Can cycle computers slow you down? - Road Cycling UK

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Can cycle computers slow you down?

Most of us probably ride with some cycle computer of sorts [rarely if ever – ed.], but did you know that it could be holding back, asks a recent study by the British Psychological Society.

Dr Dominic Micklewright of the University of Essex today published his findings following new research into whether cyclists’ perception of time, distance and exertion levels could be influenced by cycle computers.

Working with a group of 29 serious amateur cyclists in South Africa, the psychologists tested them over a series of 20km time trials under different conditions, with the riders split into three groups. One group received no feedback, one group received true speed and distance feedback, and the final group received speed and distance information that was 5% faster and further than their actual performance.

During a later blind 20km time trial cyclists from all of the groups were asked to rate their level of exertion at the moments when they believed they had cycled 4, 8, 12 and 16km. The cyclists who were conditioned without feedback had the most accurate perceptions of how far they had travelled. In contrast, the cyclists who were conditioned using either accurate or false feedback tended to under-estimate how far they had cycled.

“We have been very interested to see the results which imply that over reliance on cycle computers during training can impair cyclists’ natural judgements of distance,” says Dr Micklewright. “Potentially, this could cause cyclists to under-perform during a time trial because, even when using a cycle computer, their impaired ability to perceive distance might lead them to adopt an unnecessarily conservative pacing strategy.

“Of course, the cycle computer is an essential tool for the time trial cyclist but the information they provide will only be advantageous if it has a meaningful context. Perhaps even some of the great cyclists, such as Lance Armstrong and Cadel Evans, might benefit from fine-tuning their own perceptions of distance by occasionally training without a cycle computer”.

So should we all go and ditch our cycle computers then? How many of us already rely on computers currently? Let us know what you think…


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