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the numbers game

October 19, 2010

ride on.

I recently added a new little gadget to my dashboard – a bike computer. And I’ve been promptly seduced by the numbers game.

I’ve been there before, I know how this works. When I first started running, I became obsessed with tracking my miles, calculating my pace, talking PRs, and charting miles per minute. It’s only natural that a new activity would inspire this kind of mania – running was like a shiny new toy that I wanted to discover inside and out. Now, I’ve become equally curious about my cycling. How many miles to I bike per day and how fast am I going? (Kind of fun to compare to driving or running speed).

In the end, it makes no difference. With running, I was training for races and those numbers all played into those efforts. With cycling, I do it for fun and transportation, it matters little whether I’m going at 10 mph or at 16, whether I clock 4 miles or 14 miles a day, and it’s of no consequence how much ground I’m covering on any given week. All that matters is that I hop on my bike and ride to work or to the store. But somehow I still can’t resist this little guy, now gracing the right side of my handlebar, and I’m having a lot of fun peeking at it throughout the day.

After becoming a more ‘seasoned’ runner, I abandoned my GPS watch almost altogether. I can now judge pretty well how fast I am running and I can tell based on my route what my mileage is. It’s likely that the same will happen with my cycling calculator once I absorb the information it provides for a good amount of time. After a while, your brain becomes the calculator and a pretty accurate one at that. For now, however, I’m loving this little ride companion and the insights in provides. Count on, little guy!


Do you chart your progress or track your mileage? Has keeping track of your distances affected your routine or cycling style?

*A technical note: Unfortunately, the calculator is not easy to remove and switch between bikes. It sort of glues onto your handlebar and it calibrates to you wheel. So the one drawback I see is that you can’t switch it between bikes and track your mileage using more than one commuter bike.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2010 01:50

    I bought a little computer soon after I got my first big girl bike, a Jamis Commuter. I was so excited a few months later when I hit 1,000 miles. After that bike was stolen, I never bought another one. As you mentioned, it’s easy enough to figure out how fast I’m going and I can get my distance from google maps. But mostly, it really doesn’t matter anymore. And I’d rather not know how SLOW I go on my Dutch bike :)

    • October 19, 2010 12:39

      oooh, Dottie, 1,000 miles! Now I’m wanting to keep track for a grand total like that, how exciting. I haven’t been very consistent about tracking because I remove the computer when parking my bike (to not have it get stolen) and I don’t always remember to stick it back on. But maybe I should just to get a fun number like that :) And then I can abandon the project…

  2. October 19, 2010 01:55

    I love it. That is totally something that would suck me in and motivate me to add miles!
    On a side note, how do you get those fabulous photos of you mid-ride? I love those shots!

    • October 19, 2010 12:38

      Linda – practice! I just stick out my hand and take a bunch of shots and the majority are crap, but some always turn out well. But it takes practice to figure out at what angles to hold out your arm for the best results. Find a traffic-free spot and have fun with it!

      • gardengnome permalink
        October 19, 2010 16:02

        I practice just taking them at my desk as well. helps to work on the angle and zoom and whatnot. Yours are fabulous generally.

  3. October 19, 2010 08:51

    It’s funny you should post about this today because I was just thinking about getting one of those wee things last night! I started cycling-as-my-main-form-of-transport about a month ago and out of curiosity, have been keeping a rough running total of my mileage. This week, between one thing and another, I clocked 60km (about 37 miles)!
    Like you, I cycle mostly the same routes and just want an accurate gauge to have an idea. That, and I love to watch how fast or slow I am!

  4. October 19, 2010 10:21

    Someone gave me one a while back and while I am curious to know how fast I go, I haven’t put it on my bike yet. I’m a bit vain about my bike, I don’t like adding bits to her, so I’m not rushing to put an ugly little box on the front fork.

  5. Janice in GA permalink
    October 19, 2010 14:10

    I’ve had computers on my bikes since the ’90s. I’m not fast, won’t ever be fast, but I love seeing how far I’ve gone. I do watch my average speed (it goes up on a good day, down on a bad joint day), but I’ve adopted a zen attitude toward it all these days. I just go as fast as I go, and if I have a slow day, then I have a slow day.

    But I like knowing that I’ve ridden 1800+ miles so far this year, one slow mile at a time. :)

    • October 19, 2010 16:01

      Janice, you make a great point actually. For me it’s also more about distance than it is about speed. I care little about how fast I’m going (although it’s fun to see how fast one goes downhill) but I do love seeing those miles add up. There is something empowering about knowing you covered 100 miles on foot (by running) or via leg power (by cycling). It feels so much more thrilling than thinking that you covered 100 miles by car, doesn’t it?

