Thanks to Fatty for his post that triggered this entry.
I'm a bit ridiculous with my bicycling, and I always have been.
Very soon after getting back into riding about 10 years ago, I was looking for data. First, it was a simple cyclocomputer. Speed, distance, average speed, time.
Very soon after, it was a heart rate monitor, a cheap one that displayed on a wristwatch which I mounted to my handlebars with a drafting eraser under the band to hold it in place.
Yeah, I was the epitome of road bicycle style, hairy legs and all.
I quickly saw that heart rate wasn't telling me anything, especially without some data recording capabilities. I'd feel great with my heart at 165bpm, and feel like I was about to pop at 140bpm. Heart rate was just not very helpful.
I was also deluded into thinking I was truly fast. I was occasionally able to beat the other riders in the Tuesday/Thursday pick-up ride on my aluminum framed Specialized. They knew me by name, and I even had a nickname: Red Chris. (I wore red kit exclusively for years, and my bicycle was red.)
I thought I was cool. I thought I was fast.
So I bought a power meter: a CycleOps PowerTap SL 2.4, built with Mavic Open Pro wheels and DT Swiss spokes. Top notch kit. I put my shiny new wheels on my hardly new Specialized, tripling the value of the bicycle with the swing of a quick release skewer.
I was so cool. No one else had a power meter at the time. They were still pretty rare even at the pro level. I ran out and did a hard ride. I recorded heart rate, power, speed, cadence. I rush home, hook up the LYC (Little Yellow Computer) and download the data. I bought software to help me analyze and track my power training. I reviewed my power in detail.
And I realized that I stunk. I was slow. Weak. Pathetically weak. Didn't register on the charts weak.
Buying a power meter was one of the most demoralizing moments in my cycling career, if you could call it a career. I suddenly knew my standing in the world of bicyclists, and it simply wasn't very high.
My ego was badly bruised.
Then I read the instructions. I need to zero out the torque! Next ride, I get out, zero out the torque. I reset, ride hard, capturing all this data. Go home.
I still suck. My ego was almost fatally crushed. My dreams of riding in the Tour de France were fading fast.
For years after that, I capture my data. I don't buy a new bicycle. I regret the investment in a power meter that cost as much as a sweet new mid-level carbon bike.
I realized that the fastest way to see how much you suck is to buy a power meter. There are times when you're suffering, you feel like you're working yourself to death. Legs screaming. Heart pounding. Gasping for air.
Look down, you're doing 50% of your normal power. And you can't turn up the wick.
At least, with a simple cyclocomputer, you can delude yourself. Sadly, high technology doesn't lie, it tells the cold hard truth.
But, it's those moments where you learn. And learn I did. Over time, I started to understand what my power meter was saying. I learned what it meant about my performance in a broad sense, and my body's response to my activities. I started to get faster.
I learned a lot that had nothing to do with power and everything to do with making power.
I learned about hydration, and the impact it has on power. Food, and the impact it has on power. Temperature. Riding position. Sleep.
I learned a lot about power, too. I learned about the impact of using power, the impact of accelerations, tempo, threshold riding. I had sudden clarity on the idea of "matches" and what happens when you light them. I gained clear understanding of the advantage of drafting, both as the drafter and the draftee.
I learned how to manage my performance; how much capacity I had, how to have capacity when I needed it, and how to develop more through training.
Even more, I learned how to combine information. Heart rate and power. Power and cadence. I learned how each affected the other, how to utilize them to my benefit. I started to understand how my body would act when I was tired, dehydrated, hungry, poorly fueled, hot, cold, sick.
Today, I have two wheelsets with power meters, and I seriously considered putting a power meter on my MTB wheelset (still regret not doing that, the stats would be really cool to compare and contrast with road). I know my thresholds, I know my limits, and I can see them play out on a screen in front of me when the time comes.
I also know how I compare to typical competitors, and I know what I need to do to be competitive with them - or to force them to respond.
And, most importantly, I know how to see when I need a break.
Buying a power meter was the best thing I ever did, despite the outrageous price tag when I did it. A power meter is the most powerful tool available for bicycling, right behind the bike itself. I wouldn't be half the rider I am today if I didn't have all the knowledge I gathered through simple observation of my power meter.
And I'd probably still be deluded into thinking I could ride the TdF. Today I know that'll never happen. Cat 2, or maybe even Cat 1, but not that.
Hey, we gotta dream.