About 5 years ago I used to train with a campagnolo ergobrain cycling computer as well as a S-710 polar HRM (with the additional power unit). That gave me every imaginable readout including: speed, distance, heart rate, estimated calories burned, power output, cadence (pedalling rate), pedalling index (or efficiency), digital gear indicator, current temperature & altitude …
This setup was great for long and boring rides but before long, I found myself looking at both LCD displays more and more and more. Eventually I felt that it was just information overload. I constantly aimed to beat my own times, lower my resting heart rate and burn the most calories possible. While I thought of this as part of training, I had unknowingly become a slave to the bicycle computer (or in this case computers).
After a while, I met a guy in the South of Sydney (Como bridge to be exact) who caught up to me from behind. He was obviously significantly faster than I was. I was suprised to see that there were no electronics at all on his bike at all. When I asked the inevitable “why” question, he said to me that he’d just be worrying about the readouts too much and not concentrating on riding the actual bike. Now being a techno-geek back then, I just couldn’t understand that mentality at the time. I used to think like this: “if a new technology is available, you have to have it”. Plain and simple. He didn’t change me on the spot, but his philosophy nevertheless made me think twice about what I was doing. Was I nothing more than a consumer victim? He certainly opened my mind to the idea of cycling without any electronics equipment.
Fast forward to 2008.
Earlier this year I said good riddance to every single one of those blasted omnipresent electronic devices. That’s right! This year I stripped ALL electronics off ALL of my bikes. No speedos, no HRMs, no power meters, no batteries, no wires -nothing. Why did I do it? Well let’s just say that it all started because the batteries all went flat pretty much simultaneously. That obviously didn’t stop me from cycling (although it might just be enough to make other people think twice about going for a ride, I don’t know). The polar unit requires factory battery replacement, which is a right pain in the arse. Meanwhile, I was too lazy to get replacements for the ergobrain. After a about a fortnight of cycling with blank screens, I decided to take them off, at least until I could get around to restoring their power.
LOW AND BEHOLD I SURVIVED A WEEK WITHOUT ALL THE ELECTRONICS MOUNTED ON MY BIKE!
After a brief period of abstinence from the dependence on technology that I’d unwittingly developed, I’ve since been left orphaned by the surplus of information that was available. And that’s the way it’s been ever since then. I eventually sold two ergobrain cyclo-computers and a Polar heart rate monitor. Partly because the money came in handy, but mostly because I just felt that I didn’t need to know how fast I was going anymore. I actually used the altimeter more than anything but I’ve become pretty good at estimating what altitude I’m at on this island anyway. Quite frankly, I don’t really care how fast I’m going now… I don’t even think about it. I doubt I’ll ever go back either. In fact the inspiration to write this article came from someone else who was asking about electronics on bikes.
I like the simple and elegant look it gives the bike sans mounting brackets and electrical cables. I was beginning to look like some kind of futuristic cybernetic organism: part human, part carbon fibre, part copper wiring. Never again will my bike experience the fury of binary coding that takes place inside every integrated circuit. Instead, only the physical -the structural– remains. I find beauty in the simple & quintessential. And of course the bike is now marginally lighter too!
Before and after the ride:
Without computers, there’s also no need for me to fuss about with reset buttons and altitude calibrations whenever I start. I don’t need to swap magnets and fiddle with sensors if I need to change either one of my wheels. Life for me is too complicated without uploading & analysing all of those ride parameters. That’s not riding anymore, that’s something else entirely. So it’s much easier for me to begin a ride and it’s also easier to return. I have no additional expenditure on batteries, sensors and chest-straps. There’s no need to worry about checking they’re okay. In short I have more time and money.
During the ride:
Moreso, I have come to appreciate the added focus it gives me while riding. I enjoy the actual riding part more. It’s more zen-like. There are no distractions mounted on the cockpit. I can’t describe it. Just me and the humble bicycle. We can even become one.
To summarise, electronic devices will always be there for those that need/want them but I would always like to have the choice of riding my bike without any circuitboards attached. That obviously includes the electronic shifting mechanims being developed by shimano and campagnolo.
P.S: By the way, I don’t ride at night so I don’t need lights. I do often carry a mobile phone but I don’t consider that it is a part of my bicycle.