Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Average Speed Is Depressing


One of the things features I've been enjoying about my green bike is it's lack of a cycle computer. At first I was saying that I hadn't gotten around to adding a cycle computer to the bike but soon I realized that I was really enjoying not worrying about how fast I was going. I still wear a watch and I know the distances of most of my local rides. And thanks to things like Google Maps and Bikely, I can found out exactly how far I've gone if I care about such things.

A while back I read this great post by Mark Stosberg where he notes that most cars, with all their gadgetry, tend not to have the average speed function. You can read his post and download his True MPH calculator here:

http://www.stosberg.com/Cycling/true_mph.html


Mark's conclusion, which I agree with, is that cars don't have the average speed calculation because it's depressing. If people knew how slowly they are really getting from point A to point B, it'd bum them out.

But here's the thing, if cars aren't that fast, it also means that bikes aren't that slow. I'm pretty happy at 12 miles per hour, but I'm happiest that I've mostly managed to build a life where I don't have to rush. Hasten Slowly has been my motto for awhile and ironically it seems the slower I go, the more time I have and the more stuff I manage to get done.

One other thing I noticed back when I was paying attention to the average speed reading on my cycle computer was that it really encouraged me to ride like a nut. I'd get a higher reading if I'd go really fast from light to light. When stopped, really stopped, the computer wouldn't update. But it encouraged racing around. And some computers have that annoying little pace arrow that constantly tells you if you're going slower than you're current average.

If you're racing around and you love pegging numbers and going fast or are training for some big event, I'm not saying you should toss your computer. But don't let a little hunk of plastic and some electronics boss you around either. If I was a more advanced person maybe I'd be able to ignore the numbers on my handlebars. But I'm not that advanced and I find it much easier to ignore a cycle computer when it's stashed in my pile of bike parts and not on my bike!

21 comments:

Jim G said...

I have computers on most of my bikes, but I tend to only pay attention to them twice on any given ride: once at the start to zero the trip distance, and once at the end to see how far we've gone when comparing notes with my compatriots.

Peter said...

On a four week trip a few years back my computer broke down in the second week. At first I was bummed I didn't know how fast I was going and would not be able to brag about how far I'd ridden. But I then noticed, within a day or two, that I was actually looking around at the secenery and not constantly focused on the handlebar. It made the rest of the trip much more enjoyable, and a lesson was learned.

Mark Wistrom said...

My Saab has average speed. It stays around 22 to 24 MpH.

When I had my bicycle computer on my commuter, I would average 14.5. I know they are probably not calculated the same, but bicycles are not as slow as some think.

Alex made me look at this.

Doug said...

Kent, you have (it seems to me anyway) pretty high visibility in the biking community/industry. It seems to me there might be a market for a super simple computer that just has a clock, trip mileage and total mileage. Maybe you could pitch that to the various industry folks you know? Just a thought, Doug (Van Cleve)

Revrunner said...

Hey, if I was averaging as much as 26.5km/h, I'd be ecstatic!

Anonymous said...

Kent ...

Being that you're seemingly going "simpler" with your cycling philosophy ... are you still riding single speed and fixed? Just curious, because I recently flipped my hub from SS to Fixed on my Redline 925 and I'm hooked ... Need the Power Grips with this set-up however ...

Chris / Novi, MI

Kent Peterson said...

I did the fixed gear thing for years and single speed for a solid year before I rode the GDR. These days, I'm going geared but I'll probably swing back to riding fixed at some point. My Monocog is set up with a flip/flop fixed/free right now.

Anonymous said...

I took the cyclocomputer off my bike years ago (I was most interested in looking at at when it was least wise to do so - namely at high speeds) and but for rare occasions haven't missed it. My riding is about 3/4 commuting and the rest recreational. Regardless of the mode, I ride mostly for the feeling of near-earth flight that you get on a bike; the numbers just aren't that important... Raj

Vik said...

My bike is as fast as my truck in centre of the city [I live downtown] where the truck ends up waiting at lights. In fact at rush hour I am always faster on my bike.

I was driving the other day and some guy kept racing to the next light, but I would catch up in my truck at the light and I had a chuckle at his foolishness. Then I noticed an older lady on a bike with her purse in the front basket. She kept catching up with us at lights and passing us on the side walk. She schooled us both!

I must admit to racing along watching my average speed a lot. But, there is a method to my maddness. If I can cover longer distances faster on my bike I'll tend to take it over my truck as I can make the logistics of a particular day work. If I go slower than the truck starts to make sense as I wouldn't have time to ride and get everything done I need to.

For those who want a simple bike computer with just time and mileage - take a regular inexpesnive bike computer and cover the speed reading with electrical tape. Leave the areas that display time and distance alone. Or you can mount the bike computer where it isn't visible while riding.

Mike said...

Kent: One other thing I noticed back when I was paying attention to the average speed reading on my cycle computer was that it really encouraged me to ride like a nut.

