Until recently, I'd never owned a cycling computer. I figured I should give it a go, and decided to experiment with one for a year. I bought one in January and stopped using it in July.
While I'm neither a technophobe nor a progressophobe, I am the kind of person who, for a time, mounted a small abacus to my handlebars. The joke was worth the rattling.
I don't care about tracking my stats and I enjoy navigating with paper maps--they don't run out of battery or break in a fall, many people can look at a paper map at once, and there's a lot of valuable information on a map that doesn't show up on the display of a cycling computer or smartphone. Yet, I decided to try a computer anyway. Data can be interesting, invaluable, and counterintuitive. I talk to a lot of people who know how much they ride in a year, and I can't contextualize their experience without quantifying my own. I was also curious to learn how many miles I put on my mountain bike versus my commuter, how often I actually used my swamp touring unicycle, and things like that.
No surprise: the computer and I weren't compatible. Only a small part of my frustration has to do with the make and model of the computer itself, so I don't want to pick on Sigma's Rox 11 computer. Most of my complaints would hold true for any computer on the market.
To be clear, many people enjoy competing on their bikes, and in order to compete, data is essential. This is not a critique of that. Some people simply enjoy sifting through data and using spreadsheets. This is not a critique of that, either. If you use a computer and like it, that's great. This is my critique about how data transformed me in ways I didn't like, and how quickly it happened.
The problem with the Rox 11 was a firmware update that prevented my handlebar computer from communicating with my desktop computer for a time, which was where my stats for the year were stored. I lost data, and I didn't see the point of continuing to gather data if the totals were going to be inaccurate. How many miles do I ride in a year? I'll never know. To be fair, this was merely the last straw, and I was happy to have an excuse to call the experiment quits.
My problems with computers in general can more or less be broken down into two categories.
1) The data is too immediate.
There's no point in having a computer if it's difficult to see, and mounting it on your stem or handlebars ensures you'll never not see it. That means I couldn't think about anything but how fast I was going and how far I'd ridden. For me, this invoked exactly the kind of internal monologue that I ride bikes to escape. How fast am I going now? How fast am I going now? I'm going slow! Is my tire pressure too low? Is my saddle too high? Are my gloves aero? Maybe I shouldn't have eaten that third donut. How fast am I going now? Any faster? Am I dehydrated?
Sometimes I ride longer distances, and I'd almost always rather not know how far along I am because I always feel very tired about 10% of the way in, and this invokes a very similar kind of internal monologue. How far have I gone now? 10.1 miles! Why am I so tired? Do I have a tapeworm? Are the planets misaligned? Perhaps four donuts was too many. How far have I gone now? 10.15 miles! Am I dehydrated?
I could stow the computer in a pocket or a pack in order to not look, but then obviously I couldn't reap the navigational benefits of the GPS computer that I spent the extra money to have. (I did appreciate those navigational benefits, by the way. I will continue to use the GPS function on long gravel rides or unfamiliar terrain.)
2) The data becomes a substitute for the experience.
In a way, using a computer was quite like playing a video game. In many video games, you begin with a weak and unskilled character, and as your character battles they become stronger and learn sweet new moves. Once you've played the game for several (or countless) hours, your character becomes impressively powerful.