So many riders these days are rather reliant on GPS devices and platforms such as Strava and komoot for their every move on two wheels, they may never have experienced 'serious' cycling in any other way.
At times it could even seem as if these ‘wired’ riders scowl at the very idea of occasionally ditching their connections and simply riding for the sake of riding bikes. Is this performance and stat-based approach versus just riding something that differentiates, perhaps even divides us as cyclists, or even as personalities in general?
Let's start with a disclaimer: this is an opinion piece, based not on data or stats but rooted in a lifetime of riding bikes, in all kinds of disciplines and for all kinds of reasons. Sure it may raise some ire, especially from the highly connected crowd, and perhaps the more unplugged amongst us are by nature far less likely to be here reading this anyway!
Of course we are all cyclists, but our personalities and our very reasons for riding bikes can differ dramatically. There are many riders out there who do ride predominantly for competitive reasons, either racing or for personal performance gains. I guess these are the cyclists who are most likely to be wired and driven by devices, and more likely to also chase Strava PB’s, KOM’s and note the stats.
On the flip side are those who get into cycling for the pure love of riding a bike, for the joy of getting out there in nature, for the escapism it brings, for the adventure potential, and also to escape that competition and connectivity we may well face in every day life. This type of rider is probably far more likely to ride unwired.
Of course there are those, like me, who weave between the two. I have dabbled with various devices and training apps on many occasions in the past, and decided that using them is simply something I do not want to do. Like many of out here, I do also get more than enough of that constantly connected pressure and stats in everyday life as it is.
At first I thought that maybe this was a generational phenomenon, as we didn't have these gadgets years ago. Although, having encountered numerous older riders, especially those who have come to the sport later in life, or perhaps those who have returned to the competitive side after years out, I have found them to be even more device-friendly and performance-driven than some riders half their age. Strangely some of these riders are not always so receptive to the notion of unplugged riding.
There is no argument that devices and platforms are useful for a number of purposes: monitoring your performance, logging your training, for plotting routes, and even for some inspiration and motivation; however, the thing is that devices and platforms do not make you go faster. They are simply soulless electronic devices that record and display data. They may well help many riders to achieve the stats they want, but then again they can also be extremely limited and restricting, not to mention damaging in some ways too.
Devices and platforms don't care how you feel. They cannot know if you had a bad night’s sleep (most of them anyway), or if you’re going through personal problems, or if you simply don’t feel like riding all out into the howling headwind that they can’t record.
There will be many who disagree, but I think devices and their stats have impacted the ability and incentive (or will) of some cyclists to ride on feel and trust their gut instincts when needed.
Being able to ride purely on feel is a great asset for any competitive cyclist to have, and also for us unplugged and non-competitive riders out there. Simply learning how your body, and possibly more importantly your mind, reacts and deals with situations and stresses is a core element to performance gain. At the end of the day, this is what makes the difference when it comes to the crunch and when the stats are all about even. No matter what the computer says, only you can judge this.
Then there are the mental health implications of being device and platform-led. There are those who thrive on chasing KOMs/QOMs and PBs, and many out there who may take a hit to their morale when they compare themselves – or rather compare their stats – to virtual data posted by others online; data of which the circumstances are not always entirely clear.
This is something that can be very deterring for many younger riders who are perhaps just getting into cycling in particular, many of whom may not actually want to race. They may be seeking that elusive escapism from the harshness of their everyday life, and may not be looking for even more life competition.
Nobody here is telling you to get rid of the Garmin or to sacrifice your Strava account, as they have plenty to offer; but there is so much more to cycling than stats and data. I think that a good proportion of riders today are missing out on the simple pleasures of going out for a ride. Not ‘training’, just going for a ride, and taking a route you’ve never been on before.
There’s a lot to be said to just heading out with little or no end goal other than to have fun, with the ride as long or short, as fast or slow as you feel like. Just going with the flow, living in the moment, and being curious and exploring as you do it.
Despite what some may think, you can ride just as hard – perhaps even harder – by unplugging. There’s no “computer says no” scenario, it’s all down to you to decide and to learn your own limits, which devices can only but guess at. You never know, by going unplugged and riding on emotion and feel you may well learn a whole lot more about yourself, and see a completely different side to cycling too.
There really is nothing to lose by riding unplugged at times. You may even enjoy the experience more than hitting that segment PB. Hell, you could even just stash away your device and check it later if that all sounds too harsh of a detox, which would maybe even give you another view of things all together...