Does a Ride Actually Exist These Days - if There is No Power-Meter to record It?
Thirty years ago the new technology that us younger riders were bringing to the bunch was: Avocet computers, heart-monitors and clipless pedals – often to the consternation and sheer bewilderment of the older riders. Most of us kept a simple training diary that logged: distance ridden, time-taken, who the ride was with and our perception of effort.
Jules and Guy were probably the most sensible and disciplined when it came to training matters; Mark was a superb natural athlete (soccer, tennis) and the strongest by far (but also the most likely to over-train or over think matters). I think it is fair to say that myself, Jay and Cathal had a more louche and variable attitude to structured training. We liked the spirit of adventure, long miles in the saddle and essence of cycling as a hidden counter-culture. We all loved the racing season - time-trials, road-racing, cyclo-cross, mountain-bike racing - somehow we managed to balance all the disciplines and sharing the machinery necessary to compete in all of them. It was accepted that we all spent every penny we earned on bikes, entry-fees and transport logistics.
Power On A Pedestal?
But still we had no idea about watts and power and no conception of measuring our actual output. How did we ever cope? In the same way that there is a question as to whether a falling tree makes a sound in the forest, if there is nobody around to hear it? Do humans manage to actually make power on a bicycle, if there is no means to measure it? I genuinely don’t believe that we trained less hard, or made less power or rode more slowly than we do today without cognisance of the magic metric. Just because Sid hadn't heard about watts, never mind measuring them, didn't stop him tapping into an FTP of 400 + when he needed to - for example winning The North Road Hardriders in 1964.
I am convinced we have elevated power to a pedestal that it ill-deserves. Most of the time we are reviewing the golden data after its actual production – what use is that? I wager that we could all get just as fit training with RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) only, not even using heart-rate? I remember in the mid 1990’s when heart-rate was god, I decided to abandon both training and racing with the wretched bloody things. And literally nothing changed, either for the worse or better – I had good days and I had bad days on the bike – which sounds intuitively right to me. Sometimes I won, more often I lost. We are not binary electric motors who can always and endlessly access 300 watts at will. We are a complex mess of life’s obligations, motivations, hangovers, avocados, cheesecake, poor-sleep patterning and unspecified broad-spectrum stress. Go on measure that SRM! I don’t need to know. I am human, I struggle, sometimes shit works out okay. You can’t build an app around that can you? I should mention that I am the only one at Cyclefit who holds this controversial view. Both Jules and Barna are huge fans of power-meters and indoor cycling and consider me to be an anachronism.
The Ballet of The Bike
Strangely, when I couldn’t ride for seven years because of injury, I didn’t daydream about sitting indoors on a smart trainer (oxymoron) with snot dribbling onto my preferred head-unit, with blood leeching between my teeth, trying to hold 300 watts. No my dreams were all about the ballet of bike riding – the magic of a switch-back forest-trail or chasing a group of friends down the back of the Cormet de Roseland. The majesty of overcoming the undeniable fact that gravity seems to unfairly act more upon my bones than other peoples, and yet somehow I still manage to summit Col de la Cayolle with only one coffee stop. If I thought about power at all, it wasn’t in the abstract, or a reading on a screen - it was the satisfying delivery of bipedal extensors (gluts, quads calves) moving instant force along crank and chainstay onto a fine rubber contact patch - the feeling of power-transfer than the actual metric.