10 February, 2009

Thinking About Bike Computers


I've been thinking about bike computers. Over the years my bikes have evolved, gaining many useful bits such as fenders, front racks, and lights. Like many of you I've gone from riding, mostly, racing style bikes to riding a randonneuse and a city bike.

One thing my bikes have been losing is computers. As the batteries died the computers were removed rather than fitted with a new battery. It probably has to do with age, but I no longer care much about how fast I am going or exactly how far I have ridden. I've lost my log book too.

Now I'm not totally against cycle computers. They are OK for navigation. I still have one on my go-fast bike to make it easier to follow cue sheets on group rides. But, come to think of it, it's battery is dead too. Maybe even the navigation thing is overstated. When we went touring in France a few years ago Annette and I managed to find our way from remote place to even more remote place for a week with nothing more than a map, no bike computer or GPS. If all else fails, we ask directions.

So, do you use a bike computer?

69 comments:

Matt Newport said...

No computers, but a GPS is fun for off-roading. Otherwise I use Google Maps or Bikely before or after the ride If I want to gauge distance. I wouldn't mind having an old needle-style speedometer on my Xtracycle, though...

C said...

I do thought I have to say I mainly use it for the clock. I can't stand wearing a watch while riding and when I head out I usually have to be back by a certain time due to family or work. Distance is also handy when doing brevets. Beyond the navigation aspect it's also good to help you pace yourself. Speed I don't see any use for these days. Odometer is not really useful though it is fun to see how far you've ridden over time.

Surprised you don't carry the Mafac computers!

Anonymous said...

I still have computers on the touring and gofast, vintage and fixed gear, no computer.

Some sort of modern tiny Huret Multio might be cool, just an odometer and trip counter, with a display you can turn off.

Scott G.

Sarah Lipshitz said...

darn right--for speed and distance. But GPS's are for weenies.

Andrew C. said...

i'm the same way. i bought an expensive-ish wireless computer a while ago when i had a racing style bike.

after i sold it and got a vintage touring bike i never put it back on.

Dominic Dougherty said...

Used to have one, now I don't.
Too many bikes, and I stopped caring about the numbers. I am more concerned with just going, versus how fast or far.

One reason I really like VO is that it doesn't sell high-tech stuffs.

garth said...

here's a related story. I don't wear a watch. When we drive in our 1967 beetle, my wife gets annoyed we don't know the time and might be late to our destination. Never failing, i turn on the Saphire AM radio, hit the preset for WBBM and within a minute or so, we know what the time is, at the beep.

dave said...

I think computers are most handy for seeing how long components last (mostly tires, but also the chain). Sometimes I'll even mount it on the fork, just to keep it out of the way.

Gunnar Berg said...

I caught myself continually looking at them, monitoring my average speed. Like who cares? I took them off and look at the scenery instead.

And I don't wear a watch anymore either.

dr2chase said...

Mostly for the clock (I don't like wristwatches), but also so that I am sure that I hit a weekly quota of 50 miles per week. It is helpful to be able to tell my doctor, "I rode 50 miles per week all but two weeks in the last year, and that is why my blood chemistry looks better".

It's also been useful for figuring out questions related to circuit design for an internal hub -- if I know my maximum speed over quite some time, then I know an upper bound on the power/voltage that will be generated (for a given hub, given that somebody has done power measurements for that hub, and they have).

Anonymous said...

I enjoy having one for the sake of comparing my perceptions to reality, like how fast or far I think I've gone versus the actual speed or distance. Monitoring component life is also useful. When my current wired unit dies I will probably get a wireless so I can just stuff it in my pocket or saddle bag and still count the miles on my tires when I don't want to look at the numbers all day.

C said...

Trek actually has a nice new computer. It only has 3 functions:
Clock
Trip distance
Speed

What I would like to see is a computer that uses a solar cell for power. Cateye had one back in the 80's and the technology has made huge leaps since then.

rory said...

I've started using my iphone as a bike computer. I'm still learning it's application, but the main benefit is this:

http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=107156

sharing a ride/route with someone pretty darn easily. for instance, I would really be interested in Chris showing me where he toured in france, but I'm on the otherside of the country.

Anonymous said...

not a chance. one of the reasons i ride is to get away from computers and speeds and statistics.

Anonymous said...

No computer. When I started commuting, I still used one, but I've commuting has changed the way I see a lot of things, including the way I ride. ;)

2whls3spds said...

I don't think any of my bikes have computers on them anymore. I do have one of the old Lucas odometers that I may get around to putting on my vintage Raleigh 3 speed. I know I can cover 10 miles or so in an hour. So I more or less keep track of the hours I ride...if I remember to.

