picked teams, sprinted for lines and "mountain" top finishes, attempted breakaways, attacked each other until your hands tingled and basically made it one huge "measuring" contest (I don't need to say what we were measuring, do I?).

Then a funny thing happened.  Everyone started buying powermeters.  Everyone started having coaches. The "level" of talent was still the same but the "level" of taking-it-seriously had jumped a couple of notches.  All of a sudden the normal weekend ride went from:

3.5 - 4hrs of "don't get dropped"


4hr - 50aer + 5x(12mins threshold + 3ez) + rest aer

On the surface those may not look too different to the average reader, but the underlying message became: this workout is more important than riding with friends.  Because your friends would have different workouts and maybe didn't want to do yours with you or maybe couldn't and maybe their intervals were different and the route you chose wasn't conducive to their intervals (say if they had vo2 instead of threshold or tempo instead) and blah and blah and blah.

blah blah blah right into holy sunburn!

Believe you me: I am completely aware of my own involvement in this trend.  Back when I got my first powermeter in 2010 I didn't really know what any of the numbers meant.  I didn't care.  It took several months of riding to begin to understand the implications of each number that popped up on the ol' Garmin.

And then, slowly but surely, things started to change.  I began to prefer the KNOWN quantities that were my OWN power numbers versus the unknown quantities of the group.  It is too "easy" to give in to one's own workout because you KNOW that workout.  You KNOW the intensities and the suffering and the duration and the difficulty.  You KNOW that. It is yours. A group, however, brings the unknown back on the table.  When will he attack? How strong is he right now? Can I actually hold the wheel? Hopefully she doesn't drop me...etc.

This has created a world in which - for us anyway - our group rides are:

50-60 minutes of riding "aerobic" together

1-3 hours of intervals where we will see each other every once in a while

50-60 minutes of riding "aerobic" together

That's great and all if your only goal is self-improvement. If YOU want to be the best that YOU can be then yes, you need to suffer by yourself at your exact zones with your exact workout for the exact length of time you need to be doing it. But for most people, they could maintain a greater level of enjoyment if they just pretended to not have a powermeter 50% of the time.

The other 50% of the time wear 100 layers because it is SO cold

Just act like it doesn't exist.  Ride 1 or 2 days a week without caring what it says or what it means. Turn Saturdays into a group ride day where you can either meander along and actually look at the stuff around you or drill each other into the ground until you're slobbering all over yourself.

Powermeters are fantastic training tools, but paying attention to it more than anything else is going to ruin your enjoyment of riding a bicycle for the reasons bicycles are so fantastic.  Trust me.

I'm a trustworthy guy, right?

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