  6. October 19, 2010 14:34

    I’m a fool for numbers. I got a Garmin over the summer and use it for running, and I love seeing the breakdown of distance, pace, etc. I know I *could* run without it, but it just adds an extra push for me – I’m always competing with myself!

    As for biking, we used a GPS when we were riding 30-50 miles at a time over the summer, mostly so we’d know when to turn around. It’s hard to map out a route that big on Google Maps or DailyMile and I’m very bad at estimating that sort of thing!

  7. gardengnome permalink
    October 19, 2010 16:01

    I’ve thought off and on about getting a computer tracker, but not enough to spend any money on one. I log my commute miles in our area’s transportation tracking site (also where they track the ‘Bike Commute Month’ stuff. I do about 160 to 200 miles per month, at a fairly crawlingly slow pace.

  8. October 19, 2010 17:04

    My husband is completely obsessed with his bike computer! It’s like he’s constantly on a mission to hit the next milestone – he recently hit 9000 miles (that’s over approx. a 3-4 year period), so was thrilled! I’m always telling him that he should focus on riding for fun, but I know he’s going to be working nonstop to get to 10,000 miles now – he’ll probably have to have a party or something to celebrate :) I’m like Dottie and not sure I want to know how slow I’m going, but it was amusing when I passed one of those roadside speed detectors recently and was going a whopping 10mph. I told myself it was because I was just coasting at the time – haha.

  9. October 19, 2010 17:43

    Oh, how neat! I think it would be fun to track miles for the same reasons you list. How satisfying to see your total hit 100, 500, or 1000 miles ridden!

    But in reality, I’m a pretty low-tech girl, which is ironic because I work in a technical field. I do run with a watch because I do my half-marathon training by time. Like you, I have a good sense of my pace, so I know that if I run for 60 minutes, I’ve run at least 6 miles, which is good enough for my race goals. The bike is almost purely for pleasure and transportation, and I’ve been known to take the long, circuitous route home just for the fun of seeing unfamiliar sites ;-)

  10. October 19, 2010 18:21

    I’ve never used a bike computer, but I have kind of estimated my daily trips to work and back using Google maps (about 5 miles either way, give or take a little depending on which route I take), and I know approximate distances to a number of places we go regularly, so I feel like I have a pretty good feeling of distance for anything about 5 miles or less.

    I’ve estimated that I ride somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 miles per year, which does seem pretty crazy, considering that is all just getting from point A to B (with the very occasional joyride around town thrown in). You don’t really think about how much ground you’re covering when driving – or at least, I didn’t.

    Here’s to the ability to move ourselves around our own cities with our own two legs! Cherish that ability and freedom whenever you take advantage of it!

  11. DEDHED permalink
    October 20, 2010 03:34

    I like my computer and we run an informal commuter contest at work for yearly miles (and flats) with little homemade trophys and bragging rights. One of the guys does a monthly spreadsheet and chart. I find it to be a motivational tool, I can’t just say it’s too cold or dark, gotta beat those other guys .I think that’s more of a guy thing though. It also gives me a goal to reach (4K lately) each year.
    My computer also does 2 bikes separately and total. I have it set for my road bikes as 1 and my upright bikes as the other wheel size. I found with my children the computer is a great thing to keep them interested. Oh!, look how many miles you’ve gone! They also liked the speed thing especially the time my daughter and I hit 40 mph when she was on the tag a long down a looong hill. 3800+ so far this year.

  12. Janni permalink
    October 24, 2010 21:13

    Dein Radcomputer scheint von SIGMA zu sein – diese Firma hat fabelhafte Geräte (wireless), die sich vollautomatisch an zwei verschiedenen Fahrrädern verwenden lassen (wie z.B. BC 1106 DTS). Funktioniert perfekt und macht viel Spass, vor allem mit Kindern! Dabei zählt – wie schon andere bemerkt haben – nicht unbedingt die Geschwindigkeit, sondern vor allem die Entfernungen!

  13. October 25, 2010 00:59

    I use MapMyRide (the free version) and it has worked excellently so far. It is an app for the iphone and maybe other phones. Using GPS it tells you your avg. speed, your distance traveled, your time etc. and it gives you your actual path on a map.

  14. Dave permalink
    October 27, 2010 12:59

    I was just given my first ever GPS unit as part of a project by the City of Portland to track the speeds of a number of cyclists on two main bike route roads in town, in order to find kind of an average speed to time the traffic signals to give cyclists a “green wave” all the way along the street (that is, to time it so that if you ride a certain speed, you’ll hit green lights all the way, and to try to time it for a certain average speed, based in the GPS data).

    So now I get a bike computer for a few days :)

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