Aaron

Anonymous said...

Computers? Yes. Like to know how far I've gone. Speed is a non issue, much less average speed, except on the occasions when I'm trying to get a better workout. Distance is nice for knowing when to clean the chain, how long tires last, and yes, what time it is.

z-man said...

Like most others here I go just by time ridden. Max exertion is max exertion, but that being said I max out at about 6 hours in the better weather, and a minimum of 2 hours in the garbage we've had this winter. Speed doesn't matter as much as how long you plan to ride. Plus, just to kill any avg speed intentions I might have, I make sure that on every ride, on some hill or other, I glide as far as I can until I'm about to fall over, just like I did on my Rollfast in 1966.

Ty said...

It's been around 15 years since I've had a bike computer. The odd thing is, now that I ride less I don't have a good sense of speed or distance, but I don't care to know it anyway. Back when I rode 10K a year, I cared how fast and far I rode, but I was riding so much that I was very good at accurately estimating my speed and distance. But I am not against gadgets. I like to have access to the time (via watch or cell phone) and on some occasions I like an altimeter to measure total vertical.

Brian Miller said...

Trained for a long, long bike tour years ago using a cyclocomputer. Was all excited to log the actual ride on it when it broke on day one. Tossed it in the trash and never looked back. That was 10 years ago and I'm quite happy sans computer. I'm out there to look at the world, not numbers.

nv said...

In regards to computers, I followed the exact same trajectory as you Chris.
I no longer use computers on any bike and, in fact, am turned off by the idea of riding with one.
It's also one less thing to purchase, maintain and think about...

Steve Fuller said...

Most of my bikes don't have computers permanently mounted on them. My two go fast bikes are the exceptions. I take a GPS with me on my other bikes, but I normally start it and throw it in a pocket where I can't see it. When touring, it's mounted on the stem. That said, I can ride with or without it.

Tony Rocha said...

Not a single bike computer on any of my bikes. No more HRM either. Pure soul-riding!

Rick said...

Used to have one, and paid too much attention to it. Now I don't; I ride mostly utility riding (at least 65% of my +/-600 miles a month), and I'm never late anywhere. Look at the scenery more too!

Wife put a computer on her bike when we rode in San Jose during NAHBS, and again a couple of years later when we rode the bike leg of the LA Triathlon. She likes goal-setting and all that stuff. I like...well, looking at the scenery, riding a long way, and stopping at cafes when I'm hungry.

reverend dick said...

No. They break or the batteries die.And then they break.

JB said...

I may ride one of the world's only bikes with Simplex retrofriction downtube levers, a Nitto Technomic stem, and a fancy pants new Garmin 705 strapped to said stem.

Don't get me wrong: I'm out there for the scenery and all that. I've got just as much soul as the next cyclist. I don't spend my whole ride looking at the computer or anything.

But I like having all that data when I get home. I particularly like being able to see on the map exactly where it is that I went.

My cycling would be just fine without the computer, but I'm something of a data geek, so I like it.

Anonymous said...

First [&last] one I ever owned was one of the early Avocets on my tourer in the late 70s, used it til it died but then never replaced it. The one function I always wanted to have was cadence but no computer had it back then. Still ride that same bike maybe I'll try a new wireless one someday, ...or not.

Anonymous said...

I've never tried a bike computer, probably because I got away from road bikes in 1980 or so, and never cared how far or fast I went on my mountain bike. Now I commute on a touring bike, and I still don't care.

Supreme Commander said...

When I got my VO Randonneur, my one hard rule was no tie straps and nothing clamped to the frame or fork tubes. At first I wanted to install a computer so I got one of the fancy Mavic computers with the wireless sensor that replaces the front wheel skewer nut. The receiver clamps tho the handlebar. All was great until I noticed that the unit calibration wanders around. So off it went and I haven't looked back.

I find I can pretty well judge upcoming turns from the cue sheet and a watch. It helps to know most of the randonneuring routes in my area, but for those that might need a little extra help, there's always the trusty GPS. And not knowing my current speed actually makes riding more pleasant, especially when there's a stiff headwind.

GhostRider said...

I've got a stack of unused and dead-battery computers in my parts bins...currently only my road bike has a working computer.

I turn it on when I start and I don't look at it until I get home. It's nice to have mileage, time and average speed data when I'm done with a ride (I'm a semi-obsessive datalogger), but I don't monitor my progress as I ride.

For the bikes that DON'T have a working computer (every other bike in my fleet), I don't miss having one at all.