I think that's a problem I have, too. There's a nice mile-and-a-half or so gradual downhill and flat stretch on my commuting route. I find myself hauling posterior down that stretch, trying to bump up my average speed and "show them cagers" how fast the chubby guy can go. Problem is, at the end of all that exertion on what should be an easy part of the ride, I've got nothing left and end up in the granny gear on the next little rise that should be no trouble at all.

Raj: (I was most interested in looking at at when it was least wise to do so - namely at high speeds)

That's a symptom of the other problem that I blame on the computer (what, you think I'll admit it's my weakness, and not the fault of technology??). Actually, it's probably a bigger problem than the issue of average speed. I'm obsessed with my max speed on the ride. If I cycle through the display and see I've only hit 34 mph or so, I feel the need to really push it on the next downhill to see if I can hit 40.

Maybe it's time to remove the computer for awhile.

Rick (Arvada, CO) said...

I have a GPS on my bike. The nice thing is I can choose which values to display. I usually use time of day, so I can tell if I will be at work on time, total travel time so I can keep track of hydration intervals, and current speed and moving average just to be sure I'm going hard enough to get some cardio benefit out of my commute. It's also nice to be able to do a data dump and get elevation profiles any time I ride a new route.

scott clark said...

Kent--

I do what Vik suggests--cover the speed display with tape--but I got the idea from you! :-)

I like having a simple odometer for navigational purposes.

scott in c'ville va

Alberto said...

I think information is fine. How one uses it is another story. I like to know how I’m riding and I think that data adds to efficiency in that sense and to improvement as well. If you have to beat your average speed or your max speed then it is a different issue, or problem, like when you are watching it flying down-hill, when you should be most focused on the road. I rode without average speed for most of this year and I frankly missed it. Ended up adding it again. But that’s for my training purposes. I couldn’t care less when I’m riding with the children or just touring around.

Randy said...

There is already a basic computer that only records speed, trip miles, total miles and time of day. It's the Cateye Vectra wireless, it has the added features of being inexpensive and also will mount either on a handlebar or a stem, which saves some handlebar space.

Eric said...

Hey man, I just found your Blog! I too tend to spend too much time loking at my stats. On last Saturday's ride I was asked by a friend why I kept looking down at my stem. I was ashamed to admit I was waiting to see how long it too for the average speed to go up. I think I'm going to change the home display to only show speed and distance.

Nickie, Anthony, Samuel, and ??? said...

How true it is.........

For years I too was a slave to my bike computer always trying to push a little faster, get my average a little higher, looking at the stupid arrows ;)

Then a neat thing happened, the battery went dead on the computer of my primary steed, and I didn't replace it, for almost a year.

I kept thinking, "man I need to replace that so I can get a feel for where I'm at." I actually did replace the battery about 2 months back, and after a week of riding with it I took it off completely for ALL the same reasons. Now I just ride, enjoy the scenery, push myself when I feel like it and take it easy when I don't :)

http://longwalktogreen.blogspot.com

Mark Stosberg said...

I'm glad you enjoyed my article!

Heidi said...

Interesting post - I'd have to say that I have no interest in knowing average speed. Just give me my total mileage and I'm happy. I'll toss an affirmative vote for a super simple cycling computer.

bradf said...

I've enjoyed watching my average speed go up as I get stronger. No question that on 40+ mile rides with very few stops (which is how I tend to train), the gradual increase in my overall average is showing me that I'm making progress. I like it.

Anonymous said...

I had a bike computer with an average speed function and i got so obsessed with the average speed i would detach the computer each time i started to slow down. In the end the the locking system that holds the computer on broke and my problem was cured

Anonymous said...

Both sides of this discussion have merit. I used to bike a lot as a teenager. I'm 41 and just got back into it this year. Lovin it! I had a cheap computer and was also trying to look at the speedo at top speed. Don't ever do this! You will friggin kill yourself. Seriously! I almost did. You can't read it at full speed anyway because your eyes water when you try. By a better computer that keeps track of your Max Speed and look at it later when your crusing.
I now use my car's Garmin with a $25 RamMount. Why buy a second GPS? It gives me all the stats I need and plays Zeppelin from an SD card. Sweet! I love the average speed because it allows me to gauge my progress and learn in advance weather or not I can keep up with certain local group rides. It also tells me that unfortunately I'm not ready for any races. I think it's better to realize that you need more training than to try and fail pathetically or have a heart attack trying to do something your not ready for.
I also hate my average speed because it makes me hate biking in my local town. I get really PO'ed when I have to slow down or stop for traffic.
I think the ultimate solution would be a better computer. One with two modes, train and cruise. If it allowed you to toggle back and forth mid-ride it would be perfect. You could slow down when you want to without killing your average speed. Pick a nice destination, like the beach! Use train mode on your way there and your way back but while you're there put it in cruise mode and enjoy the scenery!
Does anyone make anything like this? I'd buy it in a second.
- Johnband.com