Anonymous said...

don't use them anymore on any of my bikes. I figure when I get tired I pull over where ever I am and take a little rest.....sometimes that could be a nice shaded tree or a little cafe, doesn't matter. If I'm cruisin' along on my Rando and I see a faster cyclist I may feel inspired to see how the ol's legs feel and come rollin' up along side to spark up some conversation. Seems the faster riders always have computers and they can tell me what our speed is.
I just n-joy riding.....

jimmythefly said...

I like a computer with speed, trip, odo, average speed, and clock. It's nice to know if I've definitely gone too far and need to double back and find the turn I missed or the trailhead I rode by. I like the average speed function for commuting, same with the odo and trip.

It'd be cool to have a cylindrical computer that could mount opposite a bell on a stem spacer.

Anonymous said...

I'm an inexperienced rider with weakish knees and I got the cheapest cadence computer I could find to remind me to keep cadence high and gears low. It helps.

robatsu said...

When I used to ride competitively years ago, I used computers to monitor my training.

Since then, I haven't had the need.

My wife likes to have one so she knows how many miles we rode at the end of the day. Doesn't use it during the ride for any nav purposes.

Steve said...

I have computers on almost every bike, including the commuter. It's obviously helpful for following cue sheets; but on the commuter it helps keep track of when it's time to clean and re-lube the chain.

Also, if you're leading rides and have committed to staying with a certain range of average speeds (which is how ride classes are defined in my bike clubs) a computer that measures average speed is essential.

Anonymous said...

No, I too quit using them 20 years ago although sometimes it would be nice to have the data. I stopped trying to max my average speed and decided to simply enjoy the ride.

The other data I would like to see though are the notes-insights from your touring trip in France.
Jack

Joe said...

I have them on all my bikes. I no longer care about speed, except when it relates to schedule. I commute and have memorized all my routes to work. I can figure out how far from work I am from almost any point of any of the routes, but I have to know what speed I'm averaging so I get to work on time. I tend to add extra miles on my morning commute. My average speeds vary a couple mph +\- on any given day.

Greg said...

I just picked up a pristine 1985 Trek 720 touring bike this week and it had a Cat Eye Solar computer on it from the 80's (C referenced it above).

It still works but I had to take it off. There were about 4 wires running the entire length of the frame, magnetic sensors on the front and rear wheel as well as the inside of the left crank arm. Just too much clutter. I'm going to keep it for it's vintage goodness but it will be replaced by a Cat Eye micro wireless. I like having the data from a ride.

dr2chase said...

To echo two other points made above:

- component lifetime, not so much to tell me when, but to let me know if I am doing a good job, if such-and-such tires are worth buying again.

- leading rides, especially of inexperienced riders. Had to catch a ferry, riding into a headwind, with a gaggle of boy scouts behind. I sat up tall and busted a hole in the wind, and once we found a happy speed, I kept it there.

But those same boy scouts, should absolutely not have cycle computers. Had a couple near crashes from watching the little digits, instead of the road.

It is also somewhat useful for determining how close you are to replacing your car, or if you need a car, or what it would cost you to not bike. 2500 commuting miles/year at standard mileage rates ($.50/mile) makes the bicycle look quite economical (unless the GSA is unusually generous).

My doctor might be interested in heart rate information, but I'm not particularly. The rate that matters -- time to work on a fixed route -- is how I keep tabs on how I'm doing, and that only requires a clock.

erik said...

i'd love to see you source a vintage spoke/pin odometer (or something better). Nothing electronic, mechanical display.

I'd buy it in a heartbeat, but otherwise I don't use computers. I will have to find some sort of odometer to use by this summer as it is a requirement on the transiowa and kanza rides...

Joel said...

I recently switched from paper maps to GPS device when touring places I have not been before. The latest GPS devices are actually smaller and lighter than most maps. And of course, I can just upload the latest map program when roads change. No need to kill a tree.


Otherwise, bike computers have no value to me. In fact, I keep the GPS in my handlebar bag and only pull it out when unsure.

Joe said...

I like having one, though I can live without it. I'm patiently waiting for someone smarter than myself to create an app for my T-Mobile G1.

Mark said...

I haven't used one in ages. When the last one on my bike broke, I didn't replace it, I decided I liked riding better without one. With one, I always look at my current speed and try to go faster. Without one, I enjoy the ride more.

I might be interested in having one that is just an odometer - no speed readout. I would like to know how far I go, and it would be useful for navigation. I don't know of any current ones that don't have a speed readout.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy having a computer on every bike I own. I like to know how far I went and my average speed. I also like to see what my elapsed time was while on the move vs. total ride time. All helpful data while discovering new routes. I also like to see how average speeds vary with the length of ride, terrain, and seasonal fitness levels, over well traveled routes and new ones.

I don't see any downside to having them. I've never had issues with reliability, and with minimal install fuss, they don't detract from the bike's asthetics.

EE

Anonymous said...

I like the guy who remembers his Avocet computer from the late-1970's . . . especially because they weren't available until 1986 !

So much for memory, eh ?

I also liked the idea of having one as an odometer but kept out of sight inside a bag. The last few bike computers I had always had some idiotic "average speed" arrow that did nothing but indicate how slowly I was going and how I never seemed to be working hard enough !

Like I need some goddamn piece of plastic as another BOSS in my life ?

Erich Zechar said...

Never really even tried one. It might be nice to know exactly how far I've ridden total, but I'm trying to determine what I need on the bike, and subtracting all other elements. A computer doen't cut the mustard.

As for mph, HR, and time, those things aren't really what I'm interested in when riding. I'm either interested in a workout (and it's easy to tell when you're getting a good workout sans computer), or for the scenery.

Anonymous said...

I've had such BAD "luck" installing, or rather blowing the install, on two computers on bikes I no longer try. Distance measurement is a job for string and a map.

That said, I find the distance information on the local (San Diego Randonneurs) brevet route sheets vital and highly important. If I know I'm going to be on, say Old Castle Road for approximately eleven miles, I just take note of the mile marker signs on the side of the road, pedal, look at the scenery, notice there's no "down" in any of the scenery, round the corner, see a big mountatain way ahead with a diagonal slash in the middle and realize I'm going to have to climb THAT.

I believe Trek came out with some extremely simple (low function, few buttons) bike computers for the 2009 product year. I'm not too interested because I KNOW I'll sever the cables or accidentally open the neighbor's garage door or something.

doug said...

i used on on my tour last summer. my favorite memory was mashing as hard as i could into the unforgiving wind, looking down, and saw the depressing little 8.5 with a downward arrow next to it.

Other than that, though, no computers. I use a combination of Google Maps + Street View, local bicycle maps, memory, and veloroutes.org to plan my routes and do mileage followups. while i don't especially care to, i suppose i could get a rough average speed, too -- but i know it already: faster than most, slower than many.

by the time i'm fifty, i bet i'll be calculating mileage, grades, and averages with a topo map and a piece of string. most likely because industrial society will have collapsed.

Anonymous said...

On our cycling honeymoon on Cape Breton Island, we met some American guy at a campsite who was bragging about how far and how fast he rode from one town to another, and he got his information from his computer. If we really cared about his trip instead of our own, it sounded impressive. That is, until we looked at a map and saw he had his calibration off, and his estimations were off by about 30% (i.e., he thought 70km was 100). I don't have a problem with computers on bikes, but as everything, are only as useful as the operator.
mb

Anonymous said...

No computers! I took mine off last year and haven't looked back for the exact reasons that you articulated, with the same caveat regarding navigation. But if I'm riding with a group, it's moot, and if I'm on my own, I can make due.

Also, and possibly more important, I didn't want to ruin the lines of my bike. I had mounted it low, on the top tube, which worked fairly well, but didn't like it enough to keep it.

I figure that I look at computer screens for about 60 hours a week, so when I'm out on a ride, the last thing I need is another fargin' LED to stare at.
--
Brian

Joel said...

My touring bike has one, because I do enjoy logging trips and seeing how far I've ridden. My commuter bike ('73 English three-speed style) does not, will not.

Anonymous said...

For years I've used a computer on my touring bike with tape over the display so I don't have to look at the readout until I want to check distance. This works for me.

Anonymous said...

I have been tracking all my rides and mileage for 35 years (over 120K miles), and it got a bit easier when bike computers were introduced. But I've been getting a bit too focused on nonsense like "where am I compared to 2006" so I'm just writing down the ride lengths, not totalling them up. Could be the first step on giving up computers.

keithwwalker said...

I do like having an odometer to judge how long tires last, and logging total miles for the year (as a commuter).

Unfortunately, in this electronic age, you can't just get a simple odometer anymore, you get these multifunction LCD readouts that aren't aesthetically pleasing at all, for the most part.

knog.com.au has announced a lovely bike computer. It is called the NERD, and is small and unobtrusive and has a silicone housing which serves as a clamping mechanism (stem or bar mount), just like their lights. It is also wireless (though line of sight), so no clutter on your fork.

About the only way they could improve it, is to provide a feed for dynohub power so that it doesn't require a battery.

Joel said...

One thing those of you who do like keeping precise bicycle use records need to keep in mind is that those of us who do not (and probably many of those who do) find your efforts to share such data about as much fun as Tuesday evenings out on the town in Milwaukee ;)

Grant Petersen said...

fuck computers. We need retro handlebar mount shortwave radios so we can tune into the BBC to get Greenwich mean time.

Ian Dickson said...

Joel, I think you mean Tuesday night in Salt Lake City.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a new bicycle, although it's a 1992 model, which came with a computer. After decades and decades of covering distances without knowing how far or how fast I've been going, I'm looking forward to enlightenment. The jury is still out on bicycle computers.

Anonymous said...

Computers on the two bikes I use for exercise, but not on the vintage bike simply because speed (and 'data') is not the priority. I am quite taken with the old-fashioned 'tour meter' displayed on the latest www.u2needyourheadsfixed.info post - not exactly a computer, but it kind of fits?
Tim

Andy M-S said...

I don't have one on my bike right now. I found that I would put them on, keep them for a couple of weeks, and then take them off.

But.

If somebody made one that was small, maybe an 3/4" high by 1" wide, thin and curved at the back, maybe designed to be integrated with bar tape (this could be easily done), and that was *solely* a total/resettable trip odometer, I'd buy it in an instant. For new places and cue sheets, knowing how far you've gone is way more important than how fast you're going.

lee.watkins said...

I always thought bike computers were a waste of money and a distraction. Who cares how fast/far I'm going on the bike? If I really needed to know these things I could figure it out with a clock and a map later. I figured it would just break or get stolen, and yes I probably would never bother to replace the battery.

Ron said...

I've never cared much for computers, but I learned to really dislike them when I was a mountain bike guide. I recall one guest storming up to me at a lunch spot, which I had earlier predicted was "a couple of miles away." He didn't seem to have been impressed with the topography or geology we passed over those coulpe/few miles; instead, he raged, "That was the longest damn two miles I've ever seen! I've got 3.4 on my computer!"

I don't use exclamation points lightly--but his reaction certainly indicated them. When I asked what else his computer could tell him about the trail everyone else had been enjoying, he stormed off.

It's about quality, not quantity, as my father has alway told me. Dad does have an old Huret cyclometer, driven by a tiny o-ring-like belt, on his old Trek, from mid-70s, back when they were a frame shop. He uses it for maintenance intervals, as someone here noted, though I prefer to check for actual wear myself. I think he also likes knowing how many miles are on the old steed, though I give him credit for appreciating the quality of those miles as well.

Happy Trails,
Ron Georg
Moab

Anonymous said...

I use a wireless computer/GPS/HRM combination, but have to admit I hate the way computers look on a bike (new or vintage). I've yet to find place to mount one on my 70's Gitane that doesn't mess with the aesthetics of the bike.

Of all the features, the HRM data is most important to me right now...that may change once I get better at judging my effort level at the beginning of a long ride (so I don't feel like death in the last 10 miles of a century)

Dottie said...

Definitely not! I don't need a constant reminder of how slowly I'm moving :)

ablejack said...

I ride with a GPS on tours. It's handy to be able to find bike shops, restaurants, supermarkets, etc. in unfamiliar towns. Also nice to get back to a route after I meander.

Anonymous said...

Here's a twist.
Combine a commuter light with the computer and make the contraption able to "secure the end of the bar wrap. Here lies an opening for other "combos", such as a radio, mirror (for personal grooming while on the move), beer opener.....etc.

Marc said...

I used to use one because I had a seasonal mileage goal, but gas prices went up. Now I ride anytime I don't specifically need the car, so my old mileage goal gets passed sometime around June. They are pretty much useless to me now.

Bill Solomon said...

Interesting responses. The problem I've found with the directions from locals is that perceived distance varies by region.

In Maine, ask an old Mainer and they'll say "you can't get there from here".

In west Texas or southern New Mexico, they'll say "the store is 'bout 15 minutes down the road" - that's 15 minutes in a pickup going 60mph into a 25mph headwind.

Here in the southeast, they'll say "take a left a Mac's barn, go down to Ted's pond and take a right, and turn left at the stop sign with the big tree."

I read a journal of Nathaniel Hawthorne's experience of riding a donkey through rural southern France in the 19th century. When asking directions, he received similar vague answers.

Of course, throughout history many an indiginous local has purposely mis-directed a "furiner"!

Having said that, some of my bikes have computers and some don't. It depends on the purpose of the ride that day